Baltimore, Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer, Suffering

Remembering Frederick Douglass: Daily Office Reflection

February 20, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 106:1-18; Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Corinthian 1:1-11; Matthew 5:1-12)
Alternative Readings (Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 32:11-18; Hebrews 2:10-18; John 8:30-32)

Many of the readings today seem to fit so well with the life an legacy of Frederick Douglass, whom the Episcopal Church commemorates toda. If you don’t know about his life, a quick Google search will do the trick. He is an inspiration and a figure that continues to speak to us today as a prophetic witness.

I have been reading through Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and I was struck by this quote from Douglass:

In the darkest hours of this era, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass saw his health fade just as everything he spent his life fighting for was falling apart. He said, in his last great public lecture, delivered in Baltimore in January 1894, a year before his death, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”

-Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 791-795). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This quote has been haunting me over the past weeks, and I think it is because it embodies so much about what Christian hope is about. Douglass did not ever shy away from the stark realities of his day. Nor did he simply have a “sweet by and by” hope which would allow him to ignore such facts for the sake of focusing on heaven. He named reality as he saw it and proclaimed reality as he saw it could yet be. This, it seems to be, is the essence of the prophetic task. His words remind of St. Paul’s to the church in Corinth as he suffers. He is able to name what their sufferings are while also naming his hope for their to be fruit and rescue.

Over the past weeks, I have seen more darkness and trouble than I can remember being aware of in the past. And I have felt the impulse to want to shut my eyes to the brokenness and evil around me. Sometimes it just feels easier to ignore it, to self-medicate with television, or to lose myself in books. But I cannot. And, if I want to maintain truly Christian hope; I dare not close my eyes to the suffering of this world. To hope all will be made right in the end is to also come to terms with all that is not right, both within me and in the wider world.

What evils do you tend to ignore or explain away in yourself or around you? What wrongs in the world feel overwhelming and insurmountable? How can our God bring comfort to you here? How could you proclaim a good message of true Christian hope to yourself or those around you?

 

Collect for Commemoration of Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

Standard
Baltimore, church, Life, Musings, Neighborhood

An Important Life Update and Transition

[Greetings, all. I have communicated the below information to my congregation, colleagues, and some friends. However, I realized that it may be beneficial to share this in a more broad manner to those with whom I’ve connected through ministry, neighborhood life, friendship, and the many other ways our life paths cross. The quick version is this: I’m stepping down from my position as neighborhood pastor at Gallery Church Patterson Park to enter a time of preparation and focus for what may be next.]

[One thing I’ve realized is that there are far too many ways to communicate, and it is impossible to engage these media without having some of you be inevitably left out. I sincerely apologize if you are one of the ones who feel left out. If nothing else, it may just indicate that we need to connect in other ways!]

So, what follows is the letter I wrote to my congregation. Feel free to reach out to me with questions. If you are the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers as we step into a new season of life.

Dearest Gallery Church Family:

After much prayer, consideration, wrestling, and discernment—and with the blessing of other leaders, elders, and my wife, Kara—I am resigning as the neighborhood pastor of Gallery Church Patterson Park. I share this news with a sad and heavy heart and with a hopeful expectation for the future.

Almost nine years ago, at Pastor Ellis and Ginger Prince’s invitation, I moved to Baltimore with a handful of other people to help start the Gallery Church. We believed that a small group of people, with love in their hearts for God and their neighbors-to-be, could see real change happen in our neighborhoods. I still believe it, and what is more, I have seen it. Our God has been at work in his people in our city.

Since then, I have had the opportunity and responsibility to serve our church and city in so many ways. I am amazed and humbled as I think of those with whom I have had the privilege of serving. I cannot adequately state how much I have learned in my time serving with Gallery Church. I have been changed profoundly during my time here. I discerned a call to vocational/pastoral ministry here and have truly grown up here, spending almost a third of my life in ministry with Gallery. This church has taught me what it can mean and look like to walk together in challenging and joyful times.

And now, this journey continues for me. In transitioning from this position, Kara and I are taking a step of trust with the Lord. We do not have another church job lined-up. We are not planning on moving, but we are going to be entering a time of preparation. I will be investing some more time in my schooling to finish my degrees. I will continue to work part-time with HopeSprings, and I will be taking time to re-discover and seek clarity in my identity and calling. We sense that this is a necessary and important time for whatever lies ahead. What form that calling/vocation may take in the future, we are unsure, but we have a strong and enduring peace about taking this step, knowing full well it will be difficult and challenging for us and others.

