Dear Folks,

What do you do when a stranger comes to call?  Ignore the knock? Bolt the door? Invite her in? Make a feast?  What if the person is not quite a stranger, but someone you’ve heard about, a person that your friend or family knows?  What do you do when you notice someone new at work or school, on your street or in the grocery store, or at church?  Do you have a sense that there is something you should do, but don’t for any number of reasons, or could do, if you had more clarity or direction?  I find the story of Mary and Martha unsettling, perhaps because the narrator does not make it clear what the sisters are “supposed” to do.

Here’s what we know: after Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, he enters a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  Martha has a sister, named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, and listened to what he was saying.  In contrast to Mary’s stillness, Martha is distracted by her many tasks, and she comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”  And not waiting for his response, Martha continues, “Tell her then to help me.”  But instead of following her admonition and speaking to Mary, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, and there is need of only one thing (or a few, according to some translations.)”  And Jesus says finally, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

To make sense of it, we should try to reclaim the strangeness of the story.  In 1st century Israel, women don’t play the role of student sitting at the feet of the teacher.  Nor do women ordinarily welcome men into their home and act as host.  And it would be shameful to ask a visitor to intervene in a family squabble.

A couple of other things surprise me.  We don’t know whether Martha and Mary live in the same house.  So I wonder: does sharing a home (or school or church) with someone presume sharing the role and responsibility of host?  And if Mary is a visitor, do different rules apply to her?  Martha’s sister may connect to the stranger Jesus, then, because she is a guest, as well.  And despite Martha’s frustration, what if Mary is waiting for Martha to ask her to help?

We are told that Mary listens.  Does Martha?  We do know that Martha is “worried and distracted,” and that her feelings are intense—the word translated as “distracted” literally means that she is “beside herself.”  But it’s not clear what the “many things” are that trouble her, only that her legion is compared to the “few” or the “one” which is needed.  Is Martha bothered by the work itself, or by Mary, or by the delusion that Jesus needs to talk with her sister for her and fix the problem?  There is a chasm between the sisters that only coming near to each other can heal.

However one might identify with one or the other woman, or criticize them, both come to the living God and engage this stirring One intensely.  Each does what hospitality demands: paying close attention to the guest and providing what the guest needs.  So is sitting at Jesus’s feet really “better” than the kitchen tête-à-tête?  Maybe the better part is for us to listen for God’s voice instead of talking about our sister!  And maybe that will finally get us talking to each other.

Because of the placement of this story after the Good Samaritan, it’s hard not to hear in Mary and Martha another opportunity to redefine who the neighbor is, and again it’s not who we expect.  It’s a woman; it’s someone on the margin; it’s a person that I don’t understand or agree with or think has anything to teach me.  But if I listen to the other, if I give her the better part of my heart, then I will encounter the living God, and both of us will be a little bit more whole.

Every week, will you reach out to someone at Redeemer that you don’t know, and then follow up in a week or so?  Thanks!

Love,

David

Dear Folks,

We all know the Good Samaritan story: a fellow is set upon by thieves, who strip him, beat him up, and leave him lying in a ditch, half dead and needing help.  First a priest walks by him; then another religious person walks by “on the other side.”  Finally a Samaritan while traveling comes near the man and is moved with pity.  So he goes to him, bathes and bandages his wounds, carries him on his animal to an inn, spends the night tending to him, and then leaves money for the man’s continued care, promising to come back and pay more if he needs it.

So familiar is the moniker “good Samaritan” that the phrase appears in legal statutes in this country and abroad to describe people who stop to help a stranger.  It’s so well known that I’ve seen late night talk show hosts send reporters out to ask the person on the street to define a “good Samaritan.”  Most folks when asked assert selfless assistance to a stranger as their understanding of the phrase, which is not all bad, especially since many people have no idea that the character appears in the Bible.

