Dear Folks,

This evening we re-enact the last meal Jesus ate with his community, right before he died. We’ll circle around a big table in the parish hall, with sack dinners we’ve brought from home, maybe sharing the choicest morsels with new folks and old friends. We’ll talk about what the last 50 days of Lent have meant to us, the habits we’ve taken up or tried to put down, any growth we may have experienced, any insight or healing that’s come. At a certain point, we’ll gather up some of the bread and wine on the table, ask God to bless it and to give us eyes to see it as Holy, and to let it be Christ’s body and blood.

If this is play-acting, then it is a drama that reveals what is most true about humankind: that God has made us, that relationships with each other are what most deeply nourish us, and that we are bread for a world which is hungry for justice and reconciliation, for compassion and peace. The real miracle is that by practicing these acts of kindness and mercy, we will become merciful and kind.

Frederick Buechner writes, “It is called Holy Communion because, when feeding at this implausible table, Christians believe that they are communing with the Holy One himself, his spirit enlivening their spirits, heating the blood, and gladdening the heart just the way wine, as spirits, can.

They are also, of course, communing with each other. To eat any meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic need. It is hard to preserve your dignity with butter on your chin, or to keep your distance when asking for the tomato ketchup.

To eat this particular meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that’s still left over, well, we’re in it together, or it in us. Maybe it’s most of what makes us human and makes us brothers and sisters.” (Wishful Thinking)

When we are done eating, we’ll follow Jesus’ model and wash each other’s feet, or hands if you would prefer.  It is scandalous and humbling, but that is the point: to care for each other in some necessary and intimate way, to put the other person first, to bow to the Spirit that lives in each one of us. This is the action that gives the day its name.  Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “I command (mandatum in Latin = Maundy) you to love one another as I have loved you.”

The final act in the Maundy Thursday play takes place in the church, where we will strip the altar and wash it, preparing it as a sepulcher to receive Jesus’ body on Good Friday.  We move into and out of the space in silence, because at this point, there is not a lot more to say.

Join us this evening at 6:30 pm if you can, with something to eat and something to share.  The brief action of stripping the altar will take place about 7:30.  On Good Friday we’ll meet back in the church at 1:00 pm, for a dark and beautiful liturgy.  A contemporary walk through the Stations of the Cross follows at about 2:15.



Sometimes life presents us with gifts.

Yesterday’s snowy day was one of those occasions.

The gift actually started the night before for me and my family, when school closings were confirmed shortly after dinnertime. David, Grace, Ben and I took advantage of the opportunity to hunker down together in our family room for an impromptu, mid-week, family movie-night, enjoying “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (and discussing and cringing together at the portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi’s character by Mickey Rooney!).

Then yesterday morning, a hardy, intimate group of us gathered in the chapel for our usual 7:30am Wednesday Eucharist. Our time together centered on a reflection by Br. Curtis Almquist from the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA:

“There are five Gospels. There’s the Gospel according to Mathew, the Gospel according to Mark, the Gospel according to Luke, the Gospel according to John, and the Gospel according to you. What is it that you know in the bottom of your heart of God, of God’s light and God’s life, and God’s love that you can give testimony to?”

A couple of hours later, a few more hardy souls trickled in through the courtyard, making their way to Bible Study. Office conversation considered the question “to cancel or not to cancel Voices” (it was canceled). Final edits were made for Holy Week and Easter bulletins and services. Emails were answered, calls made.

Then after lunchtime, a hearse pulled up in the parking lot for a 2pm memorial service that Caroline officiated. From my office window, I  saw the casket being lifted and carried from the back of the hearse.

All this, as the soft, white snow continued to fall.

My afternoon concluded on a hill near Boys’ Latin. I hadn’t been sledding in awhile, and Grace and Ben were game. While David stayed home to catch up on grading, the three of us threw our two saucers and one toboggan sled in the back of the car and hit the slope. Ben mastered the art of “saucering” backwards. Grace’s long brown hair flew behind her as she hurtled down the hill. And I could not, for the life of me, manage to keep that durn toboggan straight! But boy, was it fun, to play in the snow with my lovies.

Sometimes life presents us with gifts.

I hope yesterday’s snowy day was one of those occasions for you.


