The View from Bolton Street

“How the faithful city has become like an unfaithful spouse, wanton and astray from God. 

She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her — but now murderers!”

Isaiah 1:21

Isaiah does not pull punches. The language here is very harsh (see note below), BUT I encourage you to read this whole section of Isaiah (link because perhaps Isaiah is speaking not just to Jerusalem, but to Baltimore as well. “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.” “They do not defend the orphan.” “Your silver has become dross.” It does seem when we read the local headlines that things are getting worse and worse, doesn’t it? A Good Samaritan stabbed at a stoplight. Five-year old-children shot in the street. Teachers attacked in schools. Neighbors shaken down for pocket change. Police absent. Leadership unresponsive, more interested in parties and fundraisers than confronting the problems we see every day. The call of “Come, Lord Jesus” sounds better every day, doesn’t it?  

If your everyday reality feels like your worst day, if the struggle for existence finds you confronting the powers and principalities of government large and small, then the promise of Advent, of the second coming of Christ, is a hopeful one. 

And if you live in a city that seems beset by a never-ending stream of bad news, bad actors, and little hope, then the Advent promise is Good News. 

And the promise of Isaiah is also good news. Isaiah does not leave us alone in the broken city. “Afterwards you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” God promises that those of us who remain faithful to God’s justice, who seek to embody it in our lives and who seek to make it a reality on the streets we walk will indeed enjoy the fruits of the faithful city. And Zion, Jerusalem, and Baltimore will all look more like the Kingdom of God sooner than later. 

But for many of us, this may not look like Good News. It would be easier to leave Baltimore. It would be easier to go somewhere “safer.” To not have to answer the questions from family and friends ... “Baltimore, is it safe?” Many of you have expressed to me how frustrated you are. How heartbroken you are with the state of affairs in the city.  And I am, too. I am tired of feeling that I’m always looking over my shoulder. Tired of wondering when the heat will be fixed. When the playground will get rebuilt. When the water will be drinkable. 

In Isaiah our attention is drawn to the important distinction between “waiting” and “preparation.” We do “wait” for the coming of Christ, but we can’t JUST wait.  If we aren’t actively working to clean up our act, our neighborhoods’ act, and the act of our whole city —  then we are waiting for naught. We will be thrown out with all the other rebels and sinners that Isaiah condemns.     We can’t just wait! We have to be involved in the change. Be involved in the preparation for what is to come. 

You are tired of waiting. 
So let’s stop waiting and start preparing.  After all Advent is a season of preparation. 

How can we prepare for a police commissioner that takes reform seriously? By engaging with groups like the No Boundaries Coalition that are working to create safe neighborhoods and better relationships between institutions and neighbors block by block, person by person. 

How can we prepare for a school budget that adequately serves our kids? By engaging with PTOsand the city to hold leadership accountable for the money they do manage and to proactively do the little things we can do to improve schools. How much would it cost to bring clean water to one school? Two schools? Ten? 

How can we prepare for a city that takes ending 21st-century segregation, inequality and white supremacy seriously?  By serving as an example in our own neighborhoods and micro-communities. By seeking to grow a church that intentionally diverse along race, class and identity lines. By developing relationships with Black and Hispanic churches, with synagogues and mosques that may be just as homogeneous as we are and looking to demonstrate a better way to show God’s love. 

We can prepare for a better Baltimore by working to make what we can better. Because there is a lot of good here.  We have vibrant communities and strong community leaders who are improving schools, fighting food desserts, and investing in children and returning citizens. We have thriving businesses and committed business owners  who invest in this city and its people. We have top flight medical and educational institutions, historic homes and neighborhoods, and a beautiful waterfront. A lot of the preparation is already done for us!  But there is still more to do. 

This Advent I encourage you to begin to put into action your own preparation for a better neighborhood, a better Baltimore, and the better world to come. 


NOTE: Isaiah is translated as using the word “harlot,” which is archaic to our ears, or “whore,” which is vulgar and offensive to our ears, to refer to Jerusalem. Following some other scholars, I have retranslated this term as “unfaithful spouse wanton and astray from God.” I hope this gets at the meaning without stigmatizing those who must monetize their bodies. Isaiah and other prophetic texts frequently use this metaphor of “the city as a prostitute,” which is effective but problematic imagery.  If this bothers you, I apologize.  

Here is a twitter thread which gets at this issue more directly: