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,
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?
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!
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.
Rebuild Metro has been around for 15 years, quietly working in East Baltimore. In 2002 the team began acquiring scattered properties in the Oliver neighborhood, collaborating with five local churches from whom they raised $1.2 million dollars, along with the city, who agreed to sell them the houses at low cost and turn them over to Rebuild, address by address, as they were ready to rehabilitate them. The developer, which is an outgrowth of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), used economic data and community relationships to get things started, focusing on small areas where they knew the rehabs would produce the greatest effect. “We build from strength,” said Sean Closkey, executive director of Rebuild, when I met him last Thursday.
“We work inward from natural boundaries—railroad tracks, a park, a business—to define an area where our work will have maximal impact.” The neighborhood needs to feel the transformation, see it, and celebrate it “if our efforts are going to be relationship-based and long-lasting,” he said. Perhaps most importantly, there has been no displacement of current residents. “It’s hard to build relationships when the community is gone,” Closkey reported in a 2018 Guardian article.
“The model here is to rehabilitate existing houses, as well as to take smaller actions, such as fixing up a corner garden, or clearing an overgrown field. All this is of a piece – and built around organizing – with residents taking charge of consulting neighbors, identifying needs, and mobilizing resources with support from local institutions and philanthropies.” (Siddhartha Mitter, Guardian)
Closkey and I talked about the vacant houses in Baltimore (16,000 by last count, with the city owning 2500 of those) and compared typical “urban renewal” to the community-based work that Rebuild Metro embodies. “Most often a developer acquires several blocks of a depressed neighborhood, helps the few remaining residents move to a new location, razes the existing housing stock, and builds a high density structure. A block of twenty row homes might be replaced with sixty new residences.”
“But the Baltimore housing stock, which was built for a city with a population of one million people, arguably doesn’t need more houses. Rather, neighborhoods like Oliver and Greenmount West are strengthened by being right-sized and having fewer houses, while adding more community-building features, like green spaces and coffee shops and small businesses. You can’t organize without residents,” Closkey adds, and since our vision is based on knowing the people we serve, “we help them stay in the neighborhood.”
“Place matters,” said the Reverend Calvin Keene, a former business executive who was called in midlife to be pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Oliver and to serve in the neighborhood that raised him. “And we nurture individuals’ commitment to a house or a church or a block into something bigger—a community that cares about its common life.” Keene is the board chair of Rebuild Metro, and he joined us for a tour, pointing out a playground where a drug market once plied its trade and a pocket park where a notorious tavern once stood.
Now, thanks to the tireless efforts of Regina Hammond, who has been organizing her block in Johnston Square for 20 years, Rebuild Metro will turn to this neighborhood which bridges the gap between Rebuild’s earlier projects. The work is radical, restorative, and regenerative, according to their website—slow and steady and organic, the way a plant grows.
Take a look at www.rebuildmetro.com and pray about how it moves you. If you want to learn more, reach out to me or parishioner Peter Bain. How might Redeemer be called to be part of this transformative community collaboration?