Dear Folks,

Blackface has roots in Baltimore.  Though Thomas D. Rice first presented his song and dance show Jump Jim Crow in Louisville in 1828, Baltimore craftsmen modified the banjo for Rice, and the instrument and actor became hugely popular here in the 1830’s.  Then, after a few years of performing for sold-out houses in Old Town, Rice took his show to London, where the character Jim Crow was sewn into public consciousness.  (Antero Pietila, The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins) Smeared with burned cork, Rice’s ragged, charismatic trickster appropriated black folklore as farce, making the figure Jim Crow shorthand for America’s imperfect union of race.

I thought about all of that this week, as two elected officials in Virginia revealed that they had worn blackface as students 35 years ago.  Some people have called for their removal from office.  For close to two centuries, white people darkening their faces and exaggerating their features in the name of fun has relegated black people as other, and leaders held in the public trust should have known better even as adolescents, some argue.  But we’ve all said horrible things or acted in shameful ways, a member of my Bible study reminded us yesterday.  And another wondered: Are there lines that an individual can cross from which he or a system can never recover?  And what if you cross a line that you didn’t know existed until you transgressed?  Is ignorance of a custom or a law a defense that holds water?   And what are the limits of letting a person change or grow once she has fallen off the tracks?

Last night we filled the house at Redeemer to hear Judge Robert Bell and author Steve Luxenberg talk about Plessy vs. Ferguson and the legacy of segregation.  Bell, the first African American to serve as the Chief Judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals, weighed in on the Virginia officials.  “The Governor made a mistake by first admitting his behavior and then retracting his confession.  The shift undercuts his trustworthiness.  But let me be clear: the fact of his appearing in blackface as a young man does not disqualify him from public office, in my opinion.  He should apologize and show us how he has grown.  A person can make a mistake 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even last year, and if he can demonstrate through his actions that he has changed, then that is the salient point.  I believe in redemption and the possibility of a person being transformed.”

Luxenberg quoted from a speech that The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at Cornell College in 1962: “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”  So how do we get unstuck?

The way forward is to build the beloved community now, no longer settling for any system of separation, no longer living as strangers, no longer using humor as a weapon.  Getting there requires us to know ourselves—our gifts and responsibilities, our mistakes and the ways we have grown—to get to know the stranger well, and with God’s help, to turn from any behaviors that cripple to actions that heal.  I believe in redemption and the promise of transformation, and the hard work of love that leads to trust.  And when we trust each other, especially across lines of race and gender, sexuality or class, we are much more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt, more able to call each other out when someone crosses a line, and when somebody’s gotten lost, more willing to help each other back home.

Love,

David

“Here I am! I’m totally here. My head is here. I am here.” Chloe Pitard, our very own Mary Poppins, exclaimed these words with enthusiasm as she stepped onto the Parish Hall stage Tuesday night to begin rehearsals for the Redeemer Youth Group play.  Chloe’s presence was palpable, and her announcement helped me to recognize this energetic signature within everyone. The crew, cast, parent volunteers and directors were more than just there, they were present in heart and mind. It was remarkable to witness everyone’s patience, cooperation and good humor as they engaged in demanding work.

Participating in the RYG play practices is teaching me again that the gift of practice is not perfection (as the old saying goes), it is presence. Practice asks everything of us.  That’s not easy.  Yet, the gift we receive is a deeper sense of who we are as we offer up our gifts and take part in something bigger. Here I am!  I am here!

Recently my daughter Lila asked me if I was a practicing Christian.  She was writing a paragraph about “ma mère” for her 7th grade French Class.  It struck me that she chose the words “practicing Christian”. I answered “yes” without hesitation, and that felt good. Yet I did pause to think, “what does it mean to be a practicing Christian?”. It’s a compelling question that feels immediate and personal, like an invitation to listen, to keep questioning, to stay awake. It feels like the dismissal we hear on Sunday, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”  Here I am.  I am here.

