Dear Folks,

Last weekend, the Vestry and members of the program staff spent parts of two days on retreat, to consider the questions asked by a parishioner at our 2017 Annual Meeting: “Where will Redeemer be in 10 years, and do we have what we need to get there?”  Led by the Rev. Frank Wade, former rector of St. Albans Church in Washington, DC, interim Dean of Washington National Cathedral, and interim Dean of Students at Virginia Theological Seminary, we had an exhilarating, free-ranging discussion punctuated by lots of laughter.

We organized our discussion into three topics: Growing in Spiritual Depth, Shifting from Outreach to Community Engagement, and Growing in Numbers/Constituencies, and then considered the impact of each of these areas of development.

Some notes from our time together: The impact of growing spiritually includes deeper empathy, to see that the other is like me, the ability to listen and to be fully present, to hold joy and pain at once, to grow in trust, and increase the coherence between vision and action.  The impact of moving further into community engagement collapses the distinction between those serving and those being served, it sees the giving relationship as a two-way street between partners, and by fostering connections, it ameliorates the poverty of isolation.  At its best, we become One Baltimore across racial and class divides.  Our conversation about growth in numbers measures impact through more young families, 20-somethings, racial and economic diversity, redefines “church,” and embraces all of the people who benefit from Redeemer’s programming, from 12-step groups to compelling speaker series, from youth initiatives to serving seniors in retirement communities, from healing body, mind, and spirit to healing the environment.

We will use the insight articulated at the retreat to guide both our programming for 2017-18 and how we organize our mission.  The large number of people who engaged with what we offered last year, from musical events to book signings to community partnerships and worship, suggests that we are on the right track.

A Quaker School on Long Island uses this motto as their rallying cry: The world needs what our kids have to offer, and I would argue that the same is true for the vision of the Teacher from Nazareth.  Love is more powerful than hate, Life is longer than our mortal span of years, and one human family unites us across every arbitrary line of race and creed.  All we have is a gift from God, and its meaning comes from using it to help and heal the world.  We are each other’s business.

Here’s to a good program year that your presence and enthusiasm helped realize, and here’s to who and where we’ll be in 2027!

Love, David

Did you have a favorite super hero, growing up as a child? Did you ever play or make believe that you were him or her?

Mine was Wonder Woman, in the days that T. V. actress Lynda Carter  donned those red boots and twirled that golden lasso. As first graders at Bryn Mawr, my classmate Shanna and I would spend our recess running up and down the hill by the Lower Field, taking turns playing Wonder Woman and overcoming wicked foes from our own imaginations. Whatever the scenario, whatever the challenge, Wonder Woman always emerged victorious over those wicked, evil, bad guys, all the while remaining good, strong and beautiful; powerful, kind and true.

In a recent online meditation,  Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Richard Rohr, offers an alternative view of where the ultimate battle between “good” and “evil” lies:

“We cannot change the world except insofar as we have changed ourselves. We can only give away who we are …. Only the forgiven can forgive, only the healed can heal, only those who stand daily in need of mercy can offer mercy to others ….’the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better’ …. Don’t waste any time dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Hold them both together in your own soul—where they are anyway—and you will have held together the whole world …. God takes it from there, replicating the same pattern in another conscious human life ….” (https://cac.org/nothing-regret-god-uses-everything-favor-2017-06-12/)

Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew says something similar: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged …. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? …. first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5).

Begin within and move outward from there. Whether 1st century Palestine or 21st century U.S.A., the challenge –and the opportunity — are the same.

“Lord help me do what is mine to do.”

Amen.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

Four years ago I spent a month as a pilgrim, mostly walking by myself, sleeping in a new bunkroom every night, loading and unloading the few things I carried with me.  My shoulders remember the weight of water, added to an extra pair of pants and shoes and shirts—17 pounds, give or take—old friends after 500 miles.  The guidebooks suggested what I would need (and not need), and I followed the instructions dutifully.  It was liberating to follow their advice: be open to what the day brings, greet every stranger as a friend, travel lightly, pray.

This past January, my family and I set off on a similar journey.  How could we align our everyday lives more integrally with our values… shedding things, taking up less space, choosing more diversity, freeing up resources for education and adventure?  We got out the map of Baltimore, circled work and school and church, drew lines for public transportation, and walked down dozens of streets.  We took a class on urban home ownership, read neighborhood blogs, and attended various community meetings.  We asked strangers that we met, “What do you like about where you live?”

Our house sold in a day, but it took several unsuccessful tries before someone accepted our offer on a new one: a 12 foot wide row house near Patterson Park.  The shift invites us to travel lightly: in the past month we have sold or given away 4 armchairs, 2 tables, 8 dining chairs, 2 bureaus, bags of clothing, boxes of books, and more.  Though my shoulders register the weight of things carried to Goodwill or out to a friend’s car, my heart feels liberated, to sort through what we no longer need and navigate toward a new way of being that beckons us.

Here’s a poem I have returned to several times over the past few weeks:

Beginnings—
just tiny stirrings
which disturb our even surface,
prodding us into new and different shapes…
claiming their place
on our horizons—
stretching us
where we would not go—
yet we must.
Driven by life forces
deeper than our dreams,
we dare to rise
and grasp towards
the new young thing—
not yet born—
but insistent—
like a tight seed bursting
for life…  (Edwina Gately)

What is stretching you toward some new horizon?

