‘Twas the night before Christmas, and here in this place,
The people had gathered, for warmth and for grace,
To hear the old story of Gabriel’s voice,
Of young Mary’s courage and angels’ rejoice.

The stockings are hung by the chimney at home,
With the hope there’s a visit by a bearded old gnome.
Our walls have been swagged, and there’re flowers brand new,
Thanks to volunteers, youth group, and dear Mr. Vu.

The shepherds—how merry!  The sheep—there’s a lot.
The angels in bedsheets, the Kings in culottes?
The building is shining, and here’s a home run:
Jesus was played by Mark Schroeder’s wee son.

The children have shown us with lines they have learned
How miracles happen, when humble hearts yearn
To hear the good news, and make its joy plain,
That God’s light can shine in the dark, where there’s pain.

And what to our wondering eyes should appear,
But a babe in a manger, with Joseph quite near.
The child in mom’s arms, in the flesh, was the Word,
Which the prophet foretold, in the scripture, we heard.

“The people in darkness have seen a great light:
From the lowliest places, God comes with his might,
To make the world just and the rough places healed.”
“Let it be, as you say,” mother Mary revealed.

We follow this star to Bethlehem rising,
Where straw becomes gold and three kings, surprising
Will show that the nations can bow at his feet,
Bend swords into ploughshares, make peace that’s complete.

In the world and this land and our city that’s charmed,
We’ve got plenty of work to keep people from harm,
To make streets become safe and schools that are strong,
And churches that show “all folks here belong.”

And speaking of Bal’more, we’re a town that is cravin’
A superbowl ring for Lamar-velous Ravens,
With Jackson QB, they’re running and throwing,
And giving us joy with hope they’re bestowing.

I see it as well, this spirit of healing,
In community partners, our allies appealing.
There’s BUILD and ReBuild, and Habitat work-days,
Govans and HUM and Turnaround Tuesdays.

There’s Paul’s Place and GEDCO and library Pratt.
The sky is the limit with colleagues like that.
On Thread! On Ceasefire! On ICJS!
On Next One Up, CASA, and ways to say, “Yes!”

So what can we do with the spirit we feel,
On this night when the light is kindled, and real,
To carry the news that God has moved in,
To live in our hearts and save us from sin?

Here’s a thought, as we gather, to try on for size:
This table is God’s; all humans: allies.
We are brothers and sisters, one family, one race,
Which is born in this manger with grit and with grace.

We are agents of peace, of pardon and love,
Forged in struggles that shape us, yet lit from above,
And the real gift of Christmas begins in this way,
Feed hungry, heal broken, help lost find their way.

You’re loved here, each one; there’s no one like you,
This place is made better with you.  It is true!
And so as you go from this altar of light,
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.












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,


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.


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.


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.