I have a confession to make.  I have not nary a smidgen of Christmas decoration yet, in my house.  Last year as I recall, my decorative outdoor wreathe went up on the evening of Advent Four and that was just to prove to my neighbors that I wasn’t a total hypocrite (since they all knew I was a priest in the Christian Church).  While their homes and yards were showered in colored and white lights, mine was the dark hole in the middle of all of that brightness.

The funny thing is, I know I’m not alone.  There are many of us who continue to transition into new lives and new ways of being as we leave behind what was for what is to become.  Some of us can’t even begin to think about the holiday and really just want to get through it all still standing.  But the beauty of the Christmas story is that there is a truer and better way.

The story says that what was— darkness, despair, fear, and a hiding from the face of God (the good) in the midst of Paradise changed when the good God chose to become embodied and “move into our neighborhood.” The good became one of us and THAT changed everything!  Now, what is TO BECOME has been coming ever since.  Indeed all of creation, including us, is evolving.

Our Christian faith is a CHRISTMAS FAITH after all!  It is a strong knowing that GOD-is-with-us.  It is this faith that calls us out of wherever we are in this phase of transition of our lives to anticipate, expect, and wait on seeing the activity of God’s Presence anew.

I am so glad to have heard this year’s call, this year’s invitation in the Lessons & Carols event last Sunday.  Bert and our marvelous choirs and musicians outdid themselves in allowing the Spirit of Christ to use them for the good of all of us who were there, and I am ever so grateful.  I left for home full of joy and thinking “GOD, you ARE with us…thank you!”

I will be changing my own living space into a more festive setting on my Sabbath this week.  I don’t have to fear what is becoming.  Life is change, transition, and ultimately transformation.  I am glad to BE ALIVE!  I pray Christmas blessings upon us all; I pray that we can see GOD (the good) in unexpected places and remember that GOD-IS-WITH-US.  I hope we can perceive and say, “thank you, GOD!”

With Christmas Love,

FM+

Dear Folks,

The folks who meet John the Baptist in the wilderness are a courageous, scrappy lot.  They could have stayed home.  They could have shut their ears to his stunning, difficult cries.  They could have circled the wagons against change and his impertinent challenge of the status quo.  But when John says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees,” instead of ducking, they turn their heads to listen.  I’m not sure who was more surprised!  When John says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” they drop what they are doing and cross the Jordan River to meet him.  When John says, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” every person within ear shot says “What then should we do?”  It’s a question that will change their lives, an invitation to rise up from death to life.  Their query “What then should we do” belies their discomfort with the way things are and their consciousness of the need to change.  Crippled by destructive choices and the selfishness that can bring death to any one of us, they long to walk in the light of a new day.

We live again in a dark and dangerous time, and I wonder if we have the consciousness and the courage to kindle some essential light?  Do we still believe that God is bending the universe toward that which is right and good, toward the weak and the wounded and the truly wise?  And what are we willing to give up, to make a way for those who have no way?

Ten years ago I preached at the memorial service for a neighbor who struggled with his own set of demons, including depression, and what I learned from him, I think, can apply to each of us.  In his ups and down, Francis’ life is a parable.  For each of us is transformed through dying and rising, probably many times over a lifetime—little deaths and small resurrections punctuate our days and years, if we have eyes to see them—and surely this was the case with Francis.  This pattern seems to be the only way we really ever grow—death to life, Good Friday to Easter, over and over again.

And “We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast.  Unless we face a major disaster like the death of a friend or spouse or loss of a marriage or job, we usually will not go there.”  (Richard Rohr)  So most of us have to be taught the language of the spirit, which is all about descending into the crucible of life’s struggle, where wise ones discover meaning not in answers but in better, more focused questions.  If we will listen, the dark periods of life are good teachers.  And as Francis discovered in his sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful journey, God works in the darkness.  In fact, God works especially there, where we are most lost and alone.  Novelist William Styron writes in his record of depression that the hard won light of wisdom, gift of God, can make even the darkness visible.

What can you do?  Go into the wilderness, your own private darkness of selfishness or greed, of violence or anxiety, of anger or fear.  Take inventory and separate the wheat from the chaff.  And then let the light of Christ burn up everything that’s getting in between you and your changing the world.  Let yourself see what the darkness makes visible, and then make a way for those who have no way.

