Last summer, a flight attendant boarded her plane with a heavy, broken heart. She, like us, had just watched a man named George die under the knee of a police officer named Derek. Knowing her job was to put a smile on her masked-face and make passengers feel welcome, safe and secure while on a plane during a worldwide pandemic — a smile that passengers would need to see shining through her eyes — she prayed to God for help.

As passengers boarded their Southwest flight, she noticed one in particular; the book he carried happened to be a book about racism in America that she had heard of but hadn’t read yet.

After she finished her duty of conveying passenger safety instructions and completing safety and baggage checks, when their flight was on its way and she had a moment, she walked back to the passenger with the book. He was seated next to the window typing on his laptop, an empty seat beside him, so she sat down and introduced herself.

“Hey, how are you? So that book, how is it?”

They began talking, and at one point, she remembers him saying, “We have to start these conversations. It’s our fault.”

Moved with emotion at hearing his words, she began to cry. They talked, shared and listened some more. At the end of their conversation, which lasted at least another 10 minutes, she hugged him and thanked him for his interest and for caring.

Then they introduced themselves to one another.

“I’m JacqueRae Hill.”

“I’m Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines.”

As it turns out, her mother was one of his employees.

Before getting off the plane, Doug wrote a note to give to JacqueRae:

Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God ….

I am saddened that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right vs wrong.

Much of the problem is we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking to me and showing your emotion. That took courage. The book, White Fragility, is great. But it is more for people like me than you. (A black friend recommended it to me.) I really appreciate you. If you’d like to continue the conversation, my email is ….

Thank you!
Doug

P.S. Say hello to your mother for me.

This past Memorial Day, JacqueRae got married and Doug was in attendance. On Instagram this past week, he thanked her and her family for including him and his family in their celebration and reflected on their friendship: “She started a courageous conversation with me about race in America and it’s one I will never forget.”

On this Thursday before Juneteenth, our oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, let us commit to one another, to continue having these courageous conversations. With God’s help. Amen.

Cristina

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/southwest-flight-attendant-american-ceo-wedding-reunion/index.html

Dear Folks,

A family is continually becoming what becomes of it, writes Frederick Buechner.  “It is every christening and every commencement, every falling in love, every fight, every departure and return… It’s the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of the night or the lying awake for hours waiting for the phone to ring.” (Whistling in the Dark) It’s the children laughing, brothers wrestling, parents offering advice, lovers whispering or crying, and the silence after a door is slammed shut.  For anyone who’s had one fall apart, a family’s wings are gossamer, “a web so delicately spun that it takes almost nothing to set the whole thing shuddering or tear it to pieces.  Yet the thread it’s woven of is as strong as anything on earth.” (ibid) The depth of our longing for connection has everything to do with the family that gave us our start, and we shape our current communities with the new, perhaps healthier systems we’ve been building since then.

If you are looking for snap-shots of an ideal family, of life-giving parent, child, and sibling relationships, the Bible may not be the best place to look.  Consider Abraham almost sacrificing his son on a make-shift altar, or the crippling favoritism that Isaac later showers on one of his twins, or old Samuel and his shiftless sons, or the awful tangle between David and his children Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom, whose saga includes a rape and a murder within their intimate circle.  And Mark reveals tension within Jesus’ own family(!) One translation says, “When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him.  They were saying, “He’s out of his mind.”  (Mark 3:20, Common English Bible)

Yet much of the tradition is uncomfortable suggesting that Jesus had trouble getting along with his closest relatives.  The King James Version totally removes Jesus’ family from this part of the story, saying instead: “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold of him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself.’”  Other translations put the disparagement of Jesus in the mouths of anonymous “other people” instead of his kinfolk, and the authors of Matthew and Luke, written after the time of the gospel of Mark, omit entirely from their stories any hint that Jesus’ family thought he was disturbed.

The wider context of the story is a controversy over authority involving influential religious leaders and Jesus’ family, with both groups expressing trouble understanding who Jesus is and what his actions mean.  The scribes who came down from Jerusalem conclude he is possessed by Satan, the tempter, while his family worries he has lost his sanity, and in this ancient setting, these two diagnoses are roughly equivalent to each other.  (Matthew Skinner) It’s an old story, really, to label a challenge to the status quo “crazy talk,” and both allegations attempt to discredit the one here who is facilitating health.  Jesus experiences in this exchange what a modern person discovers when he exposes a bully in the workplace, when an abused spouse begins to take care of herself, when a sober sibling navigates an alcoholic system, or when the son of slaves reveals the violence of low expectations.

The story digs a little deeper.  “Then his mother and brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  The crowd sitting around Jesus said to him, ‘Your mother and your brother and sisters are outside, asking for you.’”  And Jesus replies with a shocking query, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at the people near him, he answers his own question: It’s you.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother, he says.