Considering Christianity as a daily practice makes me immensely grateful for the Church of the Redeemer where clergy and congregation live their faith within and well beyond the church walls. We are offered many ways to love courageously, practice peace and patience, and to serve the Lord.  Here I am. I am here.

As you put the dates for the The Redeemer Youth Group performances of Mary Poppins in your calendar, consider all the ways our youth are showing up, fully present in mind, body and heart.  Here I am.  I am Here.

With love,

Vivian

The Redeemer Youth Group performs Mary Poppins

February 22nd and 23rd at 7:30 p.m. and February 24th at 12:30 p.m.

“Let gratitude be the pillow on which you kneel to say your daily prayers.”

That quote from Maya Angelou arrived in my email early Sunday morning before I came to church. It struck me as a powerful reflection of what I was feeling in those early hours and it seems appropriate this morning as I write my final E-Redeemer. I am not sure I have the ‘bandwidth” or language skills to express how very, very grateful I am to this community. For the last couple of weeks I have been overwhelmed by your notes, gifts and expressions of appreciation for my ministry at Redeemer. The reality is I have had to put them aside until I have the emotional space and spiritual quiet to ‘hear and honor’ your thoughts. I now know what is meant by the expression: “The gift that keeps on giving.”

The experience of Sunday was one I probably will never be able to fully absorb. I kept thinking, stay in the moment, be attentive, don’t lose focus. But even those mental reminders were not enough. The hugs and tributes and gifts seemed to be endless. So much has congealed into a state of love and kindness which marinates my soul. There are many I wish to thank:

Those who represented the Women Who Wonder, the Knitting Ministry, Pastoral Care Team Ministry, Sacred Space for Grace and the Altar Guild offering such kind remarks and tokens of appreciation.

Molly Hathaway, Brandon Berkeley and Townsend Kent for all the festivities in the parish hall. Oh my….balloons and ferns and flowers along with the absolutely adorable beaver with a customized clergy outfit that greeted the parish on the way into church.

Ellen Chatard for working with Carol Williams, the caterer, to provide a gourmet “coffee hour”. Crab, salmon, ham biscuits, chicken salad, tenderloin, stuffed eggs, meatballs, veggies, cheese were part of the abundance….and of course, diet coke was the beverage of choice for the day!

Bert Landman and his fabulous choir who endorsed my choices of music along with adding some beautiful selections of their own. I was particularly moved when we all sang the final hymn: “Now Thank We All Our God”. That felt so uniting for our community as we ended an emotional worship experience.

The Rev. Joe Hart and The Rev. Joanna Tetrault, clergy colleagues who joined us at the altar. Joe is Director of Spiritual Support at GBMC and served as my first supervisor when I interned with him in 2001 as a student in the Pastoral Counseling Program at Loyola. Since that initial meeting our relationship has expanded and grown and he continues to be a friend and mentor. How wonderful to have Joanne as well. It has been my privilege to be alongside her journey into ordained ministry!

Barbara Hart, who well, she just keeps me on track for everything…. lost glasses, forgotten appointments, pastoral reminders, funeral bulletins, etc., etc. so I just know she was running around making sure everything was in place and filling in holes of what may be needed at the time.

Mark, Vu, and Chuan who are unceasingly cheerful setting up and moving and cleaning. No doubt they were busy, busy, busy with all the activities for the reception, both before and after.

Cristina and David who were scheming all kinds of surprises leading up to Sunday. Oh my, songs and poems and hugs and love. At the foundation of our relationship is “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” and it is within that foundation that we laugh a lot with one another along with serve the parish faithfully. What exists between us will never be lost….you do not ever lose that which is sacred.

And I have saved the best for last! I have just been told that the purse in my honor which will go to Paul’s Place is at $20,000 and growing. Oh my, oh my, oh my!!! Extraordinary!!!

