The AAA (All African-American Authors) Book Club will take a hiatus beginning in February 2022 to return at a later date. We initiated it soon after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent worldwide protest in solidarity with the anguish and anger of the African-American community. As many of you may recall, it was a very raw time in which the state of the American justice system for black and brown people was blown wide open for the world to see.
In response to my own deep hurt and anger, I thought it would be a good thing to share some of the AAA experience with the community at Redeemer from a literary perspective. I have always been a book nerd, and it seemed to me that the artists of the world always speak truth in lived reality. I believed that exposure to African American authors would be a good way to experience some sort of unity and solidarity with the lived experience of fellow citizens of the African diaspora in these United States. It was well-received and although our numbers dwindled over time, the passionate discussions and engagement with those of us who remained, has continued.
A couple of months ago though, I received an enlightening article from a member of the book club titled, “The Lofty Goals and Short Life of the Anti-racist Book Club.” It described the outcomes of innumerable book clubs which had sprung up all over the country from the same catalyst—Floyd’s death. The article articulated the questions that had been circulating in the back of my own mind: Reading black authors and gaining knowledge leads one where? In other words, now that we know, so what? To what end does learning about the life experience of an entire group of people with whom I live change me— or you? Let me tell you one way.
I want to tell you about LOVE.
I had voiced several times over the past few months how tiring, sad and dissatisfying it was for me to facilitate the book club alone. I asked whether or not we should consider discontinuing our time together, since our numbers and interest seemed to have dwindled significantly. That night those present were adamant that we should continue to read, reflect and engage. HOWEVER, acknowledging the toll it was taking on my own health and well-being, several of them volunteered to step in to facilitate our times together. They might not realize it, but I felt heard, supported and could breathe a bit. The actions of those four of you (you know who you are!) who volunteered to help showed me what love looks like. THIS is how compassion and solidarity show up in the world y’all!
Although we are taking a hiatus, we WILL BE BACK! The first reading, though will be a discussion of the article I referenced so that we might arrive at an intention for continuing our time together. LOVE and Compassion are both verbs, you know?
Meanwhile, we will begin a new journey of spiritual growth here at Redeemer called “Life in the Spirit,” where we will explore the realm of the spirit in contrast to the realm of religion. You will be hearing more about it in the next few months and may want to join in!
L-I-F-E? It’s All GOOD! (With a shout-out to Patty, Steve, Cathy, and Mark)
Enjoying this Season of HOPE!
On Monday, December 6, many Christians around the world celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas. Perhaps you are familiar with some of the traditions: children place their shoes outside the door at night and wake to find them filled with chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil or small oranges. He may be more familiar to those of us in the Western Church in the amalgamation he became when mixed up with Scandinavian myth and Dutch Protestants: Santa Claus.
For all that he is beloved around the world, very little is known about St. Nicholas’s life. He lived during the fourth century and was the bishop of Myra, a provincial capital in Asia Minor, on the southern coast of modern day Turkey. Beyond that, most of what we know about St. Nicholas is based in legend.
One of the most familiar legends goes like this: One evening, Nicholas was out for a walk. Though he was still a young man and not yet a Bishop, he had committed himself to helping the poor by giving away his money in secret. On his walk he overheard a father preparing to sell his three daughters into prostitution because he had no money for their doweries, and no way left to care for the family. Nicholas snuck back by the house later in the evening and threw three bags of gold through the window, ensuring that the girls had enough to marry.
I’ve been thinking about St. Nicholas this week in the context of Judgement. Today, the four Sundays of Advent are sometimes given a virtue or theme: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. But, as lay theologian Hannah Bowman writes, “The traditional topics for preaching on the four Sundays in Advent are the ‘four last things’ of death, judgment, heaven, and hell.” Slightly less cozy.