I’ve read articles in the New York Times with headlines like “Good Samaritan jumps on subway tracks to save stranger” or received clips on my news feed that feature “Man gives shoes to barefoot stranger in good Samaritan move.”   Clearly this kind of action touches something deep within us—helping someone in need that you don’t know, who you literally stumble upon, affirms our capacity to be good.

But Jesus’s story is more than an admonishment to follow our better angels.

The man in the ditch represents the audience of the story—upstanding citizens, respected by society, people of means who are likely to help others (unless they get too busy!).  And if Jesus wanted to make the point that all of us can stop and offer assistance, if we will only pay attention and be aware of the needs of others, he could have told this story with an average person helping the man on the side of the road.  Instead, Jesus has a Samaritan person stop and help, which is outrageous to his listeners.  The internal structure of the story and its historical setting challenges the hearer to put together two impossible and contradictory words for the same person: “Samaritan” and “neighbor.”  In the mind of the original audience, it is impossible to say “Good Samaritan” in one breath.

The point of the story, it seems, is not just to ask the audience to help the neighbor in need.  Rather, it redefines “neighbor” altogether, and then, in a shocking twist, it has the accustomed enemy help the person who is not at all used to being a victim.  All of us are in need of help, the parable asserts, all of us are in a ditch somehow or another, and so the vision Jesus proposes here is of a brand new world in which the wall between enemies, strangers, and neighbors no longer exists.  The strong and the weak, the haves and the have nots, those who are customarily on different sides of some chasm, can step across it and come to the aid of each other, in surprising and life-changing ways.  We are each other’s business; we need each other; I am in pain if you are not well.  Each of us has needs that we don’t like to admit, and all of us have the capacity to help and hold and heal.

Who is reaching out to you, in whatever ditch you’ve created or fallen into?  Can you let yourself be helped by someone that you are likely to call “enemy”?  And who can you help, who has fallen nearby, right along the way you are accustomed to travel?

There is only one neighborhood in Baltimore, or whatever paths you walk down.  Will you be my neighbor?

Love,

David

My Brothers & Sisters in Christ Jesus,

From the writings of Frederick Buechner, I’ve learned to “listen to my life,” and in that listening to recall a certain truth …Christianity is NOT a religion…it IS a lifestyle!  And if it is a lifestyle, its precepts and Presence encompasses all aspects of my life.  The big question for me now is how to integrate and make sense of the current reality I am experiencing into my understanding and dynamic image of God.  An even bigger question is, where is God in the minutiae of my life as it is now unfolding?

My baby brother did 3 tours of duty as an Army Ranger in the Middle East and describes how he felt each time he returned safely to American soil.  He said, “Freda, I tell you no lie, I got down on my knees, in the middle of the tarmac and said, “Thank you Jesus!”  Describing how much prayer has informed his life he said, “Sometimes, you just gotta go-for-what-you-know.”

Recalling his words, has caused me to think about going-for-what-you-know a lot lately. As I’ve struggled with feelings of discouragement, anger, and self-pity over these past 2— almost 3 weeks in Baltimore because I still do not have permanent housing, I’ve allowed myself to really reflect on those others who are refugees or homeless within our community and nation.  These reflections have been overwhelming if not for a central way of bringing God into the story that is our lives.

Today over lunch, time spent with a sister and brother in Christ reminded me of the most essential tool I’ve learned to use to carry me through such times as these. That tool is Centering Prayer.

You see if I live into what I profess, that CHRIST is indeed risen and ascended and that I am living in Christ  (cf John 17:22-23), then there is no-thing that can really steal my peace, take away my joy, or douse my hope.  No-thing stands in the way of the truth that I am love and I am the beloved as well; both/and.  In fact, I stand reminded that there is always an inner well of eternal water springing up within me and I can only access this well in the SILENCE.  It is at times like these when my centering prayer discipline keeps me centered and focused on the bigger picture.  Since I AM LOVE and I AM the BELOVED, I live into a reality much larger than the one of my immediate 5 senses.  I am so aware that creation by the Creator (GOD) and the co-creator (me) is ongoing and always in process.  So, I live in hope.  I KNOW my home is here, within the community of Redeemer, within the larger community of Baltimore.  It’s just a matter of Kairos, God’s time—and walking into it.  Truly, “All is well.”

