Aug 17, 2021

In Good Faith: Hometown Hauntings

In my August In Good Faith column (written on vacation!), I write about visiting my hometown of Baltimore and a Bruce Springsteen song I can't get out of my head.

                                                            Hometown Hauntings

Maybe it’s because his daughter won a medal in equestrian at the Tokyo Olympics. Or perhaps

it’s because I was back home in Baltimore last week visiting my family. But either way, I haven’t been able to get Bruce Springsteen’s song “My Hometown” off his Born in the USA album out of my head this week.


Granted, it’s not the most uplifting track. It’s quite haunting actually, as it tells the now familiar story of an old manufacturing town racked by economic woes and racial strife. By the last verse, the narrator has made the decision to move his own young family out of his “hometown” to seek opportunity elsewhere.


I’m not trying to depress you here. But there is always a strong dose of nostalgia, and even some regret, when we visit our hometowns. There’s often great joy, too, of course. I loved being with my family and watching the five cousins joyfully interacting with one another. Nothing beats that. 


But when you return to a place you haven’t lived for 25 years, there is a tangible sense of loss when reflecting on those no-longer-there places that make up your earliest memories. 


When I drive by the little league field of dreams where I played a mean shortstop for the Bulldozers and see luxury condos, it hurts a little. When I pass my favorite ice cream shop and notice it’s become a dentist’s office, that’s painful. It’s not that we want to live in the past — life goes on, change is inevitable. But it can’t help but feel as if a small part of us has died along the way, a part that we’ll never get back.


Not to be overly dramatic about, say, Jimmy’s Restaurant closing in Fell’s Point (I still can’t believe that one), but it’s okay to take a moment to grieve such losses. To reminisce with old friends and family members about the places and people that meant so much to us, once upon a time. And to remember that it’s not really about the buildings themselves, but about those with whom we shared the experiences.


The kaleidoscope of cherished memories makes up a strong part of our identity, which is precisely the pull of a return to our hometown. It may be bittersweet — memories can be both life-giving and soul-trampling. But, taken together, they help form who we are as individuals.


The good news is that wherever life takes you, whether you’ve stayed in your hometown or moved away, God loves you for who you are. No matter where you’ve gone or what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, God loves you. And I don’t think   it’s possible to ever state that enough.


They say home is where the heart is. Which, when you think about it, offers great freedom to those of us who have left the places of our early roots. Your heart moves with you. Yet even knowing that, it’s okay to acknowledge that a piece of our heart may well remain behind. 


And I still can’t believe I’ll never again eat a BLT at Jimmy’s Restaurant.


Jul 13, 2021

In Good Faith: For the Love of Dog

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about the loss of our sweet 18-year-old family dog. 


For the Love of Dog


We lost a beloved family member last week. Well, technically speaking she was a member of our “pack,” as that’s how dogs see themselves. But Delilah, our yellow lab/husky rescue left this mortal patch of earth after 18 years and three months. It was an amazing run, not just for the length of time but for the love she doled out along the way.


Officially, Delilah was not a therapy dog, but she had her own ministry of presence at the


parishes I’ve served in both New York and Massachusetts. From welcoming visitors to comforting bereaved families to visiting nursing homes to putting children at ease, Delilah was a faithful companion to so many. Frankly, she was a more faithful pastor than I could ever hope to be, sprinkling unconditional love around with reckless abandon. 


Before being furloughed by both the pandemic and arthritis, Delilah came to work with me nearly every day. I know this was more unusual before all of our pets became co-workers over the past year-and-a-half of working from home. But she embraced her role and her commute, enthusiastically bounding up the stairs from the rectory to the church.


Delilah also served as a marker of time for our family. She journeyed with our children from elementary school to their early 20s; she’s been in every one of our Christmas cards for the past 17 years; she endured countless goldfish, two ferrets, and even our now three-year-old other dog; she accompanied us on an interstate move and countless other adventures. Delilah has simply been there, through all the sorrows and joys and messiness of life. She has seen it all and yet remained overjoyed to see us each and every day.


As anyone who has loved and lost a pet knows, the grief is real. There’s an emptiness that transcends the physical emptiness of the dog bowl and creates a paw-shaped hole in your heart. But it’s also part of the deal. We bring pets into our homes, give them our hearts, love them, allow them to minister to us in ways great and small, and then cherish the memories when they’re gone. The love is as fierce as the grief.