I have been chewing on the idea of God’s judgement, and the ways that while we often reckon judgement to be negative, it doesn’t have to be. I often conflate judgement with punishment – but they are two different things. God’s judgement is not retributive but restorative. It doesn’t punish us, but instead restores to wholeness and fullness what is imbalanced or off-kilter in our world. This includes filling the valleys and making every mountain and hill low, as John the Baptist quoted Isaiah in our gospel from Advent II. This is the story of the Magnificat, the casting down of the mighty and lifting-up of the lowly. Bowman writes, “This is not suffering inflicted by God for the sake of retribution. It is instead a radical overturning of the power relations that allow injustice to flourish.” God does not desire the suffering of any – God desires the flourishing of all. God’s judgement is something we can long for and desire because it will set the world right. God’s judgement is equally bound to God’s mercy.
We have met the face of God’s mercy: Jesus Christ. When Christ comes again we will encounter both judgement and mercy and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5). But there is no reason for us to wait. David+ preached it this Sunday: we can live as if the Messiah is already among us, because Christ lives within us. Freda Marie+ preached it two weeks ago: we must live this way, because the flourishing and life of all of us is dependent on it. We all need the salvation of God.
How might we live in light of the merciful, truthful judgement of God? Judgement that loves us and calls us to live in such a way that fills the valleys and lays the mountains low, even – and especially – when those mountains and valleys are our own? Would you be like St. Nicholas, throwing money through windows in secret, searching for ways to give away some of your own might to those who could desperately use some? Or, like the daughters, would you allow yourself to be lifted up by the kindness of a stranger? This Advent, and all year long, how can we bring about the world “of care and mercy for one another” as God dreams it to be?
P.S. You can read Hannah Bowman’s full essay on Judgement, from which these quotes were taken, here.
As many of you know, starting next month, at 5pm on January 30, 2022, we will begin offering YogaMass monthly here at Redeemer in the church ( … and in the spirit of Advent, “Stay Awake!” for more details, coming soon!).
YogaMass was conceived by The Rev. Gena Davis, an Episcopal priest in Houston, TX https://www.yogamass.com/. As she writes on her website: “So why a YogaMass®? Bringing together the practice of yoga, breath work, meditation, and Holy Communion is a way to encounter the Risen Christ on our mats, and to tap into the deep well of God’s divine light within us, so that it may shine through us and flow out into the world. “
“Tapping into the deep well of God’s divine light within us, so that it may shine through us and flow out into the world” is a wonderful image of intention for every day, and especially during the season of Advent.
Below is a story I recently came upon, by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, describing how she encountered God’s divine light through an ordinary human being on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. I share it with you, below, in the hopes that Christ’s light may shine through you and flow out into the world, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, today.
“Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated—with one another; with the rainy, sleety weather; with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.
But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom. “Folks,” he said, “I know you’ve had a rough day and you’re frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here’s what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight—just leave ’em with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I’ll open the window and throw your troubles in the water. Sound good?”
It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who’d been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?
Oh, he was serious.
At the next stop—just as promised—the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up—but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.
We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.
But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?
That’s what this bus driver taught me—that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy “influencer.” He was a bus driver—one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.
When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name. How we behave matters because within human society everything is contagious—sadness and anger, yes, but also patience and generosity. Which means we all have more influence than we realize.
No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated—one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.”
This year I am so thankful for Sacred Ground, a small group dialogue centered on the American story of race and racism. It’s a sensitive, prayerful resource designed by Episcopalians, and new groups are forming right now. Here’s what several Redeemer parishioners are saying:
For me, the work of Sacred Ground was the work of getting closer–closer to the truth of my country’s history, closer to my fellow Redeemer parishioners, closer to my own, often unexamined, beliefs. It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve had in a long time.
I came to Sacred Ground confident that I had a pretty good grasp of the history of slavery and race relations and that I was going to learn about what interventions might work. But I did not understand much of the history, and I was not at all prepared for the national reemergence of racial equality as a seriously debatable issue in America. The Sacred Ground discussions were simply invaluable.
The Sacred Ground curriculum opened my eyes to a history I had not learned, giving me context to better understand current times. The small group discussions opened my heart to a deeper understanding of God’s love for us and His wish for us to live in beloved community.
