Dear Folks,

Community has to be built: one step, one person, one day at a time.

Things are buzzing in Reservoir Hill, the neighborhood that my family and I moved to last January. Dan Rodericks and Jacques Kelly have written about the renovation of an apartment house at Brookfield and Reservoir Streets, lovingly restored by Alex Aaron, a young graduate of Howard University who is raising his family nearby. David Bramble, another West Baltimore resident, is responsible for a $100 million project at the intersection of North Avenue and Park that combines over 100 market rate townhouses with subsidized apartments that will make a meaningful dent in housing affordability, and promises essential amenities like a grocery store and other retail. Connecting streets to Bolton Hill that were blocked sixty years ago are being re-opened. Dorothy I. Height Elementary School at the corner of Lennox and Linden streets was built during the pandemic and provides both school and community spaces to residents. A years-in-the-making renovation of Druid Hill Park is nearing completion. The St. Francis Community Center at Linden and Whitelock is expanding.

But the energy is not just about physical construction. Reservoir Hill is predominantly African-American and has been stably integrated for decades, with a mix of socio-economic classes and religions. Beth Am synagogue is an anchor on Eutaw Street and it is common to greet girls wearing a hijab on the way to school. Spirit is palpable in our corner of Baltimore—we are weary at times, but we are also a people of welcome and wonder. Recalling one of our family’s favorite children’s books, The Big Orange Splot, our neighborhood is us and we are it. “Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.” (Daniel Manus Pinkwater) What does your dream of community look like?

One of the gifts of my sabbatical is that I had several months to devote to the people who have become our neighbors. Sarah and I begin each day with our extraverted rescue poodle Darcy, walking at dawn. Angelo helps us cross North Avenue, with his miniature stop sign and whistle tooting. He is a semi-professional pool player when he’s not a crossing guard, and he and I embrace warmly most mornings. We’ve begun to know the folks who used to live in our house—a nurse mid-wife who has lately earned a doctorate to affect policy for the Black women she serves, and her social worker husband. Emmanuel is a fellow dog-walker who has a sweet spot for Darcy. Around the corner are young transportation engineers, one of whom has just taken a position at Morgan State. Next door is a fellow empty-nester, and we compare notes about daughters who are making their way in the world. Two doors down is a friend who brought me a sweet potato pie as a “thank-you” for my shoveling his walk when it snowed last month. And down the block is another Sarah whose “puppy” now outweighs her by 20 pounds! She and her husband, both in their 70’s, decided that a rambunctious new dog is exactly what they need “at their age!”

We’ve got struggles, too. Amtrak is constructing a new tunnel that traces an arc under the West side, from Reservoir Hill to Sandtown, and we are gathering with others to ensure that the residents are included in the plans going forward. A ventilation stack will be located yards from Dorothy I. Height School, and in a neighborhood where childhood asthma is quite common, we are understandably concerned. Not everyone is happy about the style of the new rowhouses being built. And my dog’s desire to make friends with everyone felt threatening to a man a couple of weeks ago. Making community is always two steps forward, one step back…

In the same way, if Redeemer and Baltimore are to be community, each of us has to set that as an intention and build it: one step, one person, one day at a time. What will you do, how will you be, this week?

Love,
David

This past weekend a group of women from Redeemer gathered in western Maryland for a weekend retreat. The theme of our retreat was “Fostering Joy in Transition & Stressful Times”. Our main presenter from Well for the Journey led us through an exploration of joy. What is joy? What is the difference between joy and happiness? And what habits or practices might allow us to experience more joy in our lives, especially during the times in which we are living? (And yes, for any who may be asking — even in this season of Lent!)

One of the resources shared during the course of our retreat was The Book of Joy, the fruit of a weeklong conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, co-authored and shared by Douglas Abrams. Together, these extraordinary human beings and spiritual leaders identify eight “pillars” on which to build a joy-filled life amidst — not separate from — the reality of suffering, pain and injustice in our world.

These eight pillars fall into two categories: habits of the mind and habits of the heart.