With Peace and much Love,

FM+

Dear Folks,

I know a man from England who hoisted a backpack over his shoulders in March, kissed his wife good-bye, clicked the front door behind him, and started walking.  We met in May over coffee in Spain, and he’d been on foot all that time, except for a little help getting across the Channel.  He taught me some things about being a pilgrim.

At that point I didn’t know why I had come to Spain to walk 500 miles, though I’d been there about three weeks and already clocked a good chunk of the journey.  I was up each day before the sun, snapping pictures of churches and the landscape, writing in my journal every afternoon as my clothes dried on the line.  The guide books had helped me limit what I strapped onto my back—just 17 pounds, including water and a sleeping bag—but nothing prepared me for how my body would feel, somehow bone tired and rested at once, or the cumulative effect of all that time alone, or this stranger.

Intimacy comes fast on the Camino, if you welcome it.  We’d spent about 20 minutes together, mostly waiting in line for the bathroom, when he asked, “What are you carrying with you?”  I knew he wasn’t talking about the contents of my backpack, so I waited with my café con leche for a beat or two before answering.  “My mom and dad died in the last 18 months,” I told him, “one because her body gave out and the other from loneliness, I imagine.  And in both cases, 12 hours after the funeral, I was back at work.  I think I’ve got some emotions to untangle, some grief to attend to, some memories I’ve been avoiding.  What are you carrying?”  He told me about his job and his marriage, the man he’d become compared to the one he aspired to be.  “Nobody’s died,” he said, “but I’m grieving too.”

The folks you travel with on the Way (the English translation of Camino) are largely chosen for you, based on the pace of your walking and the length of your stride.  My English companion was considerably taller and older than I, so though our hearts were in sync for an hour, our walking didn’t match.  We lost touch an hour after we met, but for the next few days he helped me face the burdens I’d brought with me, a sack of hurts I discovered I had the courage to unpack.

Last week I traveled with 13 other pilgrims from Redeemer to Costa Rica, eleven teenagers and two adults.  We crisscrossed a mountain on a zip line in a rain forest, bungee jumped, and climbed a hill to discover a graffiti-covered ruin.  We fed folks on the street with a local church, cleaned up a city park, and made sure a group of local children made it safely into and out of a crashing surf.  But my pilgrimage started three days in when we confronted some ways that the trust had been broken between us through some hurtful words.  We sat in a painful circle together, inching our way toward healing.  It was hard, and it hurt, and there is undoubtedly more work to be done, but we showed up to each other and listened as well as we could and no one ran away.  We modeled community.  “We’re in this together,” somebody said in one of our conversations, and that simple truth is what I carry with me from the trip.  When one of us is wounded, all of us are diminished, and healing comes through an honest personal inventory, the courage to talk and listen, and then making amends.

What are you carrying with you?  What do you have the courage to discover and sort out?  What cross do you need to shoulder? And what burden are you able to put down?

Love,

David

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I have a personal motto.  It is to remember to JUST BREATHE.  This process, under the direction of the autonomic nervous system, is usually taken for granted.  But I have learned the importance of allowing breath to enter into my body in order to air out my soul and to keep me connected to the present moment.  I did a lot of intentional breathing yesterday.

My furniture finally arrived from Houston. It took 7 days, but at least it’s all mine and it all seems to be in good shape.  Four hours at the storage unit with the delivery guys made me ask myself, “Now why exactly did you move across the country to serve Christ in this church? Like most people, I HATE moving! So, at one point when I felt myself getting really offended by the driver’s attitude, I had to remember to BREATHE and not begin a mental story about him OR his employer.    The result was peace.

