I met the search committee from the Church of the Redeemer in the winter of 2015, a group of pilgrims arriving in Cold Spring Harbor on a wet and cold weekend. In a matter of hours, something surprising had sparked between us—laughter, vulnerability, a warmth that belied the weather. And now eight years of loving you stretch between that moment and today.
I’m struck by all that you’ve helped to make happen—alliances across Baltimore begun and strengthened through BUILD, houses restored with Habitat for Humanity, GEDCO moving back to York Road, Govans School now in a 21st century building, ReBuild Johnston Square offering safe, affordable housing, revitalized parks, and a model for sustainable growth… life-giving Bible studies, mid-week services, the choir school of Baltimore, worship that nourishes the eye, the ear, the heart, the soul… 125 people trained in anti-racism, regular meetings of contemplative prayer, yoga Church offered monthly… the Parish Day School growing to 3rd grade…
We have weathered a pandemic together, discovering how to gather virtually, adding live-stream capabilities that widen our weekly worship, and outfitting meeting spaces so that participants can join us from across the country. We are welcoming newcomers every week, and also studying our history to more ably engage today’s seekers. And through it all, our loved ones have been born and baptized, confirmed and married, and some have suffered and passed away. In nearly a decade of tumultuous change, Redeemer has been steady, strengthened by the opportunities to know Baltimore and ourselves more intimately, serve more consistently, and love more deeply.
Sabbath: “The room is quiet. You’re not feeling tired enough to sleep or energetic enough to go out. For the moment there is nowhere else you’d rather go, no one else you’d rather be. You feel at home in your body. You feel at peace in your mind. For no particular reason, you let the palms of your hands come together and close your eyes. Sometimes it is only when you happen to taste a crumb of it that you dimly realize what it is that you’re so hungry for you can hardly bear it.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
Now I am planning a sabbatical, which will begin in October and stretch through January 2024. My plans are still in formation, but some organizing decisions have been made. Cristina will act as priest in charge in my absence, facilitating staff and vestry meetings. Plans for Parish Day School growth and financial development for any new building projects are underway now. The program year will be planned in June. I will lead the staff/vestry/history committee retreat right before I begin my time away.
I won’t pack my bags for nine months! But, in time I hope to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, perhaps on a route from Portugal or Seville. I hope to travel to England for the first time, discovering a part of London where my long-lost Baltimore ancestor got himself into trouble and launched his “transportation” to Maryland. I hope to settle more deeply into our new house on Mount Royal Terrace in Reservoir Hill. And I especially hope to celebrate Christmas and the weeks around it with my family in a way we haven’t in over 30 years, discovering again the quiet moments of winter and the gift of sitting in the pew together.
Through the miracle of technology, I will carry a prayer book and the church directory on my phone, so you will never be far from me on my pilgrimage. Buon camino, is how travelers greet each other in Spain. I will see you on the way.
Today, I invite you to pray with me the words that were prayed yesterday at the gubernatorial inauguration.
Invocation by Bishop Donte L. Hickman, Sr., Pastor of Southern Baptist Church, Baltimore
on the occasion of the Inauguration of the 63rd Governor of the State of Maryland
O Lord Our God, how excellent is your name in all the earth!
How we thank you for life, health and strength,
and for things being as well as they are.
And we thank you for giving us this beautiful day
to witness this historical and transformational occasion:
to inaugurate, consecrate and celebrate Wes Moore and Aruna Miller
as the new Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the State of Maryland.
We’re so grateful for how you’ve blessed our state.
You’ve blessed us with more good than bad,
more unity than division,
more opportunity than obstruction.
And now you’ve blessed us with more:
Thank you for the content of his character.
Thank you for the clarity of his mind
and the quality of his spirit.
And we thank you for blessing us with Aruna Miller.
Thank you for her authenticity, her consistency,
and her vibrancy and vitality
of heart, mind and spirit.
And now we ask that you would undergird them
as they lead, lift, legislate
and leave no one behind.
Dispatch your angels to cover the Governor and the First Lady Dawn Moore,
their children and their family.
Cover the Lieutenant Governor and her husband David Miller,
their children and their family.
Protect them from all harm and danger.
Direct them in your wisdom and in your love.
Correct them by your grace and your mercy.
May their years in service be filled
with more blessing than stressing
and more success than mess.
And now Lord, so many Marylanders have been inspired
by the ideas and the ideals of Wes Moore.
We admire his courage, his charisma and his collaborative spirit.
And so we thank you for giving him the victory of the vote.
But now we ask that you would give him the victory of his vision!
Give him the victory to improve educational, environmental,
economical and ecological
systems of our state
so that no one is left behind.
You paved the way through liberationists like Harriet Tubman.
You paved the way through astronomists like Benjamin Banneker.
You paved the way through abolitionists like Frederick Douglass,
through jurists like Thurgood Marshall
through activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now guard and guide Wes Moore and Aruna Miller
as they strive to make Maryland the leading state
for opportunity, equity, diversity, dignity, safety and prosperity for all.
We give you praise in advance for all the successes of this administration.
We give you praise in advance in the face of our spiritual adversary
whose adversity couldn’t stop this opportunity.