The 4 habits of mind are:

  • Perspective – Practicing imagining what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes, or perhaps picturing our place in the whole cosmos. “For every event in life,” says the Dalai Lama, “there are many different angles.”
  • Humility – Recalling that, in the spirit of Ash Wednesday, “we are but dust and to dust we shall return”, that we are literally fashioned from the earth. The Dalai Lama offers a Tibetan prayer—“Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior.”
  • Acceptance – Abrams writes about “the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.” Acceptance is neither resignation, nor is it defeat, but rather aligning our consciousness with What Is so we can choose with intention (as opposed to wishing things were different than what they are, living in denial, depression or anxiety).
  • Humor – Seeing our common humanity, or sometimes the ridiculousness of a situation. Not taking our own selves too seriously and being able to laugh at ourselves!

The 4 habits of heart are:

  • Forgiveness – Allowing ourselves to be liberated from the prison of past grievances and wrongs, as well as from the violent, endless cycle of retribution. Forgiveness is not forgetting, nor does it mean that we do not respond to the wrongful acts, or that we allow ourselves to be harmed again.
  • Gratitude – Allowing ourselves the gift of regularly acknowledging, naming and feeling thankful for both the little and the big blessings in our daily lives, and not taking any good thing, good act that makes us happy, or any person or kindness for granted.
  • Compassion – Allowing ourselves to feel with and for another human being, and holding this space for ourselves as well. Jesus was often moved to act out of compassion for those he encountered, aligning himself with human suffering. Compassion moves us to towards connection and out of isolation.
  • Generosity – Allowing ourselves to live and love from a place of awareness, consciousness and belief in the Abundance of God; God’s Providence and Grace.

We may have set aside our “Alleluias” for Lent but we need not set aside our joy. How might choosing to practice at least one of the habits above enrich your Lenten journey?

Love,
Cristina

When I think of “belonging,” I think about the theme of the old comedy TV sitcom, CHEERS©.   I don’t know if you’ve ever watched it, but when the show first began, Charles and I were avid fans and watched it religiously every Thursday night.  The refrain, “You wanna go where everybody knows your name….” really speaks to me, of what true belonging is all about.  Belonging is the place where you go and are loved and accepted as you are, whether you have bad breath or BO or throw in cuss words every time you open your mouth.  This makes me wonder sometimes about the way we casually throw the word “community” around as a place of belonging (and yes, I am guilty of it too). ☹

There’s a line in an old Negro Spiritual that says, “Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven, ain’t going….” And it seems to me that just using the words, “community” does not make a group of people so.  Whatever does make a community must be something that allows them to be who they are—all the while recognizing that they are in the process of transformation.  “I am becoming who I am to be.” That something must be a place where everybody knows not just the name, but the nature or true essence of the person.   When we can move beyond the surface to the truth underneath, I feel we really get to the bottom of things.

As human beings, we are continually evolving into our true natures, which is that of the CHRIST.  As Christ Jesus was— embodying the divine nature in a human form and living into and out of his steadfast inner communion with the Holy ONE— so are we destined to be.  All of creation, in fact, is destined to manifest or express what we sometimes call G-D; the creating principle of mutual relatedness whose power is demonstrated as LOVE.

One of my favorite bible verses is from the prophet Habakkuk, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) St. Paul even says that we currently “see through a mirror darkly…but then face to face…we shall know as we are known.”    In kairos, Holy ONENESS will be fully reconciled, appearing as diversity in unity and as unity in diverse appearances.  I believe this is where we are headed and it is why I live in HOPE, even with the news headlines as crazy as they are and some people appearing as mean as they can be.  All really is truly well.  We are in the green goo of the process.

If you ever get a chance and want to laugh, check out some of the old episodes of CHEERS© and relate what you see and hear on the show to the concept of belonging.   I am smiling at the memories of us watching the show together, so for fun, I am providing a link to the lyrics of the show’s theme song.

Have a Blessed Lent,
Freda Marie+

 

Dear all,

Next week, after celebrating the sweetness and decadence of life with pancakes, bacon, syrup, and king cake on Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, depending on your provenance), we will enter the quieter, more solemn season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. These two holidays go back to back, and together they move us from one extreme to another: sugary sparkle and revelry to sackcloth and ashes. But at their heart I hear the same pulsing beat of life: what it means to be alive – what it means to live.

