Dear Folks,

My father was an idealistic husband and seminarian in the 1960’s, reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer and marching in Memphis.  Our apartment living room, where my brother and I made forts with the sofa cushions during the day, was the frequent scene of late night strategy meetings and bull sessions for my dad and his classmates.  Some of them were trained in non-violent civil disobedience at the Highlander Folk School, down the road in Monteagle.  Most of them had young families.  All of them were expected to represent a denomination that defined the Establishment and blessed many social conventions.

We lived in the Jim Crow south, and according to my dad, the Episcopal Church in too many places represented the world as it had always been, instead of how it someday could be.  Racism was a given.  Black people and poor people and Jews and women were expected to know their place.  Injustices might be preached about on Sundays, but real change was slow and threatening throughout most weeks.  By 1968, preserving the status quo had become toxic for my father, and it ultimately overwhelmed him.  He left the church that year and had trouble finding meaningful work for the rest of his life.

I thought about my dad this weekend when Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville and as marchers raised flags intended to intimidate the very people that my father and his classmates sought to support.  He’d be sad and angry and confused, I imagine.  Have we made any real progress, he’d wonder.  I believe the United States has changed for the better in the last 50 years—thank goodness the laws on the books are more just—but hatred and fear still rule too many hearts.  Bigotry continues to pervert our nation’s ideals.  Wherever it is spoken or acted upon, racism still warps us.  And where is the voice of the church?

It speaks when people of faith rise in the face of any notion of racial supremacy and offer this courageous truth: prejudice is a crutch, violence is a sin, and every human being of any color, caste, or creed is a beloved child of God.  Nothing can separate us from God’s love—not height, nor depth, not powers nor demons—so surely we cannot stand by or withdraw our love when groups or individuals are made to feel less than because of the way God has made them.  Each of us is broken, for certain, but we cannot follow the voices of our lesser selves or make peace with any form of hatred, whether it lives within us or outside of us.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, yes?  What happened in Virginia last week could have happened around the corner.

My dad lost his faith, but he taught me what I know about faithfulness.  Baltimore needs what our minds and hands and hearts can give.

Love,

David

This past Monday I returned to Redeemer after a 10 week sabbatical. The first thought I want to share is my profound gratitude to David and the Vestry for the opportunity to have experienced this time away. Often when someone is offered the privilege of a sabbatical there is an expectation that it will be purposeful; that it should have a specific goal of study or travel. That focus was not what I needed. David could not have been more understanding of my aim ‘to be’ and not ‘to do’. I did not want a ‘sabbatical checklist’ of things to accomplish. Frankly I am normally a task oriented person anyway and I thought it might be healthy to let that component be put on hold. As I now reenter the life of Redeemer, I do so having discovered what ‘rest’ can mean on a holistic level….but more about that in a minute.

I also want to thank both David and Cristina for picking up the liturgical and pastoral needs of the parish in my absence. We are truly a team at all times, but when one clergy is absent there is obviously an impact on the others. So I offer a sincere expression of gratitude for their extra ministry and am so excited that our team will be fully re-staffed in a couple of weeks.

As I look back on the 10 weeks, I offer a “postcard collage” of activity:

  • Bill and I spent a week in western North Carolina where I was the visiting clergy at All Saints Chapel in Linville, NC; one my favorite sacred spaces. We have done this for the last 5 years so it was very restorative. Golf and great food are some of the perks that come with the invitation!
  • I had 3 trips to our cottage in the Northern Neck of Virginia which is my sanctuary in terms of hibernating. On one of the visits I was involved with the funeral of an old friend. It was held in the Historic Christ Church, built in 1735, outside Kilmarnock VA. Not only was it a privilege to participate in my friend’s service, but to do so in such an historic sacred space was incredibly moving spiritually.
  • Bill and I went to Manchester VT for a long weekend where I performed an outdoor wedding for the son of friends of ours. What a beautiful area that is….and there was also golf involved. Bill loves it when golf is connected to my ministry!
  • We spent a long weekend in Easton with old friends. Bill was a guest in a golf tournament.
  • Another long weekend was in Bethany Beach with Bill’s brother and sister in law…again more golf! Do you notice a theme emerging here?
  • And in between the travels was quiet time at home…oh yes, almost forgot, I performed a bilingual ceremony of The Blessing of a Civil Ceremony: French and English. I hope I blessed the couple. My French is more than outdated (not sure there was ever a time it was updated!) so I used Google to translate the service. I just hope when I pronounced they were man and wife in the eyes of the church I didn’t inadvertently pronounce they were pig farmer and pole dancer in the eyes of the devil….ah well.

Now, what about the deeper nature of my sabbatical? What was that experience for me? As the weeks wore on, I discovered what I have come to call ‘the sacrament of rest’.  It took a while to untether myself from the need to accomplish. It took a while to give myself permission ‘to be’. It took me awhile to ascribe value to silence and solitude. Gradually I experienced an awareness of the meaning of true rest. I am talking about the word in a holistic and organic way; an experience that resides in your soul. John Lubbock in his book, The Use of Life wrote: “Rest is not idleness. To lie sometimes on the green grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”  I now understand that concept as he described. Rest incorporates a more mindful pattern in our daily living. While sleep is a part of rest, there is much more. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar observed “Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other-activity in rest and rest in activity-is the ultimate freedom.” My prayer is that I will incorporate that wisdom in my ministry/life going forward. Author Mark Buchanan invites us as Christians: Unless and until we rest in God, we will never risk for God.” That is a motivational mantra for me as I reenter the daily routine of parish life.

And so that is enough about me. I want to close on a personal note about you. A component of sabbaticals is the understanding that the person ‘disconnects’ with the parish during that time. You and I knew that was part of our covenant. Yet what I found to be the biggest challenge emotionally and spiritually was holding to that covenant in the midst of the many pastoral situations that happened. I want you to know that my ‘silence’ while deliberate, was at the same time agonizing.   This community is unconditionally loving towards one another. When one of us is hurting, we all are. So, perhaps that is the best blessing upon my return….we can hug one another. I missed you.

Caroline

Dear Folks,

With iced tea sweating beside her and shades drawn to block the sun, my grandmother didn’t move much on Arkansas August afternoons.  “It’s too hot to get up,” she would say if someone knocked on the door in the heat of the day.  She seemed genuinely shocked by their industry.  “What could anyone be doing out now,” she’d ask from her kitchen chair, dispatching me or a cousin to greet them.  I appreciated her responsiveness to the weather and the season.  The same woman who filled September through June with running a household, chairing civic groups, gardening, and working part-time for the church—accomplished while hobbling on a wooden crutch she used for over 65 years—slowed way down in the summer.

There was still plenty to do, and she got up earlier and stayed up later to take advantage of any welcome breeze.  But she also read more and kept a journal, adjusted her diet, and loosened her wardrobe.  What better blessing than to move without hurry?

Even the needs of our city call us in a different way right now.  Last evening in Darley Park, 150 citizens gathered to pray about violence and asked Mayor Pugh to respond with a comprehensive plan of action, and then after the cameras were turned off, we walked slowly from house to house, and listened to neighbors’ concerns.  Our conversations were quiet, punctuated by spaces left empty.  “I’m worried about the shooting,” said a woman named Angel, “but I think more about there being nothing good for my teenage sons to do and trying to get myself off alcohol.”  She asked us to pray for her health, and said she drew strength from our time together.  “I didn’t know anyone cared,” she said as we hugged.  It felt important to linger.

There’s a gift in these dog days, if we let them open up in their particular way.  Here’s an August offering from poet Naomi Shihab Nye:

Spun silk of mercy, long-limbed afternoon,
sun urging purple blossoms from baked stems.
What better blessing than to move without hurry
under trees? Lugging a bucket to the rose that became a twining
house by now, roof and walls of vine—
you could live inside this rose.
Pouring a slow stream around the
ancient pineapple crowned with spiky fruit,
I thought we would feel old by the year 2000.
Walt Disney thought cars would fly…

My neighbor says anything we plant
in September takes hold.
She’s lining pots of little grasses by her walk.

I want to know the root goes deep
on all that came before,
you could lay a soaker hose across your whole life and know
there was something under layers of packed summer earth
and dry blown grass to moisten.

Soak your roots deeply right now… take a long walk in a part of town you don’t know, pick up a book you’ve thought about reading for years, start a conversation with some unlikely neighbor and let yourself linger through spaces left empty, stare into the distance, rest.  We’ll have much to plant in September, and God willing, the seeds will take hold.