Love,
David

Stage lights fell on the man behind the podium at The Historic Parkway Theater on North Avenue last Tuesday night.

“My mother died when I was 21-years old,” William Glover Bey confessed in a soft voice to a packed crowd. “She was the only person I trusted in the world. My life spiraled downward from there.”

“Spiraling downward” for William included what has become, painfully, a familiar Baltimore story, including being shot several times, getting involved in the drug scene, and spending years of his life incarcerated.

But William is now a fulltime, well-respected employee at The Johns Hopkins Hospital – his children are in college or college-bound – and minutes after speaking under the Parkway Theater lights, he was asked back on stage to receive a special award. The award was given to him by Terrell Williams and Melvin Wilson, co-directors of Turnaround Tuesday. Turnaround Tuesday is also a Baltimore story — one of redemption, hope and courage — that deserves to be spread broad and wide during this holiday season of light shining through the darkness.

Perhaps some of you have heard this Baltimore story by now? Several years ago, a pastor and a community organizer decided to engage the group of men whom they noticed hanging out, day in and day out, in the alleyway outside the pastor’s office window; the alleyway was strewn with needles, evidence of how many of them were passing their days.

Armed with genuine curiosity (and perhaps a clipboard or two), the pastor and community organizer began talking with the men and listening to them, listening to their stories. “How is it that you are here, doing what you’re doing?” they wondered aloud, together with the men. “What would it take for you not to be here? What is it that you need, to change your status quo?” Some natural leaders in the group were identified, to engage others in this reflective exercise.

Their resounding, collective response? “Give us living-wage jobs, the chance to support ourselves and our families, and we won’t be here in this alleyway, anymore.” “Don’t send us to job training program after job training program after job training program that don’t result in actual jobs; we’ve been there, done that.” “Connect us with employers who are willing to hire us, who don’t automatically equate a history of incarceration with untrustworthiness and unemployability.” “Give us a chance at a meaningful, productive life.

And thus begun the jobs movement of BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development) known as Turnaround Tuesday that celebrated its 5 year anniversary with a grand event at The Parkway Theater last Tuesday evening.

To date, since its inception, Turnaround Tuesday has placed 738 Baltimoreans in living-wage jobs with partnering organizations, including The Johns Hopkins University, Medstar Health, and University of Maryland Medical System; employers report a remarkable 80-85% retention rate of Turnaround Tuesday hires. President of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Redonda Miller, on a mini-documentary recently produced by Harvard University Wallace Foundation Fellow and native Baltimorean, Yasmene Mumby, reports that Hopkins’ Turnaround Tuesday employees are hard-working, compassionate and dedicated; they are role models for their fellow co-workers. Promotions at work are not uncommon for Turnaround Tuesday hires.

William, in his speech at The Parkway, gave some insight into why, at least for him.

“It’s my responsibility, to help fix what I was a part of breaking,” his soft voice echoed throughout the theater.

Another Turnaround Tuesday graduate, also a Hopkins employee, appears in Yasmene’s mini-documentary: “I’m making different choices today. I am better than I was yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that.”

May it be so, for all of us.

Cristina

Want to visit Turnaround Tuesday? Click HERE to download pamphlet. Visitors to Turnaround Tuesday are welcome every Tuesday morning from 9-11am on the eastside at Zion Baptist Church, 1700 N. Caroline Street, and on the westside from 2-4pm at Macedonia Baptist church, 718 W. Lafayette Avenue.

I have been particularly smitten with the beauty of the autumn colors my first fall in Baltimore!  The reds, golds, greens, and ambers raise my spirit and remind me of the glory of God in her many disguises.  I use the expressways a lot and am always amazed at the splendor that overwhelms me as I wind a curve in the road to be greeted by yet another glorious Maryland landscape.  Simply put— I am enchanted!

During my years at St. Vincent’s House, Galveston, this time of year was especially grand.  We turned our large common space into a “restaurant” and served the thanksgiving meal to all of our neighbors (or even beyond) who would come.  Our neighborhood, you must understand, was much like areas of West Baltimore today.  Our partnerships with a catering business, a DJ, a linen service and our board of directors, ensured that we would share a feast that would be an extremely festive spread.  Throughout the day, we would serve and share our meals with upwards of 250-300 families.