My own theological spin on Shrove Tuesday is that it is an invitation to focus on pleasure and fullness and sweetness of God’s gift of life. We are eating up the sugar, fat, wheat, eggs, and meat in the larder to prepare for a more austere Lent – and in doing so we can lean in to their deliciousness. (If pancakes are not your feast food, I encourage you to enjoy what is!) “The glory of God is a human person fully alive” said Irenaeus; pleasure and enjoyment are parts of life’s fullness, parts of what God desires for each of us, part of what we seek as we work for the flourishing of all God’s creation. To be alive should not just be survival, but delight. For too many people today it has become just that.

Ash Wednesday is also about what it means to live, for it reminds us that we are alive – which means that we will someday die. In a world where we are tempted to play God, where we are taught to worship youth and to believe that we are in control of the world around us, Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are creatures made from dust, and that to dust we will return, finite. This does not excuse the actions we take in the world; we come before God asking for new and contrite hearts, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness (BCP 264). We are creatures, and no matter how we may strive to follow God we fall short. We sin. And so we repent, coming before God aware of the gift of our life, and turn our hearts and minds towards God, and fullness of life in God.

The calendar of the church year offers us both of these days as moments to deepen our relationship with the God who made us, calls us good, and loves us; the God who came to live and die with us; the God who calls us to live in and out of that love in the world today. I hope to see you as we mark each one: at the Pancake Supper from 5-7 pm on 2/13 and at Ash Wednesday services at 7:30 am, 12 pm, and 7:30 pm on 2/14.

Love,
Rebecca+

 

There’s a blessing by The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, that we’ve been hearing at the conclusion of some of our weekend services, that goes like this:

May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;
Grace to risk something big for something good; and
Grace to remember the world is now
too dangerous for anything but the truth and
too small for anything but love.

I’ve had the privilege recently of witnessing so many different grace-filled people, in so many different ways, “risking something big for something good”, including:

  • A middle-aged woman who has always felt comfortable with acts of charity as a way to express her faith risked something big for something good yesterday by going to Annapolis for the first time to engage with state legislators around our BUILD-City-GBC strategy to solve our city’s crisis of vacant and abandoned houses.
  • A teenager, who was gregarious and outgoing as a child and/but “not so much” as a middle- and high schooler, risked something big for something good when she tried out for and got a leading role in our youth group musical.
  • A young parent risked something big for something good when he accepted a new employment opportunity, which will entail moving and starting over in a new place with his family.
  • A person battling cancer risked something big for something good by beginning to walk the journey of surrender, in trust and in faith.
  • A person in recovery risked something big for something good by accepting an invitation to share her story of experience, strength and hope with other human beings.
  • An individual who has carried anger and grief over things that happened a long time ago risked something big for something good by making an appointment with a therapist.

How about you? Do you know someone who risked something big for something good recently? Or someone who needs just a word or two of encouragement, to try?

Perhaps that person is you …

May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;
Grace to risk something big for something good; and
Grace to remember the world is now
too dangerous for anything but the truth and
too small for anything but love.

~Cristina

Right off the bat, the question the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III asked intrigued me in his brief meditation for the Center for Action & Contemplation called “CONSECRATING THE CHAOS.”  Describing the chaotic milieu in which we are currently living, he asks: “Do we have the spiritual audacity and the practical means to turn chaotic energy to our own purposes?”  THAT stopped me in my tracks.

I thought about how much we mostly struggle between hopelessness (when we open any social media outlet or tune in to the news) and hopefulness when we worship together or share something of our lives with each other and those whom we love.  The key for me is recalling the Tao or the natural harmony and balance that is a component of LIFE and how I can co-create this harmony in my psyche and in my personal life.  Knowing that harmony is who I AM inviting me to re-think thoughts or behaviors that do not align with my I AM-ness.

So, do I have the “spiritual audacity” not to be undone by the swirling chaos around me?  I do when I realize the I AM-ness of my nature and when I am clear about my choices in life and what I am banking my life on.  Sometimes, it takes a hot minute while I am being a hot mess before I realize that I am a sovereign spiritual being.  I have the capacity to claim what I desire in life.  I am convinced that when I have the courage to stand, it allows the practical means of my stance to fall into place.

I am reminded of the story of King Ahaz and the prophet Isaiah when the King made an allyship with the Assyrian royalty as protection against his enemies (Judah’s enemies).  The word of GOD, through Isaiah, warned him against the alliance.  The words were: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.”  (cf. Is 7:9) Of course, Ahaz ignored the warning with disastrous results for his kingdom and for himself.