So dear, dear, dear Redeemer….we have been on Holy Ground for 9 years….that will be the place for the pillow on which I  shall kneel to offer my prayerful gratitude. I cherish you.

~Caroline

An i-phone calendar that includes your child’s “Baccalaureate” and “Graduation” events in June. A colleague’s office with bookcases cleared of books and walls stripped of pictures. A body that no longer regulates temperature like it used to. Signs of change — clear, true and inevitable.

When I was in my twenties, I (mostly) welcomed change like I welcome chocolate. Change was fun! Change was exciting! Change meant new adventures and new possibilities! Pick up, pack up and move to a new part of the country? Yes! (What cool cross-country route to drive?!) Check out a new restaurant, meet some new friends? Why not?! Count me in! Move workplaces and shift job responsibilities? Okay, I’m on it!

These days, the prospect of change feels different. I drink in the sight of Grace in our family room, her long body draped across the length of our blue sofa, already envisioning a strangely available sofa come this fall. I linger in Caroline’s office doorway, laughing with her about something fun and funny we’ve just shared, and helping myself to a Tic-Tac or two from an otherwise empty bookshelf, so I can linger a bit longer. I pick up a draft service bulletin during staff meeting and begin fanning myself, longing for the days when the term “hot flash” was not something I understood so … intimately.

My head knows that we love and raise our children so we can eventually let them go, to find their own way; that colleagues in ministry must honor their sacred inner sense of timing, discernment and “call”; that, in the words of spiritual writer Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward” into the second half of life can involve a dying and rising of body-mind-spirit that is the stuff of hero-journeying, with fiery dragons and all. My head knows and understands this — accepts it all, even — and stands ready for change and open to new possibilities and new life, on the other side.

My heart … well … She has her own seasons and timing, her own way of navigating these waters and tides.

More and more, these days, I have found myself enjoying the simple meditation of gazing at candlelight for minutes at a time, longer if possible. “Enjoying” is actually not the full story; “needing” to gaze is more true. I find it calming. I find it reassuring. I find it grounding, while also purifying and cleansing, somehow. It helps me to tap into something eternal, beyond-time and out-of-time, unchanging and true, amidst the change swirling and twirling all around and inside.

One thing I am certain of: how good it is, to be part of our community of faith, hope and love, as we navigate the changes and chances of this life together.

O God,
you inspire the hearts of the faithful with a single longing,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
so that in all the changes and chances
of this uncertain world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

It’s been a long time since the blessing “God be with you” disappeared into the word “Good-bye,” but every now and then some note of it echoes through us.

On opening day, a mom with a scarf tied around her neck hoists her six-year-old up on the first step of the school bus.  “Good-bye,” she says.  A dad on the phone with his freshman son takes him to task for poor grades and a party gone bad.  After his harangue, there is only silence on the other end of the line.  “Well, good-bye,” the father finally says.  When the young woman at the airport hears the announcement that her plane is starting to board, she turns to the friend who is seeing her off.  “I guess this is good-bye,” she offers.  The elderly fellow tries to look vigorous and resourceful as he holds out his hand to his school chum, now white-headed, too.  The noise of the traffic threatens to drown out the voices that once bellowed across playing fields or up and down hallways.  “Good-bye,” they each say, so nearly in unison that it makes them both smile.  (inspired by Frederick Buechner)  You hear it whenever we gather to pray.  A version of “God be with you,” begins most services, the preacher paradoxically preparing us to say “Good-bye” even as we say “Hello.”

