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

My son Ben, who just turned 13, likes playing baseball.

His first couple of years in little league were … endearing. David, “Bubbie” and I would sit in our folding chairs and watch, as he and his teammates learned how to play the game. Ben’s teammate Phoebe was a particular favorite of mine.

I think Phoebe must be a poet. She would stand in the outfield and stare into the sky (as a pop fly would come her way), composing, I suspect, verses in her mind about the blueness of the sky and the wispiness of the clouds. The ball would then land just a few feet away from her as she continued, I suspect, to compose more poetry, looking thoughtfully at the trees and the sky around her. Aaaaahhh, Phoebe!

While I miss Phoebe, I do enjoy watching Ben and his teammates play these days. My gum, they are actually playing baseball! Fielding grounders (often), throwing and catching (more and more of the time), and hitting that ball.

A few weeks ago, I noticed something had changed in Ben’s hitting. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so one day recently, I asked him about it.

“Well,” Ben said (in his new, low register that makes me marvel and also wonder if I’m losing my hearing, since I can’t always understand what he’s saying, it’s so low!). “Before, I would mostly just try to get a walk. But now, when the pitcher throws a ball in my strike zone and I think I can hit it, I swing the bat and actually try to hit the ball.”

Well, there it is. When the pitcher throws me a ball I think I can hit, I actually try to hit it. I try …

So simple. And such a powerful discovery, when you discover this for yourself … and find yourself …actuallytrying ….

Trying, of course, means you run the risk of failing. Sometimes, you’ll swing and miss; you might even strikeout. Sometimes, you’ll connect, and the ball will go foul … or get caught … or be fielded and thrown to first, before you get there. But sometimes (and more and more often, if you keep practicing and working at it) you’ll connect … and get a hit …

It’s been helpful recently, to have this simple yet powerful reminder — to just go ahead and swing that bat, to go ahead and just try — when faced with other, more daunting challenges. Whether it’s a personal or work situation, or something even more fearsome and seemingly impossible — like how to repair the breach of racial injustice in our communities and in our nation — we must, at least, try.

Becoming more educated and continuing to be open to learning what we don’t know and were never taught, about our nation’s history, is one essential way to at least try. As many of you know, our Sacred Ground groups have just recently finished, or are wrapping up, the 10-session film- and readings-based dialogue series on race, grounded in faith, put together by The Episcopal Church, as part of our long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice in our personal lives, our ministries, and our society.

As a co-facilitator of one of these groups over the past several months, I have found the experience to be humbling, heart-wrenching, galvanizing and transformative. Individually and collectively, our small group has navigated our way through countless miles of heretofore unknown-to-us history and soul-terrain. In retrospect, I can’t imagine not knowing what I know now, and not learning what I’ve been learning; and I can’t imagine doing this essential work alone.

Today in the church we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, marking the event of our Lord Jesus departing our earthly realm to return to the realm of the unseen. As he does so, he promises his followers and friends that we will not be alone, in carrying on God’s work of healing and reconciling the brokenness in our world, but that we will be empowered with God’s holy and life-giving Spirit.

We are, indeed, not alone …

So let us, at least, try.

Together.

Cristina+

Let us pray.  All of our fears like Jericho walls gotta come down, come down, Oh Lord: rebuild us from the ground up.  All of our fears like Jericho walls gotta come down.  Our prisons turn to ruin when your love moves in.  All our fears like Jericho walls gotta come down, come down, come down.  (based on the song Jericho Walls by Andrew Ripp)

That the scripture appointed for our Annual Meeting 2021 is set on a wilderness road sounds about right—this year it’s familiar territory for most of us.  But Philip and the man he encounters in the book of Acts are on their way home… they get through.  And so will we.

He is not given a name, but he was the secretary of the treasury for Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, and he had been to Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage.  If he is like other eunuchs of the near and far east, he was castrated against his will, just prior to puberty, in order to serve the queen in her innermost circle.  His home is called Africa in some translations, which suggests that he was brought to the queen’s court in Ethiopia from an even more foreign place, and the ritual sexual mutilation he undergoes is to insure his loyalty to her.  Literally and figuratively, he is cut off from his country, his family, the children he will never father, and even from God.  Because religions at the time were quite focused on fertility, and squeamish about any body that wasn’t perfectly formed, a eunuch was considered damaged goods and often shunned.