Having the courage to stand in what I bank my life on is the spiritual audacity that I need to walk through the chaos, weather the storm, remain hopeful, and do my part to hold the LOVE-LIGHT that is required to transform this present darkness.

Rev. Moss ends his reflection hearkening back to the creation of the cosmos, and he says, in effect, that “God consecrates the chaos, giving it form…as an act of creativity and choice.”  This important note raises an equally important question.  Will I allow G-D within me to consecrate my agitation or reaction to the chaos so that it can be alchemized into something greater for the highest good of all?  I only have to concern myself with my own circle of influence even though my circle of concern is much greater.   Can I surrender and trust the Christ-Light within another to affect their circle of influence where they are?   I can when (and if) I begin to trust I AM within me.

Storms come and go, and our ability to weather the storms in life or to be subsumed by them might just be connected to our ability to know the truth of WHO we are and the practical ways in which we live out of that truth.  The realization of our I AM-ness, the divine power, presence, and knowing within us can catapult us beyond chaos and even, depending on our personal circles of influence, alter the conditions of such chaos in unimaginable ways.  We just have to IMAGINE it for it to be so. What kind of day, world, or life are you imagining?  Do YOU have the spiritual chutzpah to imagine something better—for EVERYONE and EVERYTHING?

Imagination is a holy thing.

With Love,
Freda Marie+

It was Mrs. Brizendine, my English teacher in seventh grade, who first introduced me to the concept of paradox, when two things or concepts that are contradictory to one another are nonetheless found or experienced to be true at the same time.

Take for example the truth that something that happened years ago can also feel like it happened just yesterday, as a friend and I recently were remembering what it felt like to hold our then-newborn-babies, who are now teenagers and young adults. Or how something can be both joyful and heartbreaking at the same time; or how an end is also a beginning.

The apostle Paul talks about followers of Christ living in the tension between “the already” and “not yet” of Christ’s reign. And in his sermon last Sunday, Rev. George Hopkins spoke of both the joy and agony of responding to and living into your call, living into and following through on what God is inviting you to take part in.

In his daily meditation today, Franciscan priest and spiritual writer Fr. Richard Rohr quotes Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, from a sermon preached in the fall of 2014 after the shooting of Michael Brown and weeks of protests in Ferguson, Missouri:

“There is nothing more confusing to the postmodern personality, to the millennial sojourner, than to have to exist between the strange life of dealing with your Blues and Gospel all the time. Madness and ministry, chaos and Christ. My father heard an elder in Georgia say it this way. When he asked her, ‘How are you doing, Mother?’ she said, ‘I’m living between Oh Lord and Thank you, Jesus.’

For the most part, many of us are living in between, not quite at ‘Oh Lord’ and not quite at ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ but somewhere in between.”

The Gospel and the Blues

cac.org

I wonder if this truth resonates with you, at all, on this freezing cold January day? Might you also be living in the paradox, living the tension somewhere in between “Oh Lord” and “Thank you Jesus”?

If you are, let me know, and know you are not alone.

Love,
Cristina

 

Dear all,

In our youth Bible Study last night, we talked about the prophets. There are 15 prophetic books in Hebrew Scripture (called the Nevi’im in Hebrew): the three major prophets of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah (Christians add two more, Lamentations and Daniel), and the minor prophets, consisting of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. This is a diverse and opinionated cast of characters, who do not shy away from forceful rhetoric, pointed criticism, and extreme behavior to get their points across. Isaiah, for example, walked around naked for three years to make his point – or rather, to make God’s point. Because for each of the prophets, the message they were trying to get across was God’s.

While the prophets each have their own story and style, there are a few things that connect them all. Each has some experience of God, a call. This call leads them into a life focused on mutual partnership between God and God’s people.* This sometimes means calling people to cause when they are not living in mutual partnership with God, when they are not living the way God has called them to. Micah 6:8 offers a pithy summary: “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The prophets frequently accuse Israel of idolatry, of getting too cozy with other gods, and of allowing or enacting injustice towards the vulnerable. After making their accusations, they call on the people to repent, emphasizing more or less God’s merciful nature to those who confess and change their ways. Unfortunately, people being what we are, change is often temporary (shout out to the people of Ninevah for listening to Jonah!). And when change fails to come or is inconsistent, the prophets announce the consequences: the coming judgement of the Day of the Lord, which would real and felt consequences in the world.