I’ve been thinking about all of that, since the day Caroline told me that she would soon complete her time at Redeemer.  I’m mostly sad, to lose the daily-ness of our interactions, the nearly constant laughter shouted up and down hallways, the plans hatched at staff meetings, the bubbling ideas, the naughty comments, the confidences shared at the close of business and sometimes through the evening.  I’ll miss her courage.  Caroline is very good at drawing boundaries, but when one or more of us suggested some new way to reach out, or to lead worship, or to gather the community, or to nurture the flock, she never responded with “Why?”  Caroline always said, “Why not!” and we were off and running.  I’ll miss her humility.  Caroline prepares methodically, does her research, charts a road map, but she holds her plans lightly, ready to head in a new direction if the spirit calls.  Frequently, as we debriefed a class or a sermon, Caroline would say, “Well, I thought I was going to Pittsburgh, and we ended up in Philadelphia, but I think that’s o.k.”  I’ll miss her honesty.  With counselees, with colleagues, with friends, even with a bishop, it is not unusual for Caroline to say, “I’m going to speak some truth.”  She takes her lumps if others disagree with her, claims her insights as her own, and listens carefully for the wisdom of others.

I believe Caroline was set free by coming to her vocation as a priest as a second or third chapter in her life—after important work at Garrison Forrest, after degrees in counseling, after raising two children.  She was genuinely surprised by the invitation to be ordained, and that spirit of playfulness has served her and us and the Church so well.  She has had nothing to lose in her priesthood, nothing to prove, and so, almost anything has been possible.  Her legacy, then, is an echo of the blessing she continues to be: openness, freedom, possibility, play.  The joy of those lasing gifts is laid alongside my sense of loss and redeems it.

I spoke with another wise woman yesterday as we planned a memorial service.  Speaking about her loved ones, she said, “At this point I understand there are five more things to say: Forgive me, I forgive you, Thank you, I love you, Good-bye,” and she went on.  “I have taken care of the forgiveness work, and I am writing a thank you note to every person I’ve encountered in some significant way.  I’m saying ‘I love you.’  All that’s left is for me to say is “Good-bye.”  Me too.

Thank you, good and faithful friend.  My gratitude for working beside you gives me such joy, even as I navigate your departure and its inevitable losses.  God be with you.

Love,

David

P.S. Please join us on January 27 at the 10:00 service and a special coffee hour afterwards, as we celebrate Caroline!

The markers of completing my time at Redeemer are now fully on the horizon, no longer obscured by Advent and Christmas. Even Epiphany has come and gone. As I look ahead, my calendar is filled with pastoral appointments with parishioners, 3 mental health workshop trainings, a funeral, 2 preaching assignments along with the other ‘normal’ routines of parish life. The end is now measured in weeks, soon to be days. And the passage of time is only accelerating. I am feeling sad. I am grieving.

Clergy deal with grief on a routine basis. That is a ‘normal’ part of living even though there is not a normal pattern to the process. Everyone grieves differently.  It is hard work to grieve ‘well’ so the emotions are not masked or ignored. It takes time and patience. I am reminding myself of those elements now.

One of the most valuable lay ministries of Redeemer is our Sacred Space for Grace; an offering for those who have experienced loss, not necessarily of a person. We grieve the loss of a job, a relationship, a pet, a dream, a disappointment. Our society does not always hold up such losses as significant or having emotional/spiritual/ physical consequences, yet the reality is we each can suffer from such wounds.

Sacred Space for Grace is a 6 week small group program facilitated by Ruthie Cromwell and Nancy Bowen both trained in grief work. It is offered in the fall, winter and spring.The ‘curriculum’ includes such topics as What Does Grief Feel Like; Stress Reduction; Experiences of Grief; a Grief Counselor from Gilchrist; How Grief Transforms. The next session begins on Saturday, January 26 from 10-11:30. Email cstewart@baltimoreredeemer.org to sign up. This is a community offering so if you know a non-Redeemer member, please encourage them to contact us.

I appreciate the quote below as I think it holds such wisdom….and is a valuable reminder that my own ability to grieve will hold blessings ahead.