This is good news for the folks inside the house that day, who identify with Jesus and his teaching, and it’s good news for Mark’s earliest readers, who often found themselves estranged from their biological families… Think of the disciples who left everyone behind…

But this is pretty hard to take for his relatives standing outside, and for anyone with high regard for conventional notions of honor and social stability.  In a stunning and probably painful exchange with his relatives, Jesus redefines family altogether here.  For him and his Way, family will no longer be determined by blood relations, kinship ties, or the rules of inheritance.  Life-giving family is defined by something bigger, less parochial, more inclusive, characterized by mutual respect and called to the work of leveling generations of uneven playing fields.

You see our family is much bigger than we thought it was.  Who’s in our gang after all? Prostitutes, thieves, widows, the childless, immigrants, angry brothers, the prodigal, the Ethiopian, the Samaritan, the Greek, the Jew, the wealthy benefactor, the never married, the three times married, gay, straight, and trans, Republican, Democrat, independents, even Yankees fans.  And our call is to weave the streets of Baltimore and its various factions and fractured relationships into a living fabric that joins disparate, unlikely, even antagonistic strands together.  Because according to Jesus, the courage and will to love is what makes a family, not blood.

Love,
David

Dear all,

Welcome to that great, green, growing season — Ordinary Time! We have arrived in the season after Pentecost, one in which we get to stretch and grow and wonder and wander through stories about Jesus and the disciples and the adventures of the people of Israel with God. I love Ordinary Time. It’s spacious. We aren’t preparing special liturgies for any quickly approaching feast, or working up specific programs based on said feast. We’re existing: swimming around through the sounds of the cicadas and God’s Word.

We are entering another season, too. The beginning of June marks the beginning of Pride Month (referring to Gay Pride). Happy Pride!! To our LGBTQIA+ siblings: You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, a beloved member of the Body of Christ, always. In celebration of the LGBTQIA+ histories that are part of our Episcopal and Christian story, below is a little bit of history about a Baltimore native, who we also happen to remember at the end of June or beginning of July: The Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray.

Pauli Murray was a queer Episcopal priest, civil rights activist, lawyer, and writer of poetry and prose. She was born in Baltimore (!) in 1910 but went to live with family in Durham, North Carolina at a young age. Pauli studied English literature in college. During her young adulthood Pauli wrestled with gender identity. She sought hormone therapy during the 1930s but was denied by doctors. Pauli favored “masculine-of-center” gender performance, and while today she might have identified as gender non-conforming or as a transgender man, that kind of terminology was not available to her in the 1930s and 40s. (I’m using she/her pronouns in this reflection because that is how Pauli often referred to herself.) While Pauli was not closeted and had romantic partnerships with women throughout her life, she also had to navigate the respectability politics of her time period.

Active in the movement for civil rights, in 1938 Pauli campaigned to attend law school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but was denied because of race. She was arrested and imprisoned for refusing to move to the back of the bus in 1940; in 1941 she began law school at Howard University, focusing on civil rights law. During this time, Pauli’s writing (poetry and prose) was widely published. Although she graduated top of her class from Howard, she was denied entry to Harvard Law, this time because of her gender. Pauli attended the University of California Boalt School of Law instead and later published a book that supplied some of the ideas and arguments used during Brown v Board of Education. Pauli fought throughout her career for equal rights for people of color and women, and eventually went to work at a law firm where she met her partner, Irene Barlow, in 1956.

Pauli remained engaged in the civil rights movement, including critiquing it for the ways that men made up most of the leadership while women did much of the ground work. After Irene’s death in 1973, Pauli became a candidate for ordination to the priesthood at General Theological Seminary in New York City (which is where Cristina and David went!). In 1977, Pauli Murray became the first Black woman ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, one year after the Church changed its policy to affirm the ordination of women. Pauli died of cancer in 1985; she was made a saint in the Episcopal Church in 2012.

Pauli’s history is part of our church’s history. Her story is another story to wonder and wander through this Ordinary Time, another beloved child of God’s adventure with God. I wonder what other stories you will discover during our green and growing season? How will you stretch into God’s story with you? Into God’s story with the world? I pray that we may celebrate one another in all our beautiful particularities, this June and in the months to come.

Love,
Rebecca+

P.S. If you’d like to read more about Pauli Murray, I commend to you this biography from the Pauli Murray Center or this article by Professor Brittany Cooper of Rutgers. Professor Cooper also advised on an upcoming documentary about Pauli, My Name is Pauli Murray.

Additional Sources (for photos and information):
The Pauli Murray Center (https://www.paulimurraycenter.com/who-is-pauli);

NPR (https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/19/387200033/the-black-queer-feminist-legal-trailblazer-youve-never-heard-of);

Salon (https://www.salon.com/2015/02/18/black_queer_feminist_erased_from_history_meet_the_most_important_legal_scholar_youve_likely_never_heard_of/);

NY Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/10/25/catching-up-to-paulimurray/)

Dear Folks,

What do you do with Judas?  Do you heap coals on his head?  Single him out as the bad apple in the group?  Pronounce “good riddance” and move on?  Maybe you say that his treachery regarding Jesus was inevitable, or part of some grand design, or initiated not by him but by the Tempter?  It’s tough not to get stuck on him, or with anyone involved in such destructive behavior, but casting blame may not get us anywhere good.