We give you praise on these steps of the State Capitol
that undocumented enslaved hands built
so that we could lift as we climb.
We praise you because we know
that the steps of a good man and a good woman
are ordered by the Lord.
We praise you because we know
no weapon formed against you
shall be able to prosper.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and forever.
We pray this prayer to you collectively from our respective faith traditions and convictions.
And I pray this prayer in the name of the one who saved my soul,
in the name of the one who made me whole, Jesus Christ.
Amen! Hallelujah! Glory to God!
Click here to view more of yesterday’s inauguration festivities.
It is so good to be back at Redeemer – I missed you! Three months of maternity leave went very fast; in some ways it feels like I was barely gone. My office is the same, the buildings and ground are all still here, the circle of the church year and our lectionary cycle continue as we settle in to Matthew’s account of the life of Christ. But looking at the faces of the first and second graders during PDS religion class on Monday, or out at all the littles during chapel on Wednesday, it’s easy to see that a lot can change in three months. They have all grown so much: their faces are different, older; they are taller; some of them walk with more confidence. The passage of time is evident.
Of course, Elliott, our new baby, is an incredible measurement of change. Each week it seems like something is different – he is longer, heavier, more alert, smiling, giggling, focusing (a recent photo is attached!). The change is gradual, though, and I have to refer back to photos of him as a newborn to remember what those differences are. Because I am observing him so closely, noticing change is difficult until I step back, even though I know it’s happening all the time. Just as my time away made the differences of three months obvious in the PDS students, the constancy of my three months with Elliott makes it hard to catch his changes in the moment.
This micro- vs macro- observation phenomenon can be found around us, and in us, whether or not you spend time with children – we are all changing all the time. Sometimes those moments of change are easy to pinpoint: a birth, a death; a marriage or a divorce; a new job, a new school, a new home; a diagnosis or recovery. They have mass, their gravity organizing our experiences and serving as points of references. Even if we don’t feel that different before and after, the rest of the world attaches meaning to them. The baptism of Jesus seems to have been one of these for the gospel writers – it appears in all four of them. (I wonder, did it feel so momentous to Jesus?)
Other moments of change are harder to define. They’re not really moments at all: They are gradual, difficult to discern until we are past them, or at least have space from them. Have you ever reflected on a previous time in your life and thought about how much you have changed? No major shift in gravity needs to have occurred, no degree conferred or vows taken, but, suddenly, you realize you are not the same.
As fully human as he was divine, Jesus certainly underwent changes between his early adolescence and reemergence on the evangelist’s page as a grown man. They go unremarked in our canon, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. So, too, with you and me. The day school students grow no matter how often I see them – it is my perspective that changes.
What have you been watching closely? What have you stepped back to observe? What will your wondering discover?
If there is one thing we know about Life it is that nothing remains the same; everything changes. Another thing I have learned is that if you ask the wrong question, you will get a wrong (or at least unhelpful) answer. It is kind of like the adage of “barking up the wrong tree.” I have been given this some serious thought as we move towards the MLK Holiday in a few weeks.
Last year, The Chicago Defender carried an article whose title was, “Almost 54 Year AD: What Would MLK Do in Today’s America if He Were Alive?” I thought it was interesting and thought provoking. But, I discovered in this piece and in those like it, a crucial question NOT being asked and therefore NOT being answered. This year I am especially interested in how many articles are contemplating the ML King: THEN & NOW angle. I continue to arrive at the same conclusion about them. Asking unhelpful questions yield unbeneficial answers.
Don’t get me wrong, I find nothing inherently negative about articles commemorating and memorializing Dr. ML King, Jr. and his sacrifices for justice of all kinds in our country and world. My contention with them is that they freeze him in time…his own contextualized period…and attempt to extrapolate out his possible actions for today and our times. I am not at all sure that Dr. King would respond to our current societal realities like he did for those of yesteryear. Everything and everyone changes. If he had lived to be 94 years old, on his birthday in a couple of weeks, I believe he would have undergone so much change in his thought, reflections, and actions. How many of us have not been changed by September 11, 2001 or George Floyd’s murder or the Coronavirus-19 pandemic? These events and the usual conditions of life would have undoubtedly changed his perspective on lots of things.
At the end of the day both me and the writers I contend with are offering speculations to be sure, and so instead of asking, “what would Dr. King say or do now?” why are we not asking, “If (or since) I agree with Dr. King’s assessment and actions during the time he lived on planet earth, what are my words and actions to be while I am here?” It seems to me this kind of question yields more fodder for creative juices to flow, because what we are doing now or failing to do is NOT working for too many.
As people of the Christian tradition it should not pass our attention that Dr. King was deeply steeped in the same faith we possess and was appalled at the varying levels of action, inaction and apathy among the masses of us. Both he and Mahatmi Ghandi understood non-violent resistance to be acts of deep spiritual significance. Because of their spirituality, they consciously committed to living in a new way from the usual; they allowed themselves to be changed and their transformations catalyzed change on multiple fronts of life for many. The work continues.
There are many who continue to carry non-violent resistance as a way of life in lots of different forms. Only when we change individually can we expect to see our change multiplied and a changed world appear. As within so without. As above so below. On earth as in heaven. So be it.
Living in Hope with Love,