“It has been my distinct experience that our capacity for joy is in direct proportion to our capacity for grief.  The more we do the honest work of allowing our emotions free movement within us, the greater the possibility that joy will be one of those feelings that comes to visit or reside in us.”  Christine Valters Painter

Caroline

Dear Folks,

The wise men were trying to unravel the mystery of life.  They had studied the ancient books and searched the stars.  They had plotted their journey using the best techniques available to them and planned for a lavish reception at its conclusion, yet they almost missed the news unfolding before their eyes.  The magi were probably high-ranking political advisors to the rulers of their countries, modern day Iraq and Iran, so it makes sense that they would travel to Jerusalem, the capital city, and confer with the leader there, King Herod.  But the answer they were seeking turned out to be nine miles away, in a backwater town named Bethlehem.  When their wandering led them to a poor baby, born of parents in questionable circumstances, they probably bickered about taking a wrong turn somewhere.  What child is this?

Their everyday world was parochial and given to violence, so it must have been bracing to encounter this small tribe of people whose prophets spoke of beating their swords into ploughshares and welcoming the stranger as a holy visitor. In W.H. Auden’s poem, “For the Time Being,” the wise men say it this way: “To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.”  Who was the first to kneel in his sumptuous clothes at that impossibly humble manger?

Given their revelation, it comes as no surprise that the magi “left for their own country by another way,” according to Matthew’s gospel.  On a certain level the wise men were simply being careful as they traveled.  One or more of them had had an unsettling dream that suggested they better not retrace their steps or come into contact with Herod again, so they took an alternate route home.

But consider further who they are and how far they have traveled.  These counselors are learned philosophers from the so-called fertile crescent, whose libraries and religions are much older than that of the Hebrew people they have met.  They have followed a star for many months through a dark desert, carrying symbolic gifts for the one who would be king, and they probably had a pretty good idea of who and what they would find.  I imagine they expected the king to embody some version of “might makes right” or “only the strong survive.”  But the king they discover is vulnerable and arguably powerless, born in a borrowed room with animals nosing around him.  Of course these wise men will go home by another way—everything they were counting on has been turned on its head.  What will home be when they get there?

The star they are following illumines the deepest mystery of life: each fragile human person embodies the power to topple kingdoms of greed and violence.  Love is born at Christmas.

Happy Epiphany.

David

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
and here in this place
the excitement is rising,
in every child’s face.
 
The greens on the walls
have been swagged to and fro.
There’s holly and cedar
‘neath candles aglow.
 
The choirs are all practiced,
the ushers in line,
guilds altar and flower
have made this house shine.
 
The costumes are ready,
the lines learned by heart,
for Inn-keeper, Gabriel,
and Narrator’s part.
 
The grandmas are swooning,
the moms a bit tired,
The dads do their part
‘cause the children are wired.
 
All praise for Miss Maggie,
Miss Viv and LaPlant,
who loved us and taught us
to never say “Can’t.”
 
On Drama! On Donuts!
On Scripture! On time!
Kids teaching each other
makes chaos sublime.
 
And what do you think
Of the Ravens these days,
With Jackson as QB
And running the plays?
 
We’ve got the momentum,
The defense, the spin.
And Harbaugh has said,
“Baby, we just need to win.”
 
But it’s been a tough year
for many nearby
with sisters who passed
and brothers who died.
 
The schools need our help
with funding, in-kind,
so each child progresses
and none left behind.
 
Some streets are too dark,
some jobs are too few.
But B’more can rise
with me and with you.
 
We’ll marshal our forces
and build where we can.
We invest in the future
when we reach out a hand.
 
So we sing the old carols
and tell the sweet tale,
of shepherds and angels
and Jesus’ Noel.
 
He was born in a stable
where the animals fed,
with straw for a blanket
and a manger his bed.
 
And wise men arrive
with gifts that they bring.
What swaddling child
could be praised as a king?
 
But the story is clear
if you listen real close:
the least and the last
meet the heavenly host.
 
And Christmas arrives
when enemies wed,
when the poor are brought in,
and the hungry are fed.
 
It comes without ribbons,
or boxes, or bows.
It comes without presents,
or stockings, or shows.
  
