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HOLY NIGHT

The airport is quiet at night. Parking is easy, the lines are short, the carousels almost empty, the runways lit by the occasional flight coming or going.

We gather at carousel 13, committee members who have worked for months and others who just want to be there because….

One scurries around with his laptop filming background shots; another takes pictures on her phone of the balloons, the baskets of fruit and nuts, the little group talking quietly.

We are waiting for a flight to arrive from Chicago which has also stopped in London and originated in Uganda. It’s 10:30 at night. There are signs which say “welcome” in several languages. One person has brought flowers, another a soccer ball. The group is excited but anxious….

“I hope the flight’s not late.”

“Do you think the balloons might scare them?”

“A refuge camp for fourteen years? How can anyone keep their spirit from breaking?”

“Do we have an interpreter here? Anyone from the Council of Churches. Geez, I hope so…”

“Do they speak any English at all?”

“Can we touch them? Hug them? Is that appropriate?”

“Roseanne, I thought you had your retirement party tonight…”
“I did that. Now I’m doing this.”

And then, coming down the escalator is a dark-skinned family escorted by an airport employee. And the sun breaks through….

They are beautiful. Shining faces, apprehensive but eager. They are wearing parkas and winter jackets (they must have heard it’s cold here!). They look healthy and exude a sense of well-being. They are dignified, smiling.

We keep a respectful distance to let the interpreter do his work. And then we give them the gifts and shake their hands and greet them. Welcome, welcome, we are so happy you are here….

Two beautiful little girls and a boy with open faces, smiling, the girls speaking some cautious English. They all exude a confidence that was perhaps not expected.

“Remember our job is to support them, not adopt them,” reminds one of the committee chairs.

Because we all do …. want to adopt them.

Someone escorts the little girls to the bathroom. They go with Joan with no problem, their little hands reaching up to take hers. She smiles down at them and soon they are all laughing. The trust is palpable.

Roger kneels down and offers the little boy an orange, which he accepts, slice by slice. Later Don kicks the soccer ball back and forth with the little guy.

We worry if they will be okay in their apartment. “Someone’s going with them, right? To show them around?”

What a privilege this is. Maybe this is why Jesus makes such a big deal out of reaching out to the other. It seems to brings each of us in touch with our better nature, our best self, the person we want to be all the time.

It was a holy night indeed as the travelers arrived after their long journey, and there was a place prepared for them. Gifts were given, and there was joy to the world, along with the new beginning that always comes from love….

Barbara Mraz

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“You can be anything you want to!”

“Never ever quit because you CAN do it!”

“Set your mind to it and it’s done!”

Well, no.

While this may be good Olympic talk, it’s simply not true. There can be only one gold medal winner, one company president, one starting quarter back. Some things are intrinsically competitive and you-can-do-it-if-you-try-hard-enough is dangerous talk and guaranteed to break hearts and spirits, if taken seriously. I’ve seen what this thinking can do to high school students and it’s not pretty. Harvard accepts only five percent of applicants…

Sunday’s Epistle speaks about a race (talk about timing!): “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” At least this acknowledges that each of us has our own challenges and our own “race” to run. However, human life as a linear race may not be the best image for our mental health. Even though the only “competition” may be ourselves, most of us go off-course more than once, stop in frustration many times, and may lack a cheering section.

The esteemed anthropologist Margaret Mead referenced another linear image when she said that you might climb the ladder of success only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Similarly, you might run the race and find out that the original destination is faulty—at least according to what you have learned at that point (“How did I end up here?”).

Mead said that a more helpful and accurate image is a patchwork quilt. Most of us assemble our lives in bits and pieces into a whole that is who we are. Unfortunately, many reject Mead’s image because it is too “feminine.”

I like sermon titles and on Sunday my title is simply “Race.” It will be a little bit about the Olympics, a little bit about race (see what I did there? The race and race?) and a lot about the Epistle—which is as graphic and bloody as any section in Scripture. It is also one of the most beautiful.

See you in church.

Barbara

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We’ve been observing to one another all week, from the greeting line in the narthex at St. John’s, to the now-demolished encampment in front of the governor’s mansion, to our idle conversations over the neighbor’s fence – this has been one hell of a week. Emphasis on the “hell”. First it was the tragic shooting of #AltonSterling in Baton Rouge and then #PhilandoCastile here in St. Paul and then what appeared to be retaliatory attacks in #Dallas and the shooting deaths of five police officers. There were protests and vigils actions all over the country and indeed around the world as folks everywhere showed up to demand changes in our policies and our culture. Sadly, we have seen over and again in the wider world that it isn’t always true that #alllivesmatter. So, many have picked up the slogan #BlackLivesMatter to give voice to the painful experience and unfair treatment of the black community in our cities and our nation.

In the midst of it all, I have heard within our St. John’s community and well-beyond it, the repetition of the question – “What can we do?” Sometimes, as the complexity and devastating reality of our world settles upon us like a dark cloud, that question can come out almost in resignation and despair. Other times, it can emerge as an urgent, even angry, declaration. Still, as the intensity of our emotions ebb once again, it emerges as a search for faithful and authentic lived response. Indeed, what can we do, and how can we sustain what we do, so that we do not flag in the cause of justice or shrink from the responsibility of our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every person?

Below I have compiled a summary of some basic ways each of us can get involved. While we cannot remain neutral, I also believe there are a myriad ways to respond faithfully to the issues of racism, violence, and injustice in our community. Here are just a few. I hope you will share more resources in the comments below or on the St. John’s Facebook page.

Resources for talking to children about racism:

Grow Christians has this fantastic blog explaining structural racism and includes a clever exercise using M&Ms. Grow Christians is a great resource for raising kids in the faith, in general. Worth a read.

The Leadership Conference curated a very straightforward list of common questions, responses, advice, and complimentary resources for addressing issues of racism and diversity.

The Washington Post ran an insightful op-ed last year around this time highlighting the urgency, particularly for white parents, to talk about racism and white privilege with their children. The author makes a compelling case that black parents are not afforded the luxury of avoiding these topics or their tragic effects. White parents should deal with their own discomfort and start the conversation now with their own children.

And then there’s this: 60 plus resources (mostly books) broken down by age appropriateness for parents to talk about race and racism with their kids.

Resources for churches and grown ups to talk about race and get involved in responding to it:

I found this blog post to be very encouraging – detailing how predominantly white churches can get involved in addressing racism – beyond praying.

If you are interested in policy, Campaign Zero is the largest aggregated policy proposal I could find broken down by state, national, and municipal legislation and policies and how you can effect change on issues of racial justice in the criminal justice system.

If you are still unsure that the criminal justice system and policing in general disproportionately effects black lives in our country and in our state, or if you are unconvinced that policing in our state needs some reforms, you may want to check out some of the following info, here, here, and here.

Several of our parishioners and neighboring churches have gotten involved by showing up to listen and lift their voices in the demonstrations. Our neighbors down the street closer to the Governor’s Mansion, St. Clements Episcopal Church, have been offering their space and their bathrooms as sanctuary to protesters and police. Parishioner and Episcopal priest, Neil Elliott was present and prayed with protesters recently. This picture was submitted by another parishioner present at the demonstration.

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Certainly protest and civil disobedience have been and continue to be an effective tool in addressing injustice. There are prayer vigils and letter writing, and talking to your neighbors. Show up, stand up, speak up – and it never hurts to listen too.

You can pledge to confront racism whenever you see it. Record and document injustice with your camera phone when you see it happening.

You can get informed and spread the word about what you are learning.

Of course, you can serve directly – even at St. John’s – in a program or ministry that seeks to address the lasting impacts of poverty, homelessness, and hunger – issues that directly effect and place you contact with the black community. Consider working with Hearts to Homes, Fields to Families, Project Home, or our new refugee ministry. Talk to Craig Lemming about the work he’s doing with Circle of the Beloved in North Minneapolis and ask how you can get involved.

There are so many ways to be an agent of racial reconciliation, so many ways to stand against injustice – I hope you will be inspired to take action and to get involved.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that we have all been made one – that the old divisions that keep us separated and pit us as enemies have been broken down. As we sang last Sunday (quite felicitously), in Christ there is no East or West. Let’s make that spiritual truth a lived reality in our neighborhoods and community.

Blessings to all of you in the work of reconciliation.

Faithfully,

Jered+

RESPITE

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“It is in the realm of the daily and the mundane that we must find our way to God.” Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

Even though the times are trying at best, I confess that I like to entertain, to host dinner parties, picnics, informal suppers. I like the planning: should I make the crab cakes again or my go-to chicken dish? Use the red flowered plates or the cream-colored china? Pick a bunch of white hydrangeas from the yard or go with the daisies and snapdragons? Invite a group of faithful friends or mix it up with some new faces?

So when I saw that the Gospel this coming Sunday was the story of Mary and Martha, I was delighted. A story about domesticity! About hospitality! About women! I have preached on this lesson several times in my preaching career and have great affection for it, but it’s always humbling to discover an idea in a piece of Scripture that has been present all along and you have missed it! Some times the cultural climate wakes you up to it. It did me.

I was frankly amazed, sitting in church last Sunday listening to to the prayers and sermon about the prior week’s horrific events – the shootings, the marches, the pain – to realize that the somewhat innocent story about domestic hospitality was really about more than who does what at a party. More than a discussion about male and female roles (although it is that, too). More than one hostess being castigated for worrying too much while her lazy sister sits there sopping up wisdom from Jesus! (Yes, my Norwegian gene is kicking in here.)

One of the incidental benefits of this lesson is the glimpse it provides into the lives of Jesus’ best friends: the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus and their welcoming home in Bethany, just two miles southeast of Jerusalem, right on the Jericho Road referred to in last week’s lesson about the Good Samaritan. Jesus stopped by their house whenever he was in the neighborhood, and it was the last stop he made before entering Jerusalem to be crucified. Arguably, his most astounding miracle was performed in Bethany. It was an important place for Jesus—and for us, in all sorts of ways….especially now.

More on Sunday where I promise a minimum of Martha STEWART references (but there has to be at least one because it’s too perfect) and this lesson will be considered as a template for personal action in these troubling days.

See you in church.

Barbara

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Our service on Sunday, July 10th, 2016, at Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church opened with this litany, adapted from that offered by Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Creve Coeur, Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014. Their clergy shaped the litany based on a statement by the young adult group of the Union of Black Episcopalians. The collects are from the Book of Common Prayer.

Without the prophetic message Presiding Bishop Michael Curry shared on social media, or the helpful links the national Episcopal Church provided, we would not have found this liturgical witness, which so powerfully expresses our community’s grief and lament.

I am grateful for our common worship in the Episcopal Church, which unites us with the whole Anglican Communion in sorrow and in joy. The Eucharist nourishes and strengthens us that we might strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

 

In response to the multiple killings of this past week, we join in prayer for the repose of the souls of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, LeVonte King Jason Jones, and Micah X. Johnson.

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of your servants, and grant them an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

 

In response to the demonstrators who have gathered to peacefully express their outrage, anger and frustration at the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, we reaffirm our Baptismal vow to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” and we pray,

Almighty God, whose Son forgave his enemies while he was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge. Amen

 

For law enforcement and all who gather to protect the protesters, the media, our community, and other areas in troubled times, we pray,

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping the men and women summoned to serve and protect us in times of conflict.  Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be.  Uphold, guide and protect them.  Make them wise in the exercise of their authority, correct them in any error, protect them from danger, and make them instruments of peace. Amen

 

In response to the looting, property damage, and violence done in the midst of the conflict, we pray,

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

In response to the lasting effect this situation will have on young black residents across the country; how they will relate to police officers in the future, how they will believe in their deep worth as children of God,  claim their rights to dignity and justice, and for our willingness to join in solidarity, together with them, we pray,

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

13640766_1144379328939192_6859769982604415490_oDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I spent time this morning with a knot of mourners, reporters, onlookers, and protesters in front of the Governor’s mansion for a press conference following the tragic and incomprehensible shooting of Philando Castile. I went because I didn’t think sitting in solitary prayer was enough. I went because I needed to move my feet and my body into proximity with the grief of my community – I needed to hear the lament, to absorb the anger, to let my breaking heart be with others whose hearts were smashed to smithereens. I went because I was disturbed and angry and sick to my stomach. I went, because going somewhere, doing something, doing anything at all, helped to lessen the growing knot of despair. There have been too many similar such press conferences and protests. There have been too many people of color whose lives were cut short without due process. One is too many. We are well beyond one.

And, yet, we in the white community have sat comfortably by, letting the victims be tried in the court of public opinion. We have waited to see if this one or that one really “deserved” their death sentence, deserved to be shot in cold blood in front of their loved ones, their bodies left on display like animals in the street. We have taken the luxury, the privilege, of equivocating on the behalf of the dead – well, if they had only obeyed the law, or complied with the officer’s commands, or…or what? If they had not been driving while black…?!? We have allowed ourselves to be lulled into complacency. Like so many issues that vex our world, the issues of police brutality, systemic racism, and injustice are complex and do not always yield to simple explanation – and we are tempted again and again to retreat into inaction. But, we cannot and we must not succumb to despair, complacency, and the sin of inaction. We must move our bodies, like living prayers, into action. Like Jesus, we must move into the neighborhood of suffering, we must place our own bodies into closer proximity with those who daily suffer injustice.

Not long ago I was at a community meeting aimed at addressing the so-called achievement gap in St. Paul. I was struck by the absence of white folks in the room. The impression was given that the achievement gap was a problem that only affected or impacted the black community. Sadly, that is often the impression one hears in the wake of yet another African American shot by police – that its a problem that happens in the “black community”. At the press conference today, in an attempt to express his solidarity and grief with the Castile family, our governor, Mark Dayton argued that this shooting does not reflect who we are in Minnesota. He was quickly shouted down by many in the crowd who aptly pointed out, that for them, the experience of police brutality and harassment ARE the experience of living in Minnesota. Sadly, this is, in part, who we are. We must come to grips