Although I realize it offers comfort to many, I’m less enamored of the whole notion of the “Rainbow Bridge,” that mythical crossing animals make from this world to the next. I am, however, keenly aware of the rainbow that forms over Noah’s ark in the book of Genesis. The rainbow that emerges after the flood, is a sign of God’s promise to never abandon God’s people. As the storm subsides and the rainbow appears, God says, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” 


I believe our beloved pets are part of this covenant, and I’m convinced they play an integral role in our relationship with the divine. Through them, we glimpse God’s love for all humanity. In the ways that our pets comfort us and care for us and cuddle with us and even, at times, confound us, we see the very face of God. 


One of Delilah’s great joys in life was stretching out in the backyard and soaking in the sunshine. She could literally do this for hours. Besides the reminder to all of us to enjoy the present moment, something so many of us struggle with, I also hear echoes of the 23rd Psalm as I envision Delilah now lying down in green pastures and reveling in the celestial sun. 


And as the storm of grief abates, I look forward to reveling in the vivid, multi-colored, rainbow-like memories of Delilah that will cheer us all in the days ahead.

In Good Faith: Pushing Back Against Period Poverty

In my June In Good Faith column, I write about menstruation. Yes, you read that correctly. 


Pushing Back Against Period Poverty 


Growing up, my lone sibling was a brother. As a parent, I have two sons. Needless to say, menstruation has never been a big topic of dinner table conversation. But that’s changed in recent weeks. I’ve been talking about menstruation not only at the dinner table but at church on Sunday mornings and even with virtual strangers.


That’s because we have a new ministry at our parish that seeks to address period poverty. Free.


(pronounced ‘free period’) provides free menstruation products to those in need on the South Shore, but the need transcends local geography.


During the pandemic, one of my parishioners became aware of the lack of available products when she and her daughter went to drop off supplies at a local non-profit collection site. Kenzie Blackwell noticed mountains of deodorant and toothpaste but very few menstruation supplies. This got her thinking about the need on a broader level, led her to research the issue, and Free. was born soon after. 


What’s shocking to so many, and was certainly news to me, is that these products are not covered by benefits. And this gap presents yet another barrier to equality in education and employment as people are forced to miss school or work simply because they don’t have the means to address a basic biological function. 


Period poverty, which is defined as, “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools,” has been with us for generations. Unfortunately, it has traditionally been shrouded in shame — which is why Kenzie refers to period poverty as a hidden need. Many prefer to avoid the topic and lose opportunities rather than ask for help. In addition, few organizations offer the needed supplies, in some cases because they are unaware of the need and in others because it’s not deemed a subject for polite company.


At root, I think of this as a theological issue, which is why I’m proud our church has embraced this cause. As people of faith, we vow to respect the dignity of every human being and this is, ultimately, an issue of respect and dignity. The mission of Free. is to ensure that a basic biological function, one instituted by God in the creation of humanity, doesn’t act as a barrier to living a full and fruitful life. 


So in addition to collecting products for distribution to partner agencies, we also hope to raise awareness nationally and encourage other faith-based organizations and non-profits to take up the mantle of this long-hidden issue of equity that directly impacts so many. If you’re interested in starting a Free. chapter in your own context, would like more information, or would be willing to make a donation, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. For more information, visit the Free. Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Free.Period.Ministry. 


As a society, we can and must do better. And the first step is to normalize conversations around period poverty. Which is why I will continue to talk about menstruation and the ripple effects it has on people in need. Even if that means making the occasional conversation partner a bit uncomfortable in the process. 


Apr 30, 2021

In Good Faith: Liberty and Justice for ALL

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about the Derek Chauvin verdict, the discovery of Harriet Tubman's childhood home, and the ongoing work of racial justice.

Liberty and Justice for ALL


On the very day the much-anticipated verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial was handed down, I was struck by another headline that crossed my newsfeed. Given the events of the day, it didn’t garner a whole lot of attention. But the home where Harriet Tubman likely grew up was discovered by archaeologists on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. After years of searching, they found the remains of the place where Harriet lived as an enslaved child with her parents. 


This homestead, surrounded by woods, was the place where the woman known as the


Conductor on the Underground Railroad first learned to navigate and survive. It was also likely the place where she came to the crushing realization that freedom in America was not extended to people who looked like her. 