I grew up with black people and thought I was enlightened about race issues. This program opened my eyes to the reality that I was not, and I will never be the same.
During the pandemic, Sacred Ground has been a gift. I’m joining the course for a third time because I want to know more folks at Redeemer, and I want to stay engaged in conversations about our nation’s history.
Sacred Ground was a powerful way for me to build deeper relationships with people in our parish, and to move together from reflection and prayer to action. The world needs us to take action, however small, to dismantle unjust and oppressive structures and build the beloved community.
For me, the Sacred Ground films and readings and the small group discussions gave me a solid understanding of the history that underlies so many of the challenges confronting our city of Baltimore and a deeper appreciation for how we, as followers of Jesus at Redeemer might more faithfully—lovingly—engage with the community in addressing those challenges.
The third cohort will be led by an extraordinary group of parishioners: Catherine Gearhart, Erin Hagar, Sarah Hoover, Steve Jencks, Patty McLean, Kate Pisano, David Wallack, Christina Way, and Ted Winstead. Each of them speaks of being profoundly moved by the course experience, and I encourage you to join one of their circles now forming.
What will center you this Thanksgiving, in these challenging times? And how are you being called to grow? Consider the gift of this blessed nation, a wonderful yet flawed experiment in democracy, always striving to more fully embody its ideals… where all people are created equal and invited to pursue their happiness, where individual rights are balanced by a commitment to the common good, where life and liberty and laws are for all, and not only a few. How can we make our country better, now? And what part do you play in building God’s beloved community?
Here’s a blessing for your table this week: May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember now that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love. (William Sloane Coffin)
I love the Sam Cooke classic, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
I must confess I have been reduced to more hopeLESSness than hopeFULness since the return to the States from my pilgrimage to West Africa. My daughter warned me to stay away from the what-passes-for-news in the mainstream and social media these days and I did while I was away, but came back to the chaos that exists in the atmosphere of the States. From my perspective the fact that this present darkness is so prominent across the news wires says to me that I must remain consciously a follower of Jesus as Christ and as a holder of the LIGHT.
Of course, I have always contended with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING through prayer because it is the way I was raised, and holding the light has meant learning a new way of praying since my return from Senegal. I began praying in color recently and it has expanded my view of the Truth in even the most sorrowful and angering moments. Inevitably, prayer restores me to a place of peace and hopefulness. Intentional time with GOD always returns me to the truth.
Yesterday, trying to find the tranquility that I experienced just days before in Dakar, a line from Langston Hughes came forth: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” (from the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”) Meditating upon this line, drawing, and coloring I came to the place of considering that we are ALL in the midst of the waters-of-change for that is what water and indeed, life does. Life changes us and sifts us to become our fullest, best, highest, and most-whole (holy)self. This Self is who we truly are and we are becoming her or him all of the time. This Self is the Christ-Self within us. Sometimes, it is good to be reminded of this truth.
I am continuing to process my experience of feeling totally safe, totally accepted, and totally acceptable without trying in a place I had never visited versus feeling unsafe and unaccepted and unacceptable in the land in which I was born. This is part of my reality living in the diaspora. It calls for lots of prayer to keep holding the Light. Over there I learned that having things don’t make the difference in life, but having laughing, joyful, loving relationships with others does.
I discovered my true Self while on the Continent. My ancestors were with me. My soul is deep like the rivers and yours is as well. I consciously choose HOPE…not in a government, circumstance, or situation…but in a GOD who raises from the dead to New Life. The change we seek is surely coming. I am not persuaded by what my sensory organs tell me, but rather what my Soul speaks because I know she knows.
As we continue to be bombarded by the darkness around us in the exchange of truth for lies and systematic and pervasive injustices for justice, I cannot afford to lose hope…and neither can you. The risen Life of Christ is where I choose to live. If we remember to keep the main thing the main thing…All Shall (certainly) be Well. Live on in LOVE!
Praying & Trusting always,