Let’s play, WHAT IF….

I am a scientist by formal training. I have always been and always will be.  I believe in the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experimenting to test the theory, and then formulating a new truth based on multiple experiments.  That’s how I was taught that science worked. But knowing this has recently shifted my thinking and imagination to “what if’s.”  Have you ever considered your belief about something—anything—and how it just may no longer be helpful to your life or way of living at this time?  What if that belief was to change?

I mean, the idea of “believing” is just a mental concept that you and I have accepted as true. Some things we believe to be true don’t seem to be of much consequence because that belief doesn’t change how we live our lives much at all.  But others do.  Take, for instance, the belief that the Earth is rotating at 1,000 mph on its axis and is revolving around the sun in an elliptical pattern at 67,000 mph!  None of us have really performed any of these measurements, but others have, and we accept their words as truth and continue on with our lives.

But when we say we believe in G-D, what are we really saying?  How is it changing how we think or what we do at any particular moment?  I’m not saying that we are always thinking about G-D (I mean, WHO can do that anyway), but if we say we believe, the next question is, “And so what?”

What difference does what we say we believe make?  If you believe you are loved by someone (whoever that is), how has it made a difference in your life?  What if you did not believe that you were loved by them?

Generally, if we believe something is true, we trust it and act out of that trust or belief.  But What if what we believe is true is not helpful to our lives, meaning that it does not give us peace or joy or make us feel vibrantly alive?    What if what we believe to be true, or at least say we believe, does not help us live any differently—with more joy, peace, or equanimity?  No, really?

The one sermon I have ever remembered and will remember for the rest of my life was preached at my home parish in Dallas by our interim rector, Fr. Larry.  This was his question during that sermon: “What if that which you believed about G-D was no longer helpful to you, and what if you offered that belief to G-D with the intention that G-D should destroy it for something better— like G-D’s truth instead of your own?  He asked if/would/could we experiment to become open and receptive to who G-D really was in our lives.  This, of course, acknowledged the fact that what we think/thought or believed about G-D and G-D’s truth of G-D were two different things.  One is our imagining of G-D, and the other is who G-D truly is.  Fr. Larry taught us to live with “openness and receptivity” to life so that G-D could manifest in ways we have never considered.  It was a what-if experiment of mammoth proportions, which I carry with me to this day.  The experiment keeps getting bigger (more comprehensive) and better.

The results so far have been astounding, and one of them is my amazement of being here in Baltimore, MD, at this place and at this time. I can assure you that I would have never dreamt of being on this side of the continental US except for letting go of my original beliefs about G-D.  I needed to ask, “What if?” and then risk it for any possibility of G-D’s.  In that risk, I have experienced this Mysterious Higher Power in new and different ways.  Fr. Larry was correct.  Living open and receptive to G-D’s possibilities has led me to serve in a great faith community with wonderful colleagues and loving new friends.

Now that we are approaching the first Sunday of ADVENT and a new church year with new possibilities, you might want to experiment with your what-ifs.  Who knows?  You might discover more peace, joy, and love than you could have ever imagined.  The G-D beyond your imagination has got your back!

Stay WARM, Be Blessed, & Don’t Be Afraid to ask: What if…?

With Love,
Freda Marie+

Dear all,

In youth group on Sunday, in between auditions for the play and our Friendsgiving dinner, members of RYG made a gratitude chain. We wrote down things we were grateful for and made a chain with the pieces of paper. When it was done, it was longer than the parish hall.

We have so much to be thankful for. As we sat together, I reflected on the gift of basic necessities: clean water, food, shelter, love, and community that so many in our city, country, and world lack. We live in a world where they are not guaranteed. They can disappear so quickly.

I also reflected on how thankful I was to be sitting in the parish hall together, in person: laughing and talking over the music, passing each other scissors and staplers, breathing the same air, singing and dancing for auditions. Three years ago, in 2020, members of RYG would have given so much to be able to try out for the play – but there were no vaccines, we could not safely sing together, inside. Instead, we gathered outside for our Friendsgiving meal, shivering in our carefully spaced chairs around a bonfire.

This year, rehearsals for the play are getting ready to begin, and we sat together, warm and cozy in the dining room, for a delicious and generous meal that even included a happy birthday roll! Our congregation is able to gather in full in the chapel and church, singing along with our incredible choir. These simple actions of gathering are so poignant and special to me now, when before I barely thought of them. They are not guaranteed. They can disappear so quickly. We have so much to be thankful for.