The juxtaposition of these two stories resonated with me, but it took a parishioner of mine, a black woman from whom I’ve learned much over the years, to highlight the real significance of this connection between these two events. She related the varied emotions we were feeling in the aftermath of the Chavin verdict, back to Harriet Tubman’s experience on the Underground Railroad. For as much joy as there may have been in leading someone from slavery to freedom, in successfully navigating that hard road from bondage to liberty, it was tempered by the fact that there were always others who remained in chains. There were always more slaves to lead into freedom; there was always more work to be done.


And even as one police officer was held accountable in the killing of one unarmed black man, there is always more work to be done in the fight for racial equality. The tragic reality is that true equality for people of color in this country remains elusive. Blood continues to be spilled and the deep wailing of grief continues to pierce our hearts. We proclaim “liberty and justice for all,” even as all are not experiencing liberty and justice. And that is a failure. A failure of humanity, a failure of lofty rhetoric, a failure of faith. 


Because, and I’m speaking to my fellow white people here, we cannot remain silent while our black and brown siblings are crying out for justice. We cannot stand idly by or walk on by while our fellow children of God are living in fear and crying out in pain and wailing in grief. At least not if we seek to embody what it means to love our neighbors as our selves.


What I hope people recognize is that racism is not something that exclusively affects people of color. It is destructive first and foremost to our black and brown siblings, yes. It rips away dignity through discrimination, it bruises emotionally and physically, it tears down economically and socially. But the sin of racism — for that’s what it is — also eats away at white people. From a faith perspective, it prevents us from living into the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth. Racism distances us from God and inhibits us from being the people of love, grace, and compassion that God has called us to be. From a human perspective, racism clogs our hearts with hate and destroys us from the inside out. 


This week has reminded all of us that, as with Harriet Tubman — the woman known as the Moses of her People — there is always more work to be done. We owe it to our friends of color, as well as to ourselves, to roll up our sleeves and continue on. Until no human child of God is treated as less than exactly that, the work of anti-racism must continue.


Mar 18, 2021

In Good Faith: Shielding the Joyous

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about my fear of needles, vaccine selfies, and joy amidst grief.

Shielding the Joyous


Needles make me squeamish. It’s always been that way, even though my kindly pediatrician was

a family friend. I dreaded going to his office as a kid, like a medieval prisoner headed to the rack.  I still have to look away whenever a nurse administers a shot during some hospital scene on a TV show, and ask my wife to tell me when it’s safe to resume watching. There was never a question of whether or not I’d be a pre-med major in college. 


So let’s just say the news has been hard to watch of late. As the vaccine distribution program has thankfully ramped up, there sure have been lots of close-ups of needles going into arms. It feels like camera operators take particular glee in the precise moment the needle breaks skin.  


And this doesn’t even begin to cover the vaccination selfies on Facebook. They are ubiquitous these days. In fact, I’m not sure if the vaccine is even fully effective if it’s not accompanied with a social media posting.


This isn’t to disparage those who share these photos. Especially at the beginning, when first responders or elderly parents were getting vaccinated in the first wave, this was cause of great jubilation and hope. And as we move toward herd immunity, seeing needles all over Instagram is a small price to pay. 


Yet I’m aware that these photos are hard to see for some — and not just for the squeamish among us. For those eagerly waiting for their vaccine turn, and the return of some form of normalcy, there’s a hint of jealousy at play. Yes, we’ll all get there. But for the isolated and lonely, the extroverted and the restless, patience is often elusive. 


It’s been a long, hard, trying year for everyone. We ache for human contact and connection, for the routines and rituals of regular social interaction. Seeing some get there sooner than others, as happy as we may be for them and as important as we know it is, leaves a portion of the population feeling left out. It’s temporary, of course, but it doesn’t minimize the feeling of being left behind. 


There’s a curious line in a favorite prayer of mine that invites the Lord to “shield the joyous.” I think it speaks to the fleeting nature of joy in a world that has its fair share of pain. We seek to amplify the joy of receiving the vaccine, even as this joy is surrounded by the profound grief of living through a deadly global pandemic. We mourn for the over half a million people who have died from COVID-19 in this country alone. We empathize with those who continue to suffer from the virus’ long-term effects. We wait with those who have yet to receive the vaccine. 


Whenever we end up getting vaccinated and returning to a modicum of pre-pandemic life, I pray that our joy will be shielded. That we will revel in once again being among those we most cherish, even as we recognize that not everyone is quite there yet, and some will never be.