Let me help to speak to a few questions or thoughts that you or others may be having. Many pastors tend to resign in the midst of controversy, that is not the case here. I want to be as clear as I can here: I have not had any sort of moral failure which would disqualify me from ministry. Kara and I are doing well in our marriage, growing in our love for each other and the Lord, and are united in this decision.

Additionally, there are not any secret or unsaid reasons for my resignation. In times like this, rumors can abound and certain “gaps” in the information can be filled in with gossip or speculation. There is not any enmity between me, or any of the leaders or staff in our Gallery Church Family. I have been challenged and blessed by the diversity of our staff team and by those with whom we have labored in our city. I love them, believe in them, and no difference of opinion or issue has contributed to this decision. I believe in what God is doing at Gallery and in our city, and I pray for God’s greatness to be continually displayed in our church family.

Lastly, some of you may be wondering if we will still be “around”—meaning, attending at Gallery Church in the coming months. We have no desire to “cut-ties” with Gallery. We still view you all as dear sisters and brothers and neighbors, so you will see us from time to time. Pastor Ellis has been very gracious and kind to continue to offer times for me to be with you, and to use my gifts when appropriate. We will be taking a few months to seek continued counsel, to worship with other faith communities in our region, and to pray through our family’s rhythms of life. We also feel that some initial “distance” will be the best way to love our Patterson Park family as they collectively discern what God is doing next. My last Sunday serving as the neighborhood pastor at Gallery Patterson Park will be January 15th, 2017.

Gallery Church Patterson Park has a unique and specific calling to uncover and run after. I truly believe that, and I believe God is already at work to provide for this next season. One of the benefits of belonging to a wider church family is that we have sisters and brothers who can support and walk with you in this time of transition. Jayme Swanson (our neighborhood elder), Pastor Bill Medina (our Associate Pastor), Aida Medina (Cross-Cultural Ministries), and Pastor Ellis will be working together with other key leaders at Patterson Park, and our Central Ministries team to help lead and serve the church in this next season. They will be ensuring that our gatherings and growth community life continue on with care and oversight.

So here is what I will ask you to consider doing in the coming days:
Pray— I know this sounds like the thing you are supposed to always say, but I could not be more emphatic. God has desires for Gallery Church Patterson Park that he wants to make known. There will be an upcoming time of Prayer and Fasting with Gallery Church Downtown from Jan 17-21 each evening. I encourage you to take time as a church family or as a growth community to come and to pray for Patterson Park and what’s next.
Invest— It is in times like this where the members of the church can sometimes sit back and wait to see what will happen. I encourage you to take this as a season of investment, both financially and spiritually. Please continue to give faithfully and sacrificially. Please take the time to get involved in serving. This is your time to be the church you hope to see.
Ask— Times like this can bring up questions and sometimes confusion. It’s more than ok to ask questions. I cannot promise we have an answer to every question, but we will listen and be available as much as possible until we transition in January.

This letter is not easy to write. Kara and I have felt grief and sadness as we have struggled with this decision, and we have wrestled with how to love you best during this time. I love you all and I am so thankful to have had the privilege to serve as your pastor over these last years.

May God’s Grace and Peace be with you,

Derek H. Miller
Advent, 2016

Standard
Baltimore, Musings, Neighborhood, Rooted, Suffering

Thoughts from the Justice for Joe Rally

I was honored to be a part of such a stirring support of Mr. Joe tonight. Mr. Joe (Yogesh Sheth), was shot and killed during an attempted robbery at his Mini Market Deli & Grocery store, a mere two blocks from our front door. He worked in Highlandtown for 25 years. He was killed May 1, 2015. The police have given no new information since the first 24 hours of the incident.

His family invited me to share a few words, and here is (mostly) what I said.

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I want to begin by thanking Ms. Meena Saywack and Teresa from Matthew’s Pizza who invited me to come and share some thoughts with you today.

I know some of you here, but I realize many of you may not know me. My name is Derek Miller and my wife, Kara and I are newer to Highlandtown, having only been here a few years. But we live a mere two blocks from this place, I serve as a neighborhood pastor at Gallery Church Patterson Park and serve on the board of our Highlandtown Community Association.