As you give thanks this week, here are three questions to consider:

For what are you grateful?

To whom are you grateful?

And how do you share that gratitude with the world?

Surely, saying thank you and being mindful of what we have been given are two ways. Writing thank you notes, taking a friend to coffee – I certainly use both of these to share my thanks!

And – and. And I think that we are called to do even more. God offers us the gift of grace, and calls on us to do the same. There is no “deserving” – grace is freely given. Out of our gratitude to God, we can offer grace to the world through our words and actions. We can share from our abundance, be it a banquet feast of five loaves and two fish; the size does not matter. We can seek to be Christ’s healing hands and journeying feet in our community, listening and welcoming and being present.

So ask yourself and anyone with whom you gather – and have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Love,
Rebecca+

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

(The above quote, often attributed to the Talmud, is a loose translation of commentary on a portion of the Pirke Avot, which is itself a commentary on Micah 6:8. See Wisdom of the Jewish Sages: A Modern Reading of Pirke Avot by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.)

***

The words above landed in my inbox weeks ago, courtesy of a friend, and they have been simmering in the soup of my soul ever since.

I find them particularly relevant and meaningful today, as I continue to reflect on and “be with” the information and research presented by our history committee, on Redeemer’s role in the institution of slavery. 

We cannot change the Past.

And/But the Light of Truth, as it shines backwards in time, can illuminate our Present, and inform and guide our Future.

There’s a saying and a practice from the world of community organizing, that we periodically have to “disorganize” in order to “reorganize”. 

It makes me think of times in my life when I have decided to finally deal with something I’d been putting off dealing with – say, my wardrobe closet. Keeping this space “fresh” and “alive”, reflective of and resonant with my present life, requires me taking everything out, looking at and considering items under the light, giving away or recycling that which no longer serves, and choosing to keep with intention that which remains life-giving, thus opening up room for more space to breathe and something new to enter in, as needed and desired.

This process takes time and consideration, stirring up memories and stories, some simple, some complicated; old identities and affiliations; former roles and hobbies.

What is essential? What is it time to let go of? What inner work — soul work — is required to make space for that which is Living and Alive?

For many years, I worked with a spiritual director who would respond to my angst-filled questioning, “What does God want me to Do about this particular situation?” with a gentle, Yoda-like correction:

The first question Cristina is not ‘What does God want me to Do with (about) this?’ but rather ‘How is God inviting me to Be with this?’ Then let your Doing flow out of your Being …

Easier said than done, especially for any of us who pride ourselves in being Doers! And yet, with practice and intention, I have found her wise counsel to be life-giving.

One thing I can say for sure, as I continue to Be with the Truth of the Illusion of Separateness that Racism Is — and how our city’s neighborhoods were created out of/from this Illusion, through housing policies and practices that were racially discriminatory: I am moved to act in ways that will create a future different from our past; ways that build One Baltimore instead of perpetuating Two.

How is God inviting You to Be with all of this? And from this Being, what might God be inviting You to Do?

Love,
Cristina 

Last night I was blessed to sit and hear (for the 3rd or 4th time) the findings of our History Committee here at Redeemer.  Having been commissioned by our Vestry to explore and investigate the relationship of The Church of the Redeemer to the institution of chattel slavery, I reflected on the depth of their work and the light it shed for us as a community of faith.  I immediately recalled the words of Jesus in the gospel of John: “If you remain in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (8:31) 

I have surmised that Light and Freedom are the bookends of Truth.  Knowing reality as it exists without the equivocations and hesitancies of our desire for acceptable appearances, grants us freedom from the need to maintain a personal “truth” that keeps us comfortable, while denying that same comfort to others.

Light is a necessary component of seeing in the physical world and the same is true for the spiritual dimension of life.  As above, so below. Light reveals the truth.  Without bringing to light the factual reality of our church’s origins, we are relegated to continued darkness and are (even unconsciously) enslaved to the actions of that darkness.  The actions of that darkness can cripple in a vicious cycle of fear, guilt, and/or shame.  To own, really own the truth, however, frees us and grants us the capacity to act in ways that diminish fear, guilt, or shame for the healing and wholeness of us ALL.  With the reality of our origins brought to LIGHT, we can take in a more whole picture discerning the objective reality and where we choose to stand in relationship to it.  We can be healed.