Dear Folks,

On Monday I was part of a community discussion of the opioid crisis, presented by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore Commissioner of Health, was the key note speaker, and I joined Howard Reznick of Jewish Community Services and Dr. Steven Sharfstein, former director of Shephard Pratt, on the panel.  My charge was to present what a faithful response to the opioid epidemic in Baltimore might be… for an individual, for a congregation, for the faith community.  Here’s what  I offered to the group of 120, including delegations from three high schools:

Not only should members of the faith community play a role in a health crisis, I would argue that we are particularly called to this ministry.  From Moses with his snake entwined staff, calling the assembly to “look up and be healed,” to Elijah raising the widow’s son, to Jesus’ provocative encounter with an unclean spirit and his distinguishing between the man and the cage which held him, our shared revelation is built on the capacity of community and scripture to make us more whole than we would be, if left to our own devices…  Some of what we know is so foundational that we can forget that it came to us as revelation:

The balanced rhythm of work and rest…The call to eat as families on some regular basis…

The assertion that spiritual well-being has an impact on physical well-being and vice versa…

The 10 Commandments, which do a pretty good job of defining what it is to be a human in right relationship with God, with the neighbor, and within the individual him or herself.  I would argue that this way to be relational on three planes, integrated and grounded on these three dimensions of self and other and God, is an articulation of healthy living, of the wholeness we are created to embody and act out.

So faith communities are in the health business, really, the healing business, because what is our reason for being if not to provide individuals and systems habits of spiritual health and training for it, and at the same time to call those healing people and systems to be about the work of mending/repairing the world?

How do we hear this call and achieve it?

We do this through teaching the scriptures, through dynamic, insightful, provocative Bible study, based on belief that these ancient texts are still and always revelatory.  Because people of faith are particularly called to be both honest and hopeful, combining scripture study with social consciousness can reveal both patterns of failure and success and a way forward.

We do this through curating congregations that are deeply and broadly informed about history and our current challenges, offering and attending lectures, book groups, and classes.  We have so much to learn, and of course no single congregation knows it all, so we can subscribe to the newsletters of other churches/synagogues/mosques, go to each other’s classes, cultivate a congregation that is emboldened by what’s going on around us, not jealous of someone else’s success.

We do this through a practice of corporate prayer, worship with soul-lifting music, and words that offer challenge, inspiration, strength, and solace.  We have so little time that we have to give ourselves some of it regularly to be nourished, to be mended ourselves.

We do this through a robust understanding of pastoral care which includes access to recovery groups, relationship, individual, and grief counseling, information about and referrals to health care professionals.  We do this through understanding addiction as a disease and advocating for access to and delivery of affordable health care.

We do this by talking openly about mental health, normalizing ways we all struggle with wellness, de-stigmatizing mental illness, and training parishioners in Mental Health First Aid.  We do this through increasing our recovery group offerings.  A dozen distinct 12-step groups offer their life-giving work Monday-Friday at Redeemer.  We do this through equipping lay people to offer healing prayers.  We do this through re-doubling our commitment to children and young people, offering them space to discover and celebrate who they are.

We do this by following the Teacher, who healed by bringing the wounded, the weak, and the unwell to the center and by correcting any system of exclusion.

Love, David

This past Tuesday afternoon I met with a former member of Redeemer who raised her family in our church decades ago before moving out of state. She was accompanied by her close friend who is an active member of the parish. The former member had returned to Baltimore Saturday because her 35 year old son had died the night before from an accidental overdose; a story that is all too familiar. This young man had loving parents and a great education. He had a brother and grandmother with whom he was very close. He was kind hearted, hardworking, had many friends, and a great sense of humor. He has left a legacy of pure goodness. But he also was impacted by a challenging disease:  an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He fought hard and often to overcome that illness, finding success at times and relapsing at other times. His mom, even though in the early stages of grieving, wanted his story to be told. She wants his life to have meaning even in his dying. She knows how unproductive it is to keep addiction a ‘secret’ and therefore is anxious to destigmatize the topic by having open and honest conversation. “Please share my story” she pleaded. I promised her I would. I mentioned that our current initiative for mental health includes a workshop that covers substance abuse.