But today, I am merely a neighbor amongst my other neighbors. In spite of what has happened here and the many challenges we face as neighborhood, Highlandtown has become my home; a place that I love and believe in. I can’t claim to speak for all of us, nor would I even attempt to today. But I will share what I have seen, what I see now, and what I hope for for our community and for Mr. Joe’s family.

Like many of you, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of what happened here to Mr. Joe. I was working with other neighbors, still cleaning up and recovering from the aftermath of the looting which took place mere blocks from here. I saw the police helicopter swooping over us and someone received word that there was a shooting on Highland Ave. I immediately ran up to see what had happened, and came across Mr. Harry and Miriam, in the midst of a flurry of police activity and crime tape. I couldn’t process what had happened. So many were in shock. The grief settled in for many of us waves. I still remember how numb I felt in trying to explain to others what had happened, as the concerned crowd grew. We talked and cried and prayed together. I didn’t know what else to do. To this day, I still don’t know what else to do but talk and cry and pray.

In the days that have passed, we have all grieved in our own ways. We have experienced anger, fear, confusion, indignation, and intense pain. This is normal but it is painful, there is no doubt about that.

What keeps me moving forward are showings like that of today. We, in spite of our differences, all have a deep desire for justice to prevail in our neighborhood. We want Highlandtown to be a place where businesses can operate without fear of senseless violence. We want a better story for those who come here from other places to seek their own welfare and the welfare of their community.

So I grieve today, but I have great hope. It is my own belief that God is capable of bringing amazing beauty and life out of the most despicable and ugly situations. That is my prayer and hope for Mr. Joe’s family and friends. It is also my hope for Highlandtown; not only for justice but for peace and prosperity, knowing that they are all linked together. I invite you to continue to work for the welfare of our neighborhood, and to continue to stand in solidarity with those who, like Mr. Joe’s family, have experienced such great loss. There is beauty and hope to be found there, as we share our pain and hope with each other.

We do want justice for Mr. Joe and we continue to implore the police and government officials to exhaust any and every opportunity and resource to bring those who committed this senseless crime to justice. I encourage all of you to sign the ongoing petition, if you haven’t done so already, which urges our police dept and all our representatives to do their jobs and not forget about what we remember every day we walk by this store. In the meantime, I commit myself to being more connected to our local businesses and neighbors. I regret that I did not take enough time to know Mr. Joe as well as so many of you knew him.

I wonder what we could accomplish if we all were able to support one another like this in the future. I wonder what our neighborhood could look like if we all lent the same support as we are showing today in both good times and bad. I commit to doing my best to support you as a long-committed neighbor.

Thank you all for being here, and may there be justice for Joe…

Please consider signing this petition, which will be handed directly to the Police Commissioner.

Standard
Baltimore, church, Holy Spirit, worship

When We Gather: Prayer

If I am to follow Jesus, then the simple fact of the matter is I must seek to pray like Jesus prayed. And this is no small thing. Perhaps I am alone on this, but it seems that the conversation on prayer too rarely goes back to the model that Jesus set (with the exclusion of the “Lord’s Prayer”). I love how Jesus offered that example when asked how one should pray. But I am also intrigued as to how Jesus modeled prayer throughout his life

He was a good Jew. He most likely went through the daily prayers like the others during his time. We, as a Gallery family, have started doing something called “Daily Windows” (taken from Daniel 6) where we enter into this pattern of stopping to recognize God’s presence to be reminded of our dependence on Him. And I know through my conversations with others, that this has been incredible for us. I am excited for this coming week as we step into more times to pray and fast together as a family.

However, Jesus prayed outside of those times as well. He would spend much time in solitude to pray. He begged his followers to pray with him before he was to be crucified. He prayed before choosing his disciples. He sent up random prayers of gratefulness to the Father. He talked to God as a son to his father; with respect and intimacy.

To put it in one hyphenated word, Jesus life was prayer-soaked. And mine isn’t. And if you were to be honest, yours probably isn’t either. It is one of the areas that we can never get to the point of complete satisfaction. I don’t think I can ever say with complete honesty that I pray enough because my prayer life is directly proportionate to how much I think I have to depend on God.

Raymond Brown puts it this way, “To be prayerless is to be guilty of the worst form of practical atheism. We are saying that we believe in God but we can do without him. It makes us careless about our former sins and heedless of our immediate needs.”