Because he has been to Jerusalem and is reading Isaiah, the eunuch is probably what was called a “God-fearer,” invited to stand in the narthex, but behind a screen, welcome to listen to the services, but excluded from the ritual life of the Temple, and so, the social life of its people.  He is a curious outsider that “proper folks” are trained not to see or hear or engage with in any way, as they push past him to get to where they are going.  He is the other that societies tolerate when their members are feeling safe, perhaps, or the stranger that we turn on when the world feels chaotic and when we are looking for someone to blame.

So he is a test, if you will, of anyone who says that he follows Jesus (the one who is the embodiment of love that heals every human separation).  What I mean is, if we say that we believe in the one who has broken down walls that exclude… if we say that we are followers of the one who has confronted systems which privilege a few and diminish so many others, then this story asks “How will you be a part of that movement?” Now that we have a taste of being healed ourselves, the text wonders, how will we be healers ourselves?  Let’s look at Philip:

The eunuch is riding is a chariot, going over the scripture out loud, when Philip happened to overhear him and asked if he understood what the words were all about.  The eunuch said he could use some help on one passage in particular:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before his shearer, so he does not open his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken away from the earth.”  Who is the prophet writing about, the eunuch asks?  Is he describing his own situation or someone else’s calamity?

The eunuch doesn’t have to say who he is.  There is no mistaking the trappings of a royal servant—able to read, sumptuously dressed, but still bound inside his golden cage.  His high voice, softened features, and access to the queen communicate without words that he is a person on a threshold, neither fully in nor totally cast out, kept in his place if you will, relegated to the suspicious margins of that culture.  No wonder he is drawn to the prophet’s words about a lamb without a voice who is cut off from his generations, humiliated by sacrifice, and denied justice.  No wonder he wants to know who the prophet is writing about.  I imagine he also wonders if the prophet could care for a person like him who has been warped by the system?  Is there room in the family for his kind of wound?

Philip gets it, and the miracle is that he sees the eunuch, and stops to hear him, gets in the eunuch’s chariot and sits beside him the way peers do or friends do, and shares the story of his life and his conversion.  “Isaiah is writing about a Suffering Servant,” Philip might have told the man, “a glimpse of the holy one who is broken and vulnerable like we are, and who shows us that God is present with us even in our poverty and our agony, and that the wounded one that we are likely to reject is the very child of God.  And I have met this child of God,” Philip’s actions say, “the son of Mary and Joseph, and he has seen God in me—in all of us—and when I follow in this way, of embracing the God in you and the God in me, the God who makes dust of every wall of separation we build, then salvation comes.  Living this way repairs the world, and it heals me in the bargain.”  So no wonder Philip’s companion wants to be baptized, to put down an old way of being and put on a whole new mind.

And then even more social and religious lines are crossed.  In those days converts would be baptized naked, so the royal figure must have taken off all of his finery and the symbols of his office, exposing his physical mutilation in the process, not to mention his black skin and, following, Philip’s brown skin, and apparently both he and Philip are fine with that.  They go down into the water together, stripped and vulnerable and wet with living water, both being born again through this action w.  And that intimate, embodied conversation is the gift of this story, and an image for each of us to carry.  This is the call of any who would follow Jesus, it says—unlikely partners brought together, willing to open up to each other, both healing, able to see God in themselves and in each other, across seemingly unbridgeable divides of race and class and sexuality and country of origin (maybe even political party!), through the work of mutual respect fostered by taking the time to listen deeply.  That’s what goes on in this story: they listen deeply to each other.  They share their stories with each other.  There’s no shortcut to knowing each other.  That’s how we’re healed.  That’s how systems are changed.  That’s how the world is repaired.

Karyn Wiseman tells this story: About 10 years ago, my son and I were at a local park playing on the swings when a group of boys started taunting a small child with a disfigured arm about 50 yards away from us.  They were calling her ugly names and throwing small rocks and sticks in her direction.  We had seen this little girl playing happily, running around, and laughing with delight.  And now she was terrified.

I heard the taunts and began moving in that direction to intercede, but my son outran me.  Only six-years-old at the time, he yelled at the boys, “Leave her alone.  She’s just like us.”  The boys saw and heard my son and likely saw the adult close on his heals.  They abandoned their harassment and ran away.

The young girl, Mandy, was crying and scared.  I wanted to thrash the boys for scaring and taunting her, but my son knew better.  He knew that what Mandy needed was (some company)… He touched her disfigured arm and said, “You want to come play?”  And off they ran, holding hands and giggling wildly.