Are you aware of similar patterns in your own family or workplace, the tendency to focus on one member who seems to be “the problem,” the fantasies you nurture about that person “just getting himself together,” or “taking care of her business” so that the family could have some peace?  I am not suggesting that individual members of systems don’t bear responsibility for their actions, both good and bad, but healing comes from an honest look at the whole.  Consider: what is at the root of a person’s actions or feelings or identity?  How might the family inadvertently contribute to his/her struggle?  Does the system in some way benefit from designating one person as the source of its pain, by taking others off the hook?  What would happen instead if each of us faced our own demons?

No one can be sure why Judas did what he did.  According to John’s gospel, he sometimes pilfered the money given for the poor.  Since all of the disciples worried about where they stood in some imagined pecking order—who’s first, who’s last, who’s the one most likely to sit at Jesus’s right hand—he might have been reacting to some perceived slight.  He might have gotten frustrated with waiting for Jesus to set the world straight, once and for all, and “hoped that betraying him might force (Jesus) to show his hand at last.  Or maybe, because nothing human is ever uncomplicated, something of all of these was involved.” (Frederic Buechner)

Maybe we have to admit that “Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is unremarkable,” writes Dan Clendenin, not because it is inevitable, but because it’s ordinary.  Even common.  After all, Peter promised that he would never deny the Lord, but then he did so three times.  The other 11 disciples each made the same pledge, yet when Jesus was arrested, they all fled for their lives.  And after the fact, Judas and Peter respond to their betrayal and denial in similar ways.

On some days I hold the disciples at arm’s length and wonder about their hard hearts and even harder heads!  But in my more grounded moments, I see myself in each of them and them in me—including Judas.  Consider the old hymn:

“Ah, holy Jesus… By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted!  Who was the guilty?  Who brought this upon thee?  Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!”

This is hard stuff, but I bring it up because the alternative is often to cast the blame on a single person or issue… like the family that blames their pain on the teenager who has a drug problem, the sister who shuts out her depressed brother, the faculty room that buzzes about the teacher who lost her temper, the husband who holds his wife responsible for his infidelity, the country that demonizes the unemployed, the city that believes an ever more sophisticated police department will keep them safe.  All of these “diagnoses” run the risk of choosing a quick fix over the difficult work of seeing all of what’s there and addressing it in some humble and holistic way.  Remember Jesus’s practice of healing: he stops, he listens, he sees the person and her context, they engage with each other.  Reconciliation is born of this kind of communion.

When a part of us is hurting, the whole is always affected and diminished, and while in rare circumstances an individual is so toxic to a system that he needs to be isolated for his and the other’s well-being, more often than not, the work ahead is group work and calls for shared accountability.

Consider the practice outlined in the Lord’s prayer—forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us—the model of Jesus calls us to hold ourselves accountable for what we have done and left undone, to consider how we are involved when things don’t work well for everyone, to demonstrate mutual respect especially for the wounded one, who is the one most likely to wound others.  But we tend to scape goat when we are afraid.  The easiest way out of a problem, we think, is to blame someone and move on.  We can do better than that.  We have to.

Blaming the other, the enemy, the one we have all the problems with, doesn’t get us anywhere, and Jesus offers us a better way.  God goes to hell with the betrayer.  God lives the hell with the part of us that is most in pain, most wounded, most lost, most hurt.  Rather than heaping coals on our heads, God meets us in the hells that have been thrust upon us or that we have helped make ourselves.  God goes to that place of deep darkness.  And if God can be present with us in our most awful dimensions, then who are we to dismiss or discredit anyone?  The one most likely to hurt others has been hurt herself.  And when we struggle to love her, God goes there ahead of us, making a way where there was no way.

Love,
David

It was two years ago that I returned to Redeemer at David’s invitation to fulfill his vision to start a new initiative that would be a resource for the parish and for the Baltimore community. And thus, The Center for WellBeing was begun. Our goal was to offer programs and speakers that focused on physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. We also wanted to be a source that could refer people to other similar opportunities in the community. Mental Health First Aid Training was an important component as well as individual and group Spiritual Direction. As the pandemic altered our plans, our unofficial motto was to concentrate on what we could do and not on what we could not do. Therefore, The Center has been a success to date in a wide range of areas, some expected and some unexpected!

What drew me to this opportunity, besides the wonderful people of Redeemer, was the chance to create something from scratch. As I look back over my life, there is a thread of my being drawn to start new things; that process gives me joy, whether it was a new painting, a new garden, or a new club, among other endeavors. Even at Redeemer in my former role, that thread emerged as I was able to start ministries like the Women Who Wonder, The Sacred Space for Grace, the Knitting Group and the St. Lukes’ Ministry.

Now at the two-year mark, it feels like the right time to step aside and let The Center continue to grow under new leadership. Therefore, I am concluding my time July 1st. With a bit of humor, this will be my third leave taking from Redeemer and so the phrase ‘three times is a charm’ takes on a delightful meaning. I depart with tremendous gratitude for all the opportunities and tremendous relationships I have encountered over many years, along with a curiosity of what might lie ahead as I continue to live into my call!

With profound gratitude,
Caroline

The Rev. Caroline Stewart