In our times together, we discovered we were SO much alike—those of us who prepared the meals and those who ate them.  It was at St. Vincent’s House, that I realized GOD was literally “all-over-the-place” and I just never knew it.  I was forced to repent of thinking and believing that GOD was only where and when I thought God should/would be!

The Buddhist speaks of the need to enter each day with beginner’s mind, a way of perceiving life experiences anew.  The Christian speaks of repentance, a way of making a 180 degree turn from perceiving life in one way to a totally different way.  Both teachings illuminate a truth that transcends all time, space, and religions:  the DIVINE GLORY is EVERYWHERE and that includes seeing that glory in each other.

Most of us can sense something that transcends everything when we engage a beautiful piece of art, or hear a symphony, or enjoy laughter and fun with friends and family, but it was a Thanksgiving that gave me the sense of that transcendent something when I met fellow travelers on the Way.

A prayer:

May the DIVINE GLORY rise up and bathe all that we do, eat, and say in delightful reds, greens, golds, and ambers this Thanksgiving.  May our minds and hearts remain open and free!

Amen.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING Y’ALL!

FM+

Dear Folks,

“When will we know that the end is about to come?” the disciples ask Jesus in the Luke’s gospel.  “What will the signs be?” they wonder, and we can chuckle at their naivety, but apocalyptic thinking still surfaces today.  We are alive again in a time of hopelessness.  I heard it in the fear mongering that accompanied the last presidential election.  I wonder about it when people tell me they’ve lost hope in young people, or lost hope in the government, or lost hope in the church.  I wonder about it when 20-somethings tell me they don’t plan to marry or have children.  I wonder about it when we argue about fossil fuel and climate change instead of altering our behaviors of consumption.  Someone’s world comes to end somewhere, everyday—and there is plenty of anxiety to fuel doomsday thinking around the world and across town.  Thoughtful people still wonder, with reason, if the end is near.

In a sense, it’s always near.  So we don’t have to be like the kid on the long car trip who keeps asking every ten minutes, “Are we there yet.”  We are there, and I think we know it.  Look carefully and you’ll see the disparity in schools, the spiritual and economic legacy of racism, and our wounded environment.  People are hurting, some are dying, and when they lose hope or turn cynical, we can’t sit idly by.  Rather, we can respond to John the Baptist’s clarion call: God’s kingdom is at hand, and it is in our hands.

Kathleen Norris writes, “The literature of the apocalypse can be scary stuff, the kind of thing that can give religion a bad name, because people so often use it as a means of controlling others, instilling dread by invoking a bogeyman God.”  But apocalyptic literature, like the reading from Luke in chapter 21, is not “a detailed prediction of the future, or an invitation to withdraw from the concerns of the world.”  On the contrary, it is a wake-up call, “one that uses intensely poetic language and imagery to sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in and promise for the world.” (Norris, Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith)

When we look carefully, we discover “that marriages, families, communities, and nations often come together and discover their true strength (precisely) when some apocalypse—some new revelation of the fault lines in our thinking or our systems—has occurred… For some reason, we seem to learn best how to love when we’re a bit broken, when our plans fall apart, when our myths of self-sufficiency and goodness and safety are shattered.” (Norris)  Apocalypse is meant to bring us to our senses—allowing us a sobering, and admittedly painful glimpse of what is—and then envision the new life we can build from the ashes of the old.

Who knows how Christ will come, or when, or where?  If we are in search of a timetable and try to crack the code of apocalyptic literature, we are probably on a wild goose chase.  And when some of us claim that all who join our party or parish or denomination will be saved and everyone else is lost, we are mistaken.  “The ones who will be saved, Jesus says, are the ones who are feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoners.  If we love, in other words, we are in.”  (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.  (Bishop Ken Untener)

People of good faith can change systems that have become perverse or wounding, so that they work for human beings again.

You know, we’ve read to the end of the book.  We know how the story goes.  We know the responsibility we hold in our hands and the kingdom those hands are pointing to.  We know that good triumphs over evil, that life is more powerful than death, that the arc of the universe bends toward justice, and that love abides.  We don’t have to travel through time or gaze into a crystal ball to see the rapture.  But we do have to build the kingdom, if Shalom is ever going to come. We know what the coming of the living God looks like: it looks like you and me working the earth of the heart, digging into the ground of Being, confronting meanness and injustice and betrayal every day if we have to, sowing seeds of healing and reconciliation and community, because we have to, every day, one person at a time.

Love,
David