The young girl’s mother showed up after the episode occurred and I relayed the story to her.  She lowered her head and said, “This happens (all the time).  How do I protect my child from people who fear her differences?” (Sojourner’s magazine)

I’m not sure I have an easy answer for that mother and her pain, but it occurs to me that the boy and the two men in the scripture this morning are doing the same thing.  They stopped and listened and saw the other person as someone worth their time, even though the rules of the playground would say to shun her or ignore him.

There is always the possibility that we will circle the wagons and cut ourselves off from whomever is beyond some imagined line or accustomed wall.  There will always be an “other” if we let ourselves think that way.

Or we can go down into the water together, stripped of categories and pretense, open to possibility, sure of this good news: in Christ we are one great fellowship of love… no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female.  In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north—I’m talking to you Baltimore… no longer strangers or enemies, but brothers and sisters, partners and friends.  One family, one city, one world under God.  Whatever the wilderness, however rough the road, if we are together, we are on our way home.

Love,
David

Today, Thursday, April 29, is the feast of St. Catherine of Sienna. If you’ve never encountered St. Catherine before, she was a Spanish 14th century mystic. As a child, Catherine had a vision of Jesus, “seated in glory” with saints Peter, Paul, and John. Jesus smiled and blessed her, and from then on she spent most of her time in prayer. Her parents tried to encourage more age, gender, and class appropriate pursuits for a little girl from a wealthy family, but Catherine was determined. She cut off all her hair and stood firm until finally she was allowed to sequester herself in a dark room where she fasted and slept on boards. (From this description, I can kind of see why her parents were reluctant…)

As she grew, Catherine had many visions, some of which were difficult. At times, she felt abandoned by God. Eventually, after years of torment, she experienced a “mystical marriage” to Christ and promptly became a nurse (she had also become a Dominican sister; nursing was a common vocation among their order), caring especially for people with cancer and leprosy, two groups that other nurses did not like to treat.

Catherine continued to work as a nurse during a time of plague in her community; she visited prisoners sentenced to death; and she arbitrated feuds, including feuds within the church. Catherine is also remembered for her work during a papal schism to restore unity in the church, writing hundreds of letters to politically and religiously powerful men seeking peace.

From accounts of her life and work, it seems that Catherine was a woman filled with passion and love of God. That passion took her to all kinds of extremes, from her childhood asceticism to her care for the sickest and most reviled in society. And extremes tend to shock the status quo: As her career grew in publicity, Siena was divided about whether Catherine was indeed a saint, or if she was simply a religious fanatic. The well timed support of an influential bishop helped her win public favor and opinion.

I am reflecting especially on St. Catherine today, because of a quote attributed to her:

“To the servant of God every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.”

Every place is the right place and every time is the right time to spread the love of Christ, to God’s work of justice and mercy, to offer ourselves as co-workers of the Spirit in the world. It was true for Catherine in the 1300s; it is true for us today. And there are matters pressing us as deeply as they pressed her, calling out for love, justice, mercy, and the movement of the Spirit, all motivated by a passionate love of God and one another.

Last night I presented at an alumni panel for the Episcopal Service Corps (ESC), in a Zoom room with at least 40 other people who have dedicated themselves to the work of love, justice, and mercy. ESC is an organization that invites young adults (21-30) to spend a year living in an intentional community while working at a social justice non-profit and developing their spirituality as individuals and as a community. When I was a corps member, one of the things I learned (and am continually learning, every day) was that the work of love, justice and mercy must, for me, be rooted in a connection to God and God’s love. When it wasn’t, burn out would ensue.

When the work centered only on the changes that I could perceive; only the basis of public opinion in a community; only on how results matched strategic goals, then when I encountered failure, recalcitrance, and broken systems (which was frequently!), I felt defeated. When the work was about my performance — how able I was to cure a plague or repair a schism in the church, for example  — then I became stuck in a mire of pride and self defeat. The cultivation of human relationships, of growing in my own relationship with God, of the gift of living out God’s call, disappeared and instead an idol appeared. No longer was it the right place and right time to spread God’s love — it was a place where I had failed to achieve my own goals.

Channeling our inner St. Catherine — to serve God in every place and every time, and allow a love of God to be our motivation and guide — does not mean less dedication to a cause. If you have read the news this week you know that death and sin continue to stalk within us and in our communities. But if we work from a place that puts God at the center, then we have fuel to carry us on our way. We cannot heal our brokenness — only God can — but we can be co-workers with the Spirit to bring out that healing.