Love,
David

P.S. Many thanks to the 20+ parishioners who attended the Darley Park gathering yesterday afternoon.  We will have a follow-up discussion on Sunday, August 27 following the 10:00 a.m. service.

What does it take for a young person to turn away from “death dealing ways” and “choose life” instead?

In the summer of 1996 a young man found himself standing in a courtroom, holding a 4-page letter he had written in pencil to read to the juvenile court magistrate. In the months prior, he had stolen a car, gotten in numerous fights, done a lot of drugs and cut off an ankle monitor to flee probation. In his letter, Jerry described his life and the choices he had made to lead up to this point. He went on to say he had found a school community he was willing to try, to turn his life around. “Don’t send me to prison,” he pleaded, “Send me to Eagle Rock … I can choose my future from here.” The judge listened and granted his wish.

2 years later Jerry found himself standing on a stage in a gym, accepting his high school diploma, with feelings of pride, accomplishment and purpose, and a sense of hope. He had reestablished a relationship with his parents. He had discovered a gifted artist within himself, capable of painting stunning murals and bringing beauty into the world. He had found a moral compass within himself as well, able to discern right action from harmful action, and the will to act on what he discerned. He had found his way. He had chosen life. https://mobile.nytimes.com/1998/07/05/magazine/the-high-school-at-the-end-of-the-road.html?referer=http://eaglerockschool.org/about-us/history/

For every “Jerry,” there are countless more. Some like Jerry find their way; others don’t. And in losing their way, they literally lose their lives and take others with them. In our city of Baltimore as of today, there are 200 homicides on record for 2017, most of them from gun violence, and 34 in the last 30 days http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/police/homicides/.

As Baltimoreans and as Christians, followers of “The Way”, we ourselves have a choice before us. Do nothing? Accept this as “just the way it is”? Or do something …

Next Wednesday August 2, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development will gather at 6 p.m. in Darley Park at 2300 Harford Road. There, BUILD will hold a press conference to launch a campaign of action and call upon our mayor to work together with BUILD and our city’s public officials, to address Baltimore’s epidemic of violence with real and specific action steps. A group of us will be participating from Redeemer.

Will you join us?

Cristina

Dear Folks,

I’ve been wondering about what constitutes citizenship, and I posed the question to the group at “Let’s Talk About it,” a couple of weeks ago.  To what or to whom do we pledge allegiance?  Are faith and citizenship at odds?  What are the rights of a citizen and what are his/her responsibilities?

Aristotle defined the citizen as a member of the ecclesia, the assembly, who shares in the administration of justice.  Jefferson spoke of “citizen farmers” who gain their dignity from the land and have a civic duty to aid the state and resist corruption.  De Tocqueville in Democracy in America saw jury duty as the best context for learning citizenship and marveled at the new country’s deep respect for the law.  American citizens, he wrote, brand law breakers as outcasts and have the ultimate power to change any law they dislike.  The 14th Amendment to the Constitution asserts that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  Citizens are given the right to vote in this country, based on a deep belief in representative democracy, but what is the engaged voter to do with the fact that so few people exercise this right and responsibility?

And as people of faith, is our primary allegiance to the state or to our creeds?  Are we citizens of a country not of this earth, and if so, what are the implications for creating community here and now?

We had a lively discussion, and when I talked about it later at home, my wife Sarah recommended an article by Eric Booth, “The Citizen Artist: A Revolution of Heart with the Arts.”  Booth is a celebrated arts educator (Juillard, Stanford University, Kennedy Center), an author, and actor who has written about El Sistema, a global movement for social change through music. Booth redefines art as any work created with heart and raised to its highest level of expression (a symphony or concerto, sure, but also “the art of bricklaying,” “medical arts,” or the art of setting a beautiful table or creating something extraordinary in a work setting or lifting a conversation to a higher, creative place); artists as anyone engaged in this heart-work, and the work of real citizenship as fostering transformative relationships.  You can’t do art as outreach, Booth says, and expect any lasting change to occur; rather, artists and community members together define goals, chart a path to achieve them, and describe what success looks like when you get there.  A new commonwealth is created in the process, characterized by habits of citizenship: humility, empathy, honesty, and a commitment to forge authentic connections.

Booth is writing primarily to musicians, but I think his work can guide our thinking as people of faith, who find their identity in service.  We are called to serve the people of Baltimore as fellow citizens of God’s commonwealth, and community will begin through listening to each other to define goals and the path to reach them.

Love,

David