It comes when we welcome
the stranger as guest.
It comes when we offer
each other our best.
 
It comes when there’s peace
in our hearts, in the land.
Christmas comes when we love
each child, sister, and man.
 
~David

Today the PreK – 3rd graders played some Christmas games in Hale Auditorium while we waited to see the Drama and Donuts class production of “The Visit of the Magi”.  I know, I know – it’s not Epiphany yet. But their version was so sweet, such a gift from them to the younger children, that I can’t get caught up in those kinds of details.  They enjoyed performing it and the younger kids enjoyed watching and then getting to participate the second time through as they are always invited to do.

I get it though. The wise men from my crèche at home are still very, very far away, all the way across the room from Mary and Joseph in the stable, waiting to join them on January 6. The baby Jesus won’t be in the manger until I go to bed on Christmas Eve. I always tell my husband where I have hidden him when we set up the crèche so that hopefully one of us will remember. 

The kings had such a long way to go to seek the Lord. I was struck this week by the contrast of their special journey to find the new king with Mary and Elizabeth who were both just going along with their everyday lives when God came to them with the blessing of a new baby. And truth be told, their story resonates with me more than that of the Wise Men. It may be because they are women or because they are from a “lower” station in society than the learned Magi. But I think I relate to them more because of what has been my experience of God. My “a-ha” moments rarely happen when I set out to seek the Lord. They tend to blindside me right where I am at.

I confess that this job does not come as naturally to me as teaching Algebra did. I do a lot of googling! And during this time of year, I come across a lot of Advent calendars in my net surfing. A particular one that was developed by a non-profit design company, saltproject.org, seemed to be in use by quite a few churches of different denominations. The design was sweet, but what drew me were the suggested meditations for lighting the different candles on the Sundays in Advent and the Christ candle on Christmas Eve.

Hope looked down and saw despair. “I will go there,” said Hope.

Peace looked down and saw war. “I will go there,” said Peace.

Joy looked down and saw sorrow. “I will go there,” said Joy.

Love looked down and saw hate. “I will go there,” said Love.

God looked down and saw you. “I will go there,” said God.

I loved Caroline’s message today about blessing every circumstance, both expected and unexpected. Being asked to do this job for our parish was a bit unexpected for me, but today I very much want to bless the circumstance in which I find myself. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve the families of this parish. I am very happy because you trust your children with us each week. God has shown care for me by meeting me and blessing me right where I am at!

I wish you and your children a wonderful Christmas holiday full of hope, peace, joy, love and the presence of God. I hope to see you in a couple of weeks when we celebrate Epiphany!

Kathy

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment

I hesitated

on the threshold.

For the space

of a breath

I paused,

unwilling to disturb

her last ordinary moment,

knowing that the next step

would cleave her life:

that this day

would slice her story

in two,

dividing all the days before

from all the ones

to come.

The artists would later

depict the scene:

Mary dazzled

by the archangel,

her head bowed

in humble assent,

awed by the messenger

who condescended

to leave paradise

to bestow such an honor

upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you

it was I who was dazzled,

I who found myself agape

when I came upon her—

reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,

I cannot now recall;

only that the woman before me—

blessed and full of grace

long before I called her so—

shimmered with how completely

she inhabited herself,

inhabited the space around her,

inhabited the moment

that hung between us.

I wanted to save her

from what I had been sent

to say.

Yet when the time came,

when I had stammered

the invitation

(history would not record

the sweat on my brow,

the pounding of my heart;

would not note

that I said

Do not be afraid

to myself as much as

to her)

it was she

who saved me—

her first deliverance—

her Let it be

not just declaration

to the Divine

but a word of solace,

of soothing,

of benediction

for the angel

in the doorway

who would hesitate

one last time—

just for the space

of a breath

torn from his chest—

before wrenching himself away

from her radiant consent,

her beautiful and

awful yes.

—Jan Richardson