Love,
Rebecca

Dear Folks,

What do we say to our children of every race about the death of George Floyd and the conviction of Derek Chauvin?  I am helped by the words of Michael Molina, Head of The Bishop Walker School for Boys in Washington DC.  The school was founded in 2006 “to alter the educational and social trajectory of children from traditionally underserved communities and prepare them for service in their communities and well beyond,” and Molina began his tenure there last summer. You’ll be interested to know that Molina moved there from Baltimore, where for 14 years he was a Gilman teacher, coach, and administrator, not to mention a spoken word poet!

Today, we parents and educators may feel a weight lifted, and a rush of relief. With the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, we know that justice can happen here and now. Yet, that relief must be tempered by the reality of what it took to get justice in this one case – a graphic and horrific video of police violence out in the open, sustained protests across the country & world, and officers breaking ranks to testify against one of their own. We have to ask if justice could have come without this massive alignment of forces. 

The verdict, while a reason for hope, does not erase the fact that we who are educators and parents will always be faced with the enormous challenge of how to explain the horrors of the world to our students and our own children. We must lead and guide our young people, even as we love and comfort them to explain the challenging world around us… 

We must help our young people feel empowered. We can do that by sharing the good news.  A 17-year-old girl, Darnella Frazier, had the awareness and courage to record the video that made the possibility of justice for George Floyd. That video sparked a multi-racial, multi-generational mass movement out into the streets the likes of which have not been seen since the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s…

We must also prepare our young people for the world they are growing into. To do that, we must also face hard truths. In the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial and verdict, there have been several police related shootings resulting in deaths, two of which involved children under the age of 18. There has also been a disturbing increase in young people perpetrating violence that has resulted in death and fear…

As we face the good and the difficult in the world, I pray that we keep some consistent messages resonating throughout our households, classrooms, and communities…

We will do everything we can to keep you safe because we love you and believe in you.  Here, with us, you will be seen, known, and appreciated for who you are.  No outside force of negativity can ever touch the good that God made in you.  The Justice System has always been imperfect in America, but it gives us the opportunity to speak up for ourselves. We will always speak up for ourselves and demand our right to do so.

Thank you, Michael Molina, for your compassionate, courageous leadership.  May we embody your wisdom in our own lives.

Love,
David

I am simply enamored with the words of Our beloved sister, Cristina+, at the close of some of her messages.  As a matter of fact, I like her “take good care,” a lot.  I think it has to do with the fact that I have an overachieving, Type A personality, that is given to intensity and extremes (and I am sure I am not alone in this).  So, hearing or reading those words remind me to give myself permission…to just BREATHE, BE, and enjoy LIFE.

Given this past week’s drama in the judicial system and the ongoing assault upon black and brown bodies by law enforcement, I must say that taking care of myself has become more of a necessity than it has ever been before.  Frankly, it has always been hard to look like I do and live in this country and yet, it often feels as if the systems of our nation are regressing into an even more unjust and death-dealing state totally antithetical to human flourishing for all humans.  I grieve and even mourn this state of affairs.

Because of this, it has become imperative to pay attention to whether I am really taking good care of myself.  I am determined to not only take care of my physical, emotional, and mental condition with more intention, I must also care for my energetic state…my energy as it were, because yes, energy is a real thing.

What about you?  You may be taking care of your body…but what about your mind?  Are you filling it with things that lift your spirit and give you great joy and/ or peace?  If not, you may not be taking good care of yourself.  Are you taking care of your spirit, by offering forgiveness so that you can give and receive love in every aspect of your life?  If not, you may not be taking good care.  Are you taking care of your energetic self and letting go of relationships, places, people, and even food that do not contribute to a sense of well-being and “rightness” in your life?  If not, you are probably not taking good care.

I do not know about you, but I ask myself these questions and realize that I have come up wanting.  Frankly, I have not been taking good care, so starting today I intend to make a change.  That means that I probably will not be on social media much.  Such is the cost to regain a sense of a good GOD working in our lives as a community, a nation, and a world.  I need to be reminded that this battle many of us fight for the right to live without verbal or physical assault is GOD’s own battle for GOD’s kingdom to expand upon the earth; and that we have come this far by faith.  I am looking at my life and realizing that I have changes I need to make.  I am going to change my tune.  Like CP+ says, we all must learn to “take good care.”

Faithfully,
Freda Marie+