This pronouncement of coming judgement was not just far away in the future. Many of the prophets were active during times of exile and occupation of Israel, when their people were suffering, their cities destroyed, and their communities displaced. Announcing the downfall of Jerusalem wasn’t abstract: it happened. Cosmic events were local; local events were cosmic.

Last night as we talked about the prophets, we wondered together about the tension between warning and hope that the prophets offer, and the role prophets still play today. Not only the Biblical prophets but our own contemporary prophets. Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were each offered up as prophetic voices of our time, demanding that we change the way we live together on our planet and with one another, warning of the consequences if we do not, and offering us the possibility of a different future.

As we remember Dr. King’s life and legacy this weekend, I wonder what prophetic voices you are encountering? What are they agitating for? What are they warning against? What hope do they offer? And reflecting on our own lives, how might the prophets call us to live differently? What idols do we worship (power, control, fame, youth, money, and desire were a few we came up with)? What injustice do we tolerate? And how might we be called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

Love,
Rebecca+

*A quick (or not so quick) contextual note: Throughout Hebrew Scripture, or the Old Testament, God’s people are often called the people of Israel, or simply Israel. This gets confusing, since there is also contemporary nation state called Israel. In the Bible, the people of Israel derive their name from Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebecca, son of Abraham and Sarah. When Jacob wrestles with God at the Jabbok river (Genesis 32:22-32), God blesses Jacob and gives him a new name, Israel, which means “one who struggles with God.” Jacob’s twelve sons become the twelve tribes of Israel, who go on to inherit their parents’, grandparents’, and great grandparents’ faith, springing from Abraham’s covenant with God (Genesis 17). In the liturgies of the Episcopal Church today, you may here a phrase like “The calling of Israel to be your people” (Eucharistic Prayer B, Rite II). This is refers to the Biblical people of Israel, tracing their faith through Jacob all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. As Christians, our understanding of what it means to be part of the people of God is different because of Jesus (the arguments about this get thorough treatment in Acts and the Epistles), but we, too, trace our religious family tree back to Genesis.

 

As I sit looking out my bedroom window, evergreens stand at a distance like ballerinas, arms swaying, spines straight. Closer to the window is a naked, disease-ravaged tree that will be put out of her misery next week.

The evergreens and naked tree have caught my attention because of the reflective mood in which I find myself — post-holidays, four days into 2024.

All that I had just recently been anticipating — Christmas Eve services, family gatherings, gift giving and receiving, meals and treats prepared and shared — is now in the rearview mirror. Angels and shepherds have appeared and disappeared. Baby Jesus has been swaddled and rocked. Good tidings of great joy, delivered and received.

2023 is also now a thing of the past, and 2024 (a year that sounded futuristic and impossible to imagine, as a child) is what I’m remembering to write and type in notes and messages.

Yesterday during our weekly 8 a.m. Wednesday Embodied Prayer service in the chapel, we took a moment to imagine what a “new year” really is — another revolution of our planet earth circling around our sun in the cosmos— and tried to tap into the conscious awareness and wonder of it all, that we even get to be a part. Perhaps you already know this, but — as passengers on planet Earth — we are orbiting around the sun at 67,100 miles per hour (30 kilometers per second), which is like traveling from New York to London in about 3 minutes!

And so my friends, as we move forward together — hurtling through space on our planet Earth at 67,100 mph — with all that each of us is carrying in our hearts and experiencing in our lives on this 11th day of Christmas (the last “official” day of Christmastide is actually tomorrow), I offer these two poems below, on which to reflect and linger briefly. Neither of them are “new”, in that they’ve appeared in e-Redeemer before; and yet, they feel right to share and be reminded of again today.

Love,
Cristina

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.
― Howard Thurman

*****

as you walk
across the threshold
behind you — what has been
before you — what has yet to be
be mindful
of what
you carry with you

like one
who is packing
a bag
to go
on pilgrimage

take time
to be still
to reflect
to envision

choose with intention

and take special care
that your compass
orients
to the voice
of the One
who calls you forth

to be
to become
to embody
more fully
who you really are

Beloved

Beloved

Beloved