I would add to this by saying even if we are content in the state of our prayer life (and not seeking to grow in it), we may be guilty of the same form of atheism.

I want to pray for the things that Jesus prayed about. And I want to be serious about those same things. I have struggled lately with getting caught up in some secondary issues in Scripture as I have been studying the past few weeks (hence the gap since my last post). Not that these things are bad, but I have been convicted of the fact that I am not concerning myself with one of the big things that Jesus prayed for: unity. This is another topic for another day/post, but consider the following things and ask, “When is the last time I prayed for this?” It has been revealing for me.
-protection for all believers
-unity for all believers (likened to the unity between Jesus and the Father)
-believers having the full measure of joy
-sanctify them in the truth
-that the world may believe in Jesus because of our unity
-that the world will see our love and, thus, see God’s love
-Your will be done
-daily bread for everyone
-forgive all our sins
-the power to forgive others in the same way

The list could go on. How do you pray? How should we pray? Is this a struggle for you?

Standard
Baltimore, church, Movement, Music, worship

Why We Sing-Three Movements

During our worship conversation last night (which I will be posting thoughts from in the coming weeks), I mentioned a talk I did with our church back in 2010 (wow….has it been that long?) about the WHY behind singing in the church. Using the analogy of a piece of music with movements, I said that there are 3 movements (possibly more) than make up/inform the whole of church singing:
-Scripture
-Story (History)
-Theory/Philosophy

Download the audio here.

[audio https://www.dropbox.com/s/cdvund0oo42gu1i/Why%20We%20Sing%20Final.mp3]

What do you think? Why do we sing? What informs/guides your singing?

Standard
Baltimore, church, city, gospel, Movement, Musings

My Letter to the Church in Baltimore

As some of you may know, I was ordained into gospel ministry by my church this past weekend. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life! As a part of the questioning time, one of the pastors on my panel asked me this question: “If you were to write a letter to the church in Baltimore, like Paul did, what would you say?”

I decided to actually write a letter. I pray it encapsulates much of what I feel as I am stepping into this new season of life.

Feel free to respond in any way in the comments section below.

Derek;
A grateful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ
and a fellow laborer in the vineyard of our Master,

To the saints in the city of Baltimore;
my fellow workers in the harvest of our Lord,
Those he has purchased with His very own self,
Those who he has adopted into His family,
Those who serve the Body of Christ and the city,
Those who are endeavoring to see the reign of our King extend over our city and to the ends of the earth;

Greetings.

I thank God that I am counted as among you, that I get to be named along with you as the Church in Baltimore; a planting of our God in the city, for the city. Ever since my time in coming here, I am continually amazed by the work that God is doing here. I have had the joy of learning so much from many of you who have been working faithfully for our God in our city for years upon years. I know many of you have been praying for God to do a special work in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in the hearts of our neighbors. I want to rejoice with all of you, whether we be sowers or reapers, that we can rejoice together that the time for the harvest is now!

And it is happening. God is moving. The questions I would pose to all of us (myself included) would be:

Are we awake? Do we see? Are we ready?

Are we awake?

We see groups of people everyday; in our churches, neighborhoods, communities, and jobs. As we live and work and play in the city, sometimes these crowds stay just that: crowds of people with no personal identity. I would encourage us to see them differently.

The disciples seem to really reflect our attitudes when it comes to crowds of people. They wanted Jesus to send them away. They saw overwhelming needs, mouths to be fed, wounds to be healed, and maybe even moods to appease so that they don’t get too rowdy! You may even find your prayers being something like this: “Jesus, these people need much and demand much and, sometimes, frustrate and frighten me. I feel overwhelmed. The ground is hard.”

But Jesus response to seeing the same people we see was markedly different. He had compassion. He saw what was lacking. They needed people to lead them and care for them.

So Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “It’s time for a harvest. Pray that God sends more people because there is a lot of work to do.”

Do we see? 

A harvest. Where we see barren land, hard ground, and no growth, Jesus sees an opportunity to harvest. Could it be that we are not seeing our city the way Jesus does?

Today, before writing this, I took my morning bike ride through the city. This is quickly becoming a wonder-filled experience for me; a sweet time to reflect, to pray, and, hopefully, to get in shape! Today, it was the same route, the same pot-holes that never get filled, the same rows of abandoned homes, the same neighborhoods that seem to change from one to the next in the blink of an eye, the same groups of day-laborers by the 7-11, the young professionals on their way to work, the panhandlers trying to find daily bread, and the same crazy drivers that almost run me off the road (bless their hearts)! Today’s ride was the same, but, in a moment became totally different.