The crisis facing our city (and country) continues to make headlines. I am aware of how naïve I have been personally when it comes to the situation. It was out of that awareness that I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Dope”. It is a series of 5 episodes about the drug emergency enveloping our nation. The 2nd episode is focused only on Baltimore. (I have not watched the other episodes yet.) I highly recommend you watch it. Several weeks ago, I showed it to the Women Who Wonder.  It was ‘hard’ to absorb the grim reality and it was important to absorb the grim reality. Their eyes were opened.

On Monday David will be participating in an Interfaith Institute dialogue sponsored by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Sisterhood. It is entitled: “The Opioid Epidemic: Community Impact and Response.”  The keynote speaker is Dr. Leana Wen, Commissioner of Health in Baltimore. Along with David, Howard Reznick (MSW, LCSW-C) and Rabbi Andrew Busch will be part of the discussion. Unfortunately the deadline for tickets has passed, but we will share our reflections with those who are interested.

Thank you to the Mom who wants her son’s story told. Redeemer wants to continue to provide you with our support, even decades later. And PS: Mom was very vocal about supporting the Kolmac Recovery Program at Shepherd Pratt and the outstanding care her son received there.


Dear Folks,

I discovered Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are in a stack of other stories as a young reader, right before I started first grade.  We were moving from Sewanee, Tennessee to Chattanooga, and in the chaos of packing, I found a quiet corner and got lost in some familiar picture books.  Tucked in the pile was Sendak’s 338 word story, which I didn’t recognize, and whose illustrations I found disturbing and attractive at the same time.  The main character, Max, wore footy pajamas like I did, and he got very mad and sent to his room, which was scary and familiar, too.  The wild things seemed like a secret that was being revealed, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but I couldn’t put the book down.

Vance Wilson, longtime headmaster of a boy’s school in Washington, DC, wrote an essay about Max, which he read last night at Redeemer, and old feelings came flooding back.  How do we as teachers and as parents understand this archetypal story?  “How do we walk with our wild things, with their slowly developing prefrontal lobes and their preference for fast cars over faces, with boys who learn in different ways from girls but are who they are?  How do we walk with them so that when given a choice, as Max is, of being king of the wild things or being loved best of all, our sons (and daughters) choose love?”

Simple stuff: Look a child in the eye and call him or her by name.  Give them not a wild day, but a structured day in which wildness is scheduled.  “Call his name each hour.  ‘Solve this problem, Max.  Translate this passage; move your adverb next to the word it modifies, Max.  I appreciate your telling the truth, Max.  Show up on time.  Do not hit in here, Wild Thing; there is plenty of time for rumpuses on the playing field.’  At home Max will explode—slam the door, speak disrespectfully, and beat on a sibling.  Give him some time, some space, but call him out.  ‘Max, set the table.  Let’s see your homework.  Leave your little sister alone…’”

Fill your children’s lives with stories and with rituals.  “’Sit in chapel, Max, listen to the silence, sing, and reflect on what your classmates say.  Sit down to lunch with us…’ Tell him so many family stories and take him to so many family events that he rolls his eyes constantly… In your family stories, forget the morals; tell the stories.”  If the story is worth telling, they will remember it.  Make them feel part of the tribe.”

Finally, model.  Children learn from how we live our lives in front of them.  Try to be empathetic, challenging, fair, positive, strict, and human.

I’ve been struck over the last few weeks how much the people I know are talking about moral action.  “How can I make a difference,” was asked by a young mother returning to the work force, a 90-year-old widow, an investment banker in mid-life, and a counselor who spent 32-years behind bars.  “How can I shape policy or behavior or my own attitude,” asked an old friend.  “How can I wake my children up from feeling entitled to the advantages we’ve worked so hard to provide,” a parent wondered aloud, “and help them discover responsibility, but not overwhelm them?”

Simple stuff: Listen.  Respect differences.  Honor other’s experience and your own.  Give each other space and time, but call a person out if she crosses a line.  Let yourself be criticized.  Look people in the eye and say their name.  Get to know each other.  Learn your family stories, and the stories of some great literature, and the stories of history, and the stories of the Bible.  Forget the morals, just know the stories, and the important parts will stick.  Eat meals together regularly with family or close friends.  Widen your circle of intimacy.  Make sure everyone feels part of the tribe.  Seek to understand more than to be understood.  Learn from your mistakes; everybody makes them.  Don’t deny your wildness, but invite it to serve the common good.  Choose love.

Love, David