No matter how exciting the prospects of my move, I have finally had to admit that I am not in Kansas anymore. I am having to acknowledge a tremendous amount of change in my environment which requires a mental orientation that I’d almost lost in my life in the South. That orientation is one of openness and receptivity to what is instead of what I might want or expect it to be.  Buddhist call it having a beginner’s mind; Eckhart Tolle calls it living in the NOW; I call it living in the present moment.  Ultimately, it is learning to live in the peace that passes all understanding or for those who follow Jesus as Lord, learning to live in Christ.

I am a student of many of the spiritual heavyweights like Brother Lawrence, John-Pierre de Caussade and Julian of Norwich, who always acknowledge and honor the presence of the Divine at all times and in all places. God is, indeed, in the present moment and God is NOW…in every breath I take and in every beat of my heart.  I don’t have to go anywhere to find God.  I am already participating in the Divine Life.  That’s why the gospel is good news, is it not?  Inevitably, we have to lose the “old mind” to realize just how good the news really is.

In the next week or two, I will have to engage another crew of movers when I find a more permanent residence.  I’ll be reminded of how challenging moves and transitions of any kind can be.  Most importantly, I’ll be reminded of how important it is to remember to just BREATHE.  Please pray for me!

Freda Marie

As we enter the summer, when many things slow down, BUILD and Redeemer’s engagement with its multiple initiatives is gaining momentum. Below is a brief update on Redeemer’s work with BUILD on several fronts:

ReBuild Metro: ReBuild Metro is BUILD’s affiliate organization undertaking meaningful rehabilitation and renovation of housing in east Baltimore, implementing these projects while also preventing dislocation and gentrification. Having successfully completed substantial neighborhood housing reclamations in both the Oliver and Greenmount West neighborhoods, ReBuild Metro is now actively pursuing its third major project, this one centered on Johnston Square. A number of parishioners are actively involved in this initiative, and many more are welcome. There may also be an important role for Redeemer to play in advancing this effort.

Turnaround Tuesday: Turnaround Tuesday is BUILD’s affiliate which takes a unique approach to preparing returning citizens and other people searching for successful integration into the workplace. Instead of a traditional “job training” approach, Turnaround Tuesday provides its participants with an immersive program that educates them about the cultural, behavioral, and relationship norms and values of a commercial business. This critical, yet frequently overlooked, aspect of equipping people with core knowledge about functioning effectively in a workplace is the key to Turnaround Tuesday’s success. Since 2015, Turnaround Tuesday has successfully placed almost 700 people into full-time jobs, with a one-year retention rate in excess of 80%, a remarkable success. Our parishioners can play a meaningful role in a number of ways, including extending Turnaround Tuesday’s access to employers for its program graduates.

Member Expansion: Redeemer has actively worked to introduce new members to BUILD. Specifically, David, Cristina, and a number of parishioners participated in a conversation with the Bolton Street Synagogue about BUILD and the opportunities that come with a relationship. The Synagogue is moving thoughtfully toward becoming a member of BUILD alongside Redeemer. Parishioners are also working with the Roland Park Civic League to assist that group in evaluating the opportunities created by joining BUILD. All our parishioners are encouraged to think about organizations that might benefit by becoming members of BUILD.

BUILD and Education: Redeemer has worked with BUILD in following the progress of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations as they work their way through the legislative process. With its enactment by the legislative assembly and the Governor’s releasing of funds, Kirwan will be subject to detailed discussion and debate during the coming legislative session on specifics revolving around the appropriate accountability framework as well as the allocation of funding responsibility as between the State and localities. Redeemer plans to sponsor a forum this fall to provide all constituencies the opportunity to review these important issues.

Redeemer’s relationship with BUILD is successful to the extent that a growing number of parishioners become engaged and remain involved. So far, with David’s and Cristina’s leadership, things are off to a strong start. We encourage everyone to think about how they might engage with BUILD. Anyone with questions about how to become involved or to learn more should feel free to contact David Ware.

~Peter Bain