I saw the city with a fresh perspective. (There is something to Jesus healing so many blind people.) In reflecting on this passage from Matthew 9, I was awakened to the fact that Jesus sees this city as ripe for harvest. The issue is not the ground. The issue is not the seed. The issue is not the growth.

He asks us to pray for workers.

My desire with my ordination this weekend is to say that I am joining your ranks as a worker in the field of Baltimore and as a shepherd of the shepherd-less.

But, we all know that the work is not limited to the “professionals”, those who have been called into gospel ministry by profession, calling, or giftedness. We all are ministers in the Body of Christ. We are all co-laborers.

So the call remains: pray that God will send workers. And from where do these workers come?

Are we ready?

That is the final (but most central) thing I would admonish us to do: make disciples and teach them to work!

As a Church, we work on many things. We host incredible events to meet tangible needs in our communities, we fix up schools and parks, we show those infected of/affected by HIV that they are loved and valuable, we speak prophetically to our leaders in the city to call them to God’s way, we mentor and love our children, we fight against sex-slavery, and we seek to proclaim the reality that Jesus is Lord.

And these are all wonderful, God-honoring, Kingdom-oriented things that we should continue in. Indeed, God has prepared them for us that we should walk in them.

But let us not forget the core of our mission: we must make disciples. If we do not, we will fail in our mission as a Church, fail our King as it relates to our obedience, and there will be no one left to carry on the works God has for us when we are gone.

Our city needs committed disciples of Jesus who make committed disciples of Jesus.

I know I have much room to grow and learn as it relates to this. My prayer for us is that we never lose sight of the centrality of Christ’s call on us and that we may always partner together for the furtherance of this mission. I look forward to gleaning wisdom from you all in this area.

Are we ready?

Are we ready for the messy, difficult task of discipling? Are we positioning ourselves for life-to-life interactions? Who have we called to follow us? More importantly, are we proving ourselves, by God’s grace as people worth following?

These are all questions that I face each day, praying that God allows me to both answer them and be the answer to them!

May God’s will be done in Baltimore as it is in heaven.

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, so that His Greatness may be known in our city and the world!

Standard
Baltimore, church, city, Movement, Music, Sunday Setlist, worship

He is Risen, Indeed! An Easter 2012 Recap

What an incredible weekend we had! As I write this, I am amazed at how many parts of your body can be sore at once, yet praising God that I still have a voice! What a joy it was to be able to join in with my church family and friends (and their family and friends) and celebrate the good news that Jesus is Messiah and King and has defeated death!

We began our gathering with Angus Dei as our way of unburying the alleluias. This brought our Lenten journey full circle as we had removed the word “alleluia” from out weekend liturgies since Ash Wednesday in preparation for Easter. And it showed. What our church deposited then by burying, they dug up with interest and really lifted their voices, even when we sang in Spanish!

We then sang two hymns that I love. the first, All Creatures of our God and King, was originally penned by Saint Augustine and then arranged more recently by David Crowder. We then transitioned into the song In Christ Alone. To be honest, it is difficult to get through this song without getting choked up. The Gettys really know how to compact a rich Christology into 4 verses. This line gets me every time : No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me / From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny / no pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.

Ellis taught on Mark 8:31-9:1 in a teaching he entitled Antonym. He did a masterful job displaying how much we think that Jesus is the opposite of what he really is (i.e. Peter’s rebuke).

We then responded with more singing. A song that has become a sort of anthem for our church is All the Poor and Powerless. This song is by one of my new favorite worship artists, All Sons and Daughters. If you don’t have their latest full album, buy it. And if you do the iTunes thing, buy the LP on iTunes because it comes with chord charts and videos.

Then keeping with the ‘alleluia” theme, we did a rewritten version of Jef Buckley’s Hallelujah called Another Halllelujah by Lincoln Brewster. I LOVED singing this one with all our voices! We then ended our set with Gungor’s This is Not the End. This is such an epic sounding song and I have to give strong kudos to the band for working through the difficulties of this song (it changes time signature in the middle of the song and then goes back again!)

Thanks again to my bandmates and all our volunteers who made yesterday possible. It is an honor to serve with you all!

Grace and Peace be with you…

-D

Standard