I want to commend the work of this Committee in all its aspects:  From the actual leg work of tracking down the numerous sources, to the hours of reading documents of all shapes and sizes, to the preparation of a well-planned, well presented and more complete story of the Church of the Redeemer to date.  They may not say it, but I believe this was a work of love.

Love is the most potent and freeing force of the Universe.  Most assuredly, I thank them for dealing with this work—day after day after day (and nights, too).  I am grateful for the love that allowed them to endure the emotional, psychological, and spiritual toll it must have taken on them and perhaps their families as well.

At the close of last night, we thanked GOD for the Light shed and for the grace of receptivity and freedom to live into who we truly are. Our true identity is Christ…not the person of Jesus, but the consciousness of him as the Christ; the realization that we are a part of something much bigger than our immediate senses can convey.  As within, so without.  We are a part of G-D and carry the god-like powers of love, truth, compassion, and mercy within us. Through it all—we are ONE.

Thank you, David, Raynor, Ruthie, Patti, Margaret, Steve, Amanda, Christina, Kathy, Doug, Lucy, Anne, and Keri.

We love you, too!
Freda Marie+

Dear all,

These days, I have been praying the same prayer, over and over again:

Compassion and mercy, from me to you and you to me. 

It’s been rolling around my head set to the catchy tune of a VeggieTales song about Jonah. (VeggieTales, in case you missed it in the ‘90s or early 2000s like I did, is a Christian education video series starring vegetables and fruit. I recommend this video and this video as delightfully silly places to start.) Each time I read news of violence or encounter conflict, the prayer surfaces:

Compassion and mercy, from me to you and you to me. 

A few weeks ago, I told the story of Jonah, aided by the VeggieTales song and its refrain, to three different groups of children: First to a group of pre-schoolers, then to a group of elementary schoolers, both during Day School Chapel services; and then to members of RYG, ranging from 7th-12th grade, on our fall retreat. I can’t speak for the kids, but each time I told it, it felt important to me to share. We are never not at an age to need this story and its reminder.

Jonah, who, like all prophets, is supposed to point the way to what matters most, doesn’t really get it (Jonah was a prophet, ooh ooh; but he never really got it, sad but true.) God calls him to go to Ninevah, to call on its people to change their ways, but Jonah doesn’t want to. So he runs from God, ending up in a whale, contrite and thanking God for his life, promising that he’ll do whatever God wants. Summarily spat back on shore, Jonah drags his feet to Ninevah and walks the streets preaching repentance. When the people do repent, donning sackcloth and ashes, and God forgives them. And then (…he never really got it, sad but true…) Jonah fusses at God for God’s mercy.

Compassion and mercy, from me to you and you to me. 

Jonah is angry at God’s compassion and mercy towards the Ninevites, and the book of Jonah ends ambiguously, without resolution between God and Noah. “Is it right for you to be angry?” God asks him. Yes, Jonah replies, “angry enough to die.” This dramatic exchange happens twice, the second time after God causes a bush to grow to shade Jonah while he pouts and then sends a worm to eat it up, aggravating Jonah even more. The last words are God’s, asking Jonah why he should care so much about the demise of a bush, which he, Jonah, did nothing to create or care for, but be upset with God for caring about a city full of people and animals, all of whom, it is implied, God very much created and cares for.

And that’s it. We never hear any more from Jonah. The story ends.

Compassion and mercy, from me to you and you to me. 

I think that’s why Jonah and this VeggieTales prayer have been in my head so much. It feels like our world, like Jonah, needs the reminder and the reorientation to God’s compassion and mercy. Violence is all over the news – from conflicts around the world and throughout our country to incidents of road rage and school shootings here in our city. People are complicated, our lives and motivations shaped by so many things – but I do not believe that retribution and vengeance will bring about God’s dream of abundant love, life, or justice for the world. God has offered compassion and mercy to us abundantly, made incarnate in the person of Jesus, and calls us, no matter how reluctant we are, no matter how hard it is, to do the same. This is not to ignore the need for justice, but to imagine a different way to seek it: justice, after all, is love in action.

Our story does not have an ending. We, like Jonah, are left with God’s call for compassion and mercy ringing in our ears. It is up to us to live out the rest.  And so my prayer for each of us, for our world, our country, and our city; for our policy makers and leaders and family and friends remains:

Compassion and mercy, from me to you and you to me. 

Love,
Rebecca+