Love,

David

Dear Folks,

There is a custom at a little church in the Midwest that goes like this. Whenever a person is about to be baptized, the minister calls out to the congregation, “Who stands with this child?” and the extended family or close friends rise from their seats and offer an outward and visible testimony of their inward commitment.  They stand, hearts brimming and knees shaking, even though they know sometimes their love might seem compromised or limited or unreciprocated.  They rise to pledge that they’ll do the best they can. These are the folks in the child’s life who know that growing up has never been easy, the people who know that being a parent is hard work in the best of circumstances.

And this custom of folks popping up here and there in the pews at a baptism makes the church feel cozy and warm and like a family, but I want to warn us from easy sentimentality, from striving to build a church in which it would be simple to guess who might stand for whom.  The community of faith is more than a family.  The measure of our vibrancy is not when we gather amiable people to stand with their neighbors… rather the church is created when enemies break bread together, when one broken-hearted outcast stands up for another, when a queen kneels before a poor, unwed mother or a recovering addict, and calls her sister.

That is the society that we are trying to create here and beyond, at home and at work and at play.  The community of saints is both more welcoming and more challenging than most of our biological families.  Our litmus test is not blood, but the spirit, and when we are at our best, the spirit of God is breathing through us wherever we go.

A child named Matthew was presented for baptism at an Episcopal church a few years back, and I imagine a group of folks stood to support him and his family as they gathered around the font.  But that same Matthew, child of God, was beaten and left for dead as a young man, tied to a fence post like yesterday’s garbage, because his way of being challenged some people’s idea of family values.  He loved “the wrong person,” another man, and that made some of his neighbors mad.  So one dark night, two very scared and confused young people, also God’s children, acted out of their own brokenness, and their fear turned murderous.

It would not have surprised me if Matthew’s parents had settled into their own murderous rage, mirroring the worst of their son’s killers, looking for vengeance, an eye for an eye.  But his parents did something extraordinary.  They asked for their son’s killers to be forgiven.  They stepped beyond the narrow circle of family of blood into the family of the spirit, and saw another son staring back at them through the eyes of their enemy.

Our true brothers and sisters are as likely to be our so-called enemies as our friends.  Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for what is right and merciful, because that is what the human family looks like and feels like and hurts like.  Jesus is describing us.  We belong to each other.  Any walls we build between us, of race and class and gender, of sexuality and nationality and ethnicity, of political party and religious tribe, are walls of fear.  Each of us has been a wanderer and a stranger, and our call is to make the world feel more like home for all.

Who will you stand with today?

Love,

David

Do you remember the first time in your life when you were aware of feeling scared?

My first memory of feeling scared is from my childhood in the Philippines, visiting relatives. Auntie Ems rented living quarters in the back of her property to various boarders, one of whom had a child with whom I sometimes played. We were running around one day when my playmate decided it would be funny to lock me inside their small, two-room home and not tell anyone. I remember hearing the door lock and looking outside the window just in time to see her running away, laughing, with her house key in hand and no one else in the house. I couldn’t figure out a way to get out. I began to panic. I felt so scared, so alone, and I didn’t think anyone would ever figure out how or where to find me. (Eventually another boarder saw me banging on the window and ran to get my aunt, to let me out. I told Auntie Ems I didn’t want to play with that particular playmate anymore!)

Last night in the Parish Hall, 75 folks from a variety of denominations and faiths heard a man from another country tell his own story of being scared: a story not from his childhood but from the present day. He recently left his homeland, fearing and fleeing for his life; as a journalist and radio personality in his country, he had dared to speak bold truth to corrupt power. He hoped to feel a sense of safety and sanctuary here in America. He hoped to feel a sense of security. He hoped to feel hopeful, for life and for living. As he spoke last night, it was clear that today, here in America in our own city of Baltimore, he feels none of these things.

What he does feel is scared.

Today as followers of Christ we celebrate our Lord’s ascension, an oft-neglected feast of the church. But as one contemporary biblical scholar reflects:

 … it’s worth retaining and remembering, because Ascension Day reminds us that we cannot limit God. For while God came to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus, Jesus’ ascension reminds us that we can’t restrict God to any one place. Jesus’ ascension, then, isn’t about his leaving – his disciples, us, the world – but rather is about the simultaneous confession that 1) God has chosen to be located in our physical world so that God may be accessible to us, and 2) God refuses to be limited even to those important places.

No building, no people, no book, no religion, even, can limit God’s ability to be accessible to others.

http://www.davidlose.net/2013/05/ascension-day-and-the-freedom-of-god-2/

Who are we to say God resides “here” but not “there”? Who are we to proclaim salvation to some – some people, some religion, some faith – and not to all? And if we are all truly God’s children – kin to one another, bound by our common humanity, made of flesh and spirit, each of of us capable of feeling fear, anger, sadness and joy – are we not bound to treat one another as we ourselves would want to be treated in similar circumstances? To free a scared child, locked inside a building without her consent? To give hope and to provide a sense of safety and security to a fellow human being, fearing and fleeing for his very life?

All things are born of you, O God.

We carry within us your light and your life.

In the mystery of matter

and deep in the cells of our souls

are your longings for oneness.

The oneness of the universe

vast and vibrating with the sound of its beginning.

The oneness of the earth

greening and teeming as a single body.

The oneness of the human soul

a sacred countenance in infinite form.

Grant us your longings for oneness, O God,

amidst life’s glorious multiplicities.

~John Philip Newell

Grant us your longings, O God, and grant us the courage, the will, to act.

Cristina