The mission of RHHP..

The mission of RHHP is to provide a Christian community setting where persons of various cultures learn from each other, the surrounding neighborhood, and life in Baltimore city. We believe that people's lives are blessed by being part of faith communities.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

English First?

It's been a while since have I seen any coverage in the media about the English First movement. This is a movement made up of folks who fear that foreign languages(primarily Spanish) are encroaching into official government business and who are disturbed when some government entities accommodate non-English speakers by translating forms into various languages. These same people feel that legislation is needed to make English the official language of America and to stop the erosion of its traditional standing as the sole language used in official government business.

I want to share with you one instance in which no legislation is needed to encourage two immigrants to learn English. In recent weeks I have noticed that two of my asylum seeker house mates have been waking up at 5am and leaving the house at 5:30 am. I found out tonight that they recently began free English classes at the Baltimore County Community College in Dundalk just outside of Baltimore City. Instead of taking a bus downtown to catch the number 40 bus to Dundalk, they have been riding their bicycles. I looked up the route on Google map and discovered that it is more than 9 miles on city surface streets and partly by freeway which is undoubtedly a more direct route. Their more circuitous route is very likely more than 10 miles each way. It takes them an hour each way which is about the same length of time by bus and they save the bus fare.

I think this illustrates the folly of measures designed to force immigrants to learn English. Given the opportunity, most new comers will learn English without coercion. Most of them know that the ability to speak English is the first rung on the economic ladder and determines the height to which one can reach. Instead of devising ways to force immigrants to learn English, it would be more productive to increase the availability of English classes to immigrants, especially those who have to work while learning English.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fruit of my labor....sort of

Out of my compost pile sprang a couple of melon plants. One is a cantaloupe which is producing a few fruits. Here is the first of what I hope will be a crop of at least three or four fruits. Thank goodness I was able to pick it before the rats got to it. It is as big as my head! (It is not an optical illusion.) It's fragrance filled our pantry as we waited for it to ripen. It was as sweet and succulent as any of the cantaloupes we bought this summer. It was sweeter because it was a surprise gift from the garden.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Follow up to earlier post,0,666502.story

Here is the follow up to the September 14, 2010 post on Dan Rodrick's column about one church's effort to reclaim a small area in East Baltimore. Carolyn Pitt's quote at the end of the article points out an uncomfortable fact that we can identify with. The struggle to reclaim her neighborhood will require coordinated and sustained effort. Left on its own, the neighborhood will quickly return to it old self much the same way an untended garden quickly becomes choked by encroaching weeds which thrive on neglect. It will also require the belief that individuals, banding together, are able to make a difference. Mixed in there is a strong conviction that an improved neighborhood is in one's interest. Christians will have to be obedient to the biblical injunction to bring about the kingdom of God in the here and now. I will leave it to those of you who are more theological minded to assay the soundness of this theology.

Community volunteers clean up playground near homicide site
Councilman says effort is follow-up to vigils after high-profile deaths of church worker, Hopkins researcher

By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun
10:08 p.m. EDT, September 21, 2010

The weeds behind the vacant lot next to Carolyn Pitt's Aiken Street home had reached her clothesline, but on Tuesday, volunteers mowed the plants down, picked up trash and painted the nearby playground to ignite efforts to revitalize the neighborhood.

"Beer bottle, glass, needles — you name it" can be found in the small patch of pavement with a missing basketball hoop, Pitt, 54, said from her tidy front steps. "It's wonderful they are giving kids a chance to play over there," she said as she sat with two of her grandchildren, who she will not allow to play in the area because of the constant drug traffic.

About 50 volunteers with the nearby Ark Church and the Police Department's Eastern District cleared more than 20 tall bags of debris from the playground. The cleanup was part of "Operation Good Faith," an East Baltimore effort that calls on religious community members to look after a four-block radius around their place of worship.

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Less than two months ago, Pitt's neighbor — the caretaker of the Ark Church — Milton Hill was found slumped against a fence in a pool of blood behind his home next to the church. Police believe he was shot for his green scooter. Five days earlier, Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn was stabbed less than a mile away. The two crimes captured the city's attention and inspired two mournful vigils.

"This is a follow-up to the vigils. We won't just pray but move into action," said Councilman Carl Stokes, whose district includes both homicide sites and who attended the cleanup.

He said the city, with help from the Charles Village Civic Association, is hoping to place new playground equipment there in the next two months, as well as replace the lights where the wires were torn out. Members of the Ark Church will maintain the area.

Stokes said the cleanup is not only an effort to clear debris and paint, but "symbolic" that "we're saying no more to drug dealing."

The paved area on the corner of East Lafayette Avenue and Aiken Street is considered "an open-air drug market," said Eastern District Commander Maj. Melvin Russell. The district is committing a strong police presence to the area, and if drug dealers return, "we'll deal with them," he said.

"We didn't do this for nothing," he said of the cleanup. Russell himself helped, hopping on a shovel to dig out the strip of weeds and grass between the playground and the alley.

He said no arrests have been made in Hill's death, but that "we're getting close. We've got good leads."

Two people have been charged in Pitcairn's death.

The Eastern District has been one of the most violent, leading the city in the number of homicides. While last year it saw major decreases, the Eastern now leads the department with 32 homicides.

Russell said the district has seen a 15 percent decline in homicides so far this year, but he said it takes the community "buying into the vision that we can make this happen." He said he tries to encourage his officers to work with residents, otherwise, "as long as we have that great disconnect, nothing is going to change."

While a set of rusted monkey bars and two worn wooden jungle gyms remained, a fresh coat of green, yellow and orange paint was left to dry on a playground wall.

"They are doing a great job, but we don't know how long it's going to last," Pitt said.

Sylvester Toles, a member of the Ark Church, admitted he wasn't excited about the cleanup at first, after a long day at a moving company. But the 54-year-old said "the preacher wanted us to do it for the kids, to make it presentable for the kids. Somebody's got to show that somebody cares," he said.

As he worked up a sweat, he said, "I feel like I've accomplished something.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

RHHP fall workday

Every few months, our household get together on a Saturday morning to tackle tasks that we normally don't have the time to do or that require a collective effort to accomplish. Besides, it's more fun to do it together as a household. Some of the more grimy jobs (such as cleaning the hood over the stove) are tackled on workdays.
The Fall workday is also when we change the batteries of the smoke alarms. Our major accomplishment yesterday was the disposal of much of the stuff that had accumulated in the attic over the years. Most of what we hauled out were 2x4's that were once the bunk beds during the Youth Evangelism Service (YES) era. That allowed Ellen to reorganize the storage area. We also took out old TV sets, dead computers and other appliances. They were deposited on the curb at the back of the house and most of the electronics were quickly picked up by passers-by. Richard, who lives across the street, picked up some lumber but as of this morning, most of the pile is still there. If they remain unclaimed they will end up, regretfully, in the landfill.

We concluded the workday with pizza from Bolis and delicious chocolate chip cookies that Kendra whipped up on short order. Ellen made the lime-ade.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our social experiment goes on....

Since we did not have small group tonight, I arrived home with earlier than usual and had a couple of daylight still remaining. Our adopted lot had become scraggly and I decided to run the mower over it to tidy it up. Ellen did her usual litter patrol to clear the lot ahead of the lawn mower. In the meantime, the manager of the apartment building across the street(an Ethiopian young man who is the son of the owner of the building and whose mother is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University) and his maintenance guy, Jose, were hauling some furniture and an old refrigerator out of the building. After I was done with the lot and returned to RHHP, he began, unbidden, to use his leaf blower to clear the grass clippings off the sidewalk. Yeah, it's a small gesture but a fine one nevertheless. I am very encouraged to know that one more person believes that our block is worth investing in.

Ellen and I received an email from an activist in Reservoir Hill inviting us to participate in two projects down the block on Whitelock. One project is to make raised beds in the Whitelock Community Farm. The other is to help with the landscaping on the lot across from the farm to convert it into a multi-purpose community space for recreational uses and community events such as a farmer's market or outdoor performances. This latter project is funded by a Healthy Neighborhoods Capital grant. I am grateful that there are people in our community with the skills and energy to write the proposals and do the organizing. Oh, I think I will help with the landscaping since I do enough gardening at home.

Veggie burger with yogurt sauce

In response to popular demand, (the cook's brother is very popular. See comment on previous post) I am posting the recipe for the veggie burger courtesy of the Baltimore Sun. I think the yogurt sauce is optional. It tastes just fine with mustard, ketchup and pickles.)

Recipe finder: Homemade veggie burgers beat frozen variety
By Julie Rothman, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Elaine Kwedder of Shenandoah, Pa., was looking for a recipe for a homemade veggie burger. Amanda Milewski of Eldersburg, Md., sent one in that she cut from a parenting magazine some years ago and makes on a regular basis. She says her family finds that the burgers are a more flavorful alternative to the store-bought frozen veggie burgers they have tried.

Milewski says that sometimes she preps all the ingredients earlier in the day or even the night before and stores them in zip lock bags in the fridge. That way the burgers are a snap to prepare even during a weeknight dinner rush. When served with the accompanying yogurt sauce, these burgers are a tasty and healthful alternative to an ordinary burger.

Veggie burgers with yogurt sauce

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 onion, finely minced

1 sweet potato, peeled and grated

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons pickle relish

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine egg, carrot, onion, sweet potato, flour and baking powder. Add salt and pepper to taste. Form mixture into six 5- to 6-inch patties and set aside.

To prepare yogurt sauce: In a small bowl combine yogurt, ketchup and relish. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat oil until very hot. Saute burgers for 4 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove burgers to plates or set on buns and serve with yogurt sauce. Yield: 6 burgers.

Approximate values per serving: 189 calories, 5 grams protein, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 30 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 36 milligrams cholesterol, 257 mg sodium.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ellen's veggie burgers and buns

Here is a shot of Ellen's favorite veggie burger (recipe from the Baltimore Sun) that has sweet potato as the base that holds together shredded carrots, onions, flour, one egg and some other stuff. She also made the sesame seed buns that went with the burgers. They are low in fat, high in fiber and totally satisfying.

Taking back the east side, one church at a time,0,3137763.column

Here is today's column by Dan Rodricks, a columnist who writes for the Sun. Rodricks writes about civic activist Carl Stoke's plan for churches to make Baltimore a better place to live by simple and direct action right where they are located, or more precisely a four block radius around each church.

It caught my eye because of his simple and common sense approach for churches to make a difference in Baltimore. This modest bite-size approach to neighborhood improvement/development strikes me as manageable and sustainable. All it needs is for a congregation to have a vision and a desire to make a difference to its immediate neighbors. No need for endless congregational meetings.

This in similar to what Ellen and I are trying to do at RHHP. We have enjoyed getting to know some neighbors and to know the neighborhood better. I am also amazed that we are actually getting to enjoy Reservoir Hill, which on the surface appears to have little to offer beyond the architecture of the grand row houses along Eutaw Place. I think that given enough time and investment, we can develop an attachment to most neighborhoods if not a more nuanced appreciation of. I am beginning to understand why so many people continue to live in neighborhoods that appear to outsiders to be utterly desolate if not outright dangerous. I am realizing that there are more to a neighborhood that attracts people than the presence of a Starbucks (or name your favorite coffee shop) or and Eddy's. Once upon a time, I used to believe (perhaps unconsciously) that the neighborhoods we live in define us. But now I am not so sure. Perhaps it is somewhere in between - we can become more like our neighborhood and we can also change (or at least attempt to) our neighborhoods to be more reflective of our values. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Here is the article in case you don't want to go to the Baltimore Sun web site.

I also included photos of a recent birthday celebration and residents painting.

Taking back the east side, one church at a time

Dan Rodricks

5:19 PM EDT, September 13, 2010


There are an estimated 120 churches in Baltimore's Eastern police district, for years one of the two most violent in the city. "There are more churches than liquor stores," says City Councilman Carl Stokes, "but the liquor stores seem to be winning."

He means those who sell wine and booze from behind bullet-proof glass — as well as those who sell heroin on corners — seem to have more influence on community life than those who stand in sanctuaries and preach salvation-through-Jesus. While the statistics show overall decreases in some of Baltimore's most-tracked crime categories, and while city police have made a significant dent in the number of shootings there, the east side is still infested with drug-dealing, gang activity and violence.

It has been that way for a long time, and there have been attempts to organize the churches to do something about it before.

Mr. Stokes, a Jesuit-trained civic activist and one-time candidate for mayor, is mightily aware of that.

As a city councilman in the 1980s and 1990s, he attended numerous neighborhood crime meetings. He's attended vigils held in the wake of senseless killings, too. Like a lot of middle-aged people in this town, he wears a been-there-done-that T-shirt.

Now, having returned to the council this year, he's back in the thick of things. He helped organize a large vigil in July on North Avenue after a church caretaker, 71-year-old Milton Hill, was shot to death in an apparent robbery. Mr. Stokes pledged to build a street-level movement to reduce crime and revive some of the east side's left-for-dead neighborhoods.

This time, Mr. Stokes has a simple plan that he's pitching to pastors — take back the four blocks around your church and the one across the street, and pretty soon the east side gets healthy again. He calls it Operation Good Faith, and he's challenging ministers to challenge their congregants to get on the street, sweep up trash, pull weeds from the cracks in the sidewalks, fix up nearby playgrounds, conduct evening walks, meet the churches' neighbors door-to-door, and keep in touch with the police.

"In African-American communities," Mr. Stokes says, "we have looked to the church leaders to also be the leaders in political life, in civic life — there's a long tradition of that — and there was a time when church leaders lived among us. Now, being upwardly mobile, many of them — and their members — have left the old churches; they are no longer there. So people in the neighborhood wonder why do they come back [on Sundays] and take our parking spaces, then leave. They leave us with the drug dealers they walk by on the way to church; they leave us with the trash. They might wonder why the ministry that goes on inside the church does not leave the sanctuary. Where is that ministry?"

That is a question Jeffrey MacDonald, a religion journalist and minister in the United Church of Christ, asks in a new book about what might be called comfort-zone Christianity. Christian churches in America, Rev. MacDonald writes in "Thieves In The Temple," have become more about entertaining and soothing their members than about challenging them to sacrifice for others and to "stretch their hearts" for Christian-inspired purposes.

In small congregations and in megachurches — and numerous churches in between, in city and suburb — pastors are pressured to make churchgoers feel good, to provide a kind of spiritual escapism for an hour or so on Sunday. Those who don't, he says, risk the same consequences as any retailer who doesn't give his customers what they supposedly want.

Rev. MacDonald sees in the modern "consumer-driven church" a profound problem: Forsaking core Christian principles for feel-good spirituality diminishes the power of churches and church leaders to move people to action and to inform the nation's moral conscience.

So, in Baltimore, in these old neighborhoods that have been under siege so long, Carl Stokes is making another push to get the ministers and their congregations into the streets with the men and women of their churches, just four blocks at a time. It's not enough to go to Sunday services and drive away.

"This will change lives," Mr. Stokes says of Operation Good Faith, conscious of the history of such efforts and of the dramatic sound of his claim. "I think it will change neighborhoods. … We're tired of going to vigils."