Would you have the courage to jump out of a moving car, in order to save your life? Or do you know someone, with that kind of courage?

Turns out I do know someone with that kind of courage; I just didn’t know it, until a couple of days ago.

This past Tuesday, several of us from Redeemer went to Turnaround Tuesday, a second chance jobs movement of BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development). To date, since its inception 4 years ago, Turnaround Tuesday has helped 535 individuals secure living wage employment with its various partners across the city, including Johns Hopkins Hospital and University of Maryland Medical System. (To view PBSNewsHour clip of Turnaround Tuesday, click here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/in-baltimore-more-employers-hiring-formerly-incarcerated-people)

Folks who come to Turnaround Tuesday (TaT) are encouraged and trained to tell their whole story, not just the parts they think potential employers would want to hear. “Fill in the holes [in your employment history] yourself. Tell your story,” Co-Director Terrell Williams coaches, “otherwise, other people will fill in the holes for themselves.” TaT uses role playing and modeling to teach this and other skills and life lessons, to empower their clients.

And so it was this past Tuesday that, as part of a role play, a TaT staff member told some of her own story. She began by describing the beauty of Hawaii, where she used to live: the sun, the ocean, the palm trees. But the idyllic scene she painted turned dark as she went on to describe how her husband of over a decade became a monster of “roid rage” from anabolic steroid abuse.

One day, he surprised her with a gun, taking her hostage in his car and instructing her to phone their 3 daughters to tell them goodbye. Understanding that if she stayed in the car with her husband, she was going to be killed, she jumped out of the moving car, only to be pursued and caught by him, on foot.

As he held her arms and body hostage-like, and an off-duty police officer on the beach shouted from a distance to try to intervene, she freed herself from her husband’s grip by slipping out of her T-shirt and running for help, which she found and gladly received. She separated from her husband and went on from that dark day to raising her daughters as a single mother, finishing her education, and securing solid employment. As a staff member TaT, she now helps others to do the same.

“What did we learn about Brie from her story?” another TaT staff member asked.

“She is courageous,” one client offered.

“She is strong,” another said.

“She is dedicated,” a third observed.

We all agreed that any potential employer, listening to her story, would remember her and want her on his/her team.

So what about you? Are their parts of your own life story, that you are ashamed of? That you’d rather hide and not share? Could it be that, by bringing them to light in front of another, you might find liberation, and not only for yourself?


Dear Folks,

I was a Freshman Counselor at Yale from 1983-84, and the Dean’s office worked hard on training us to guide our counselees through their first months in New Haven.  We had workshops on academic advising and how to balance work and play.  We met the Bursar, walked through the debits and credits of a typical bill, and found out how to register for classes when you are on financial hold.  We talked with coaches whose athletes were Rhodes Scholars.  We met professors whose students wrote poems on their Calculus exams.  We studied the varieties of sexual expression, alcohol use and abuse, depression, anxiety, and then practiced what we might encounter through role plays.  I feel like we were well equipped to deal with the ups and downs of Monday-Friday college life.  In hindsight, I wish we’d spent more time learning how to clean up the messes that confronted us on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

I’m not talking about beer cans and solo cups left in entryways, but the conspiracy of silence that often settled on a fun party gone bad.  One of the worst was a young woman assaulted in a stairway by an upperclassman as others looked on.  A visual artist and sometime model, the woman had shaved half of her head the week before in an experiment on beauty and objectification.  (This was the era when Calvin Klein hung nudes several stories high in Times Square.)  The man said he “didn’t like the way she looked” and punched her hard enough to leave her doubled over in a heap on the steps.

Where do you start to debrief with a person who now feels like her “home” is not safe for her?  What do you say when she tells you she could never tell her parents what happened?  How do you engage the young man and his friends when they don’t even remember being at the party only a few days later?

Basements filled with loud music and laughter and parties fueled by alcohol and flirtation are part of adolescence for many of us.  That’s the way it goes on weekend nights, we tell ourselves.  Crossing boundaries is the point, we sometimes to say.  Thank goodness by 2018 we assert that “Yes means yes, and no means no.”  But by and large we still don’t teach our “almost adults” how to have the awkward and necessary conversations as daylight dawns if things have gone too far.  We can learn to ask questions and to listen deeply: “How are you feeling?  What are you thinking?  Are you O.K.?  Can we talk about last night?”  We can put ourselves in the other’s shoes.  We can give the person who’s hurt the benefit of the doubt.  We can look at patterns of behavior, take an honest inventory, and make amends.

How many of us have forgiveness work to do?  Even if some significant transgression is years in the past, if you haven’t dealt with it, its poison lingers.  On our best days, our children may listen to what we have to say, but they are always watching what we do.  Whether we are a political appointee, a CEO, or a soccer parent, are we modeling accountability and reconciliation?

The next time a relationship falls apart or a line gets crossed that should have been respected, don’t go silent or hide in the shadows of regret.  Have an awkward morning conversation instead.  When we’re courageous enough, the dawn shines through the broken places.

Love, David

When the topic of conversation centers on individual’s health, what does that mean? A simple response is attention given to the personal well-being of your mind, body and spirit. Rephrased another way might be to care deliberately for your overall welfare. But are individuals the only ‘group’ that we might consider when it comes to the subject of ‘health’? Actually within the church world, the term ‘healthy (or unhealthy)’ congregation is not uncommon as a point of reference for how strong (or weak) the organization of the individual parish is working. Thanks be to God, The Church of the Redeemer is considered a very healthy congregation when using that criteria.

But, is there a different lens through which to consider the ‘health’ of our congregation?  I believe there is. Let me offer 3 perspectives that reflect new and evolving initiatives for the ‘health’ of this parish:

  • About 18 months ago, we trained a small group of lay members to offer the laying on of hands for healing. This group called St. Luke Ministers faithfully engaged in this liturgical practice the first Sundays of the month. The congregation has responded with enthusiasm and gratitude for this ministry from their fellow parishioners. It had been our long term hope to expand the number of Sundays for this offering; consequently we have trained an additional group. Beginning this month, the opportunity for healing will be the 1st and 3rd Sundays at both 8 and 10. Healing at Faith at Five will coincide with the Taize services. Laying on of hands as a lay ministry contributes to the ‘health’ of our congregation.
  • Last winter Redeemer began conversations centered on issues of mental health. The tag line for the topic evolved into: “Mental Health at Redeemer: Let’s Talk About It; Let’s Learn About It.” The interest from the parish has exceeded our expectations. As a result we have sponsored speakers and offered the Mental Health First Aid Workshop to almost 90 individuals, some of whom came from our community engagement partners. There are 2 new workshops planned: Tuesday/Wednesday Oct 2/3 from 11-3 and another Friday Oct 12, 2-6pm/Saturday Oct 13, 10-2. There is a minimum of 6 individuals and a maximum of 12. Please email me should you wish to enroll: cstewart@redeemerbaltimore.org Mental Health awareness is very important to the ‘health’ of our parish. 
  • Several years ago, a lay initiated support group for those experiencing loss (relationships, death, job loss, etc) was started. It is now offered 3 times a year and is a 6 week experience. Led by Ruthie Cromwell and Nancy Bowen, the fall session begins Tuesday, Sept. 25 from 10-11:30. Please contact me to enroll. Grieving well is a part of good health. 
  • We are delighted to announce the formation of a Pastoral Care Team. This group will supplement the efforts of the clergy when it comes to providing pastoral care to the congregation. They will increase our potential to support the parish family. While not replacing the role of clergy, they will actually enhance our priority of caring for one another. Betsy Willett will coordinate the efforts of the group which is comprised of Laila Roth, Hilary Klein, Ruth Cromwell, Ann Gavin, Ann Warfield and Nancy Bowen. All seven of these individuals graduated from the Center for Spiritual Support Training at GBMC; a 30 week educational program. We are fortunate that they have accepted our invitation to use their gifts and experiences here at Redeemer. Again, this is an example of how we are elevating the topic of health within our congregation.

A ‘healthy’ congregation is not limited to the physical or spiritual or emotional components of her members but those are ingredients that contribute to the church being wholly holistically capable of living into our mission.


Dear Folks,

Yesterday I sat with a group of friends, and we struggled to make sense of the gospel assigned for this Sunday.  In it, Jesus encounters a Gentile woman whose daughter is very sick.  Belying her first century understanding of illness, the mother begs him to “cast the demon out” of her child, but Jesus’ initial response is hardly healing: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  What?  His words are stunning, exposing something narrow about Jesus at this juncture, the Teacher in this moment embodying the limits of any closed religious system.  Now many scholars have defended Jesus’ language here, suggesting that he spars with this clever woman and uses playfulness to make a point, but the fact is that his words equate reaching out to the girl with casting food to a scavenging animal.  Why go so low if his aim is higher ground?  “It’s like the curtain gets pulled back here—something about the way things usually work, about our unfinished business and about how things could be,” said one of the people in the circle yesterday.  “God needs us,” offered another.  “It’s the desperate mother who turns this situation to the good,” and the living God is opened up in the process.  Healing is no longer for any narrow notion of the tribe, but for all, the story suggests.  Maybe that’s how miracles work?

The passage goes on to include an exchange between Jesus and a man who cannot hear.  “Be opened,” Jesus sighs and says, touching the man, and “immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”  I want a miracle like that, the group admitted, but I wonder if we know what we’re asking for.   If these stories are any example, healing is not about fixing a particular problem, but about having some part of our narrowness broken open so that the community is more complete.  The first thing the formerly deaf man does is speak, and the implication is that everyone needs to hear what he has to say.

In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes at length about both our longing to see and hear and live in new ways and our tendency to throw up roadblocks to such opening up, whenever such wholeness is offered.

When Western surgeons discovered how to perform safe cataract operations, Dillard reports, they ranged across Europe and America operating on dozens of men and women of all ages who had been blinded by cataracts since birth.  The doctors expected the patients to be overjoyed by their new ability to see, but the gift of sight was for most, a mixed blessing, and for some, a horror.  Dillard writes, “It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. It oppresses them to realize that they have been visible to people all along, perhaps unattractively so, without their knowledge or consent. A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair.”

How is God inviting you to be opened, and what will be healed if you see and love more broadly?

It is hard work to open up, to hear and feel and act in new ways, and I appreciate that Jesus struggles with it, too.  But when we are willing to see beyond the limits of our sight—the ways we love too narrowly, the habits which hold us and others back, the people on the margin we neglect to see, the challenging opinions we refuse to hear—when we let the living God lift us up to see more clearly, the world opens up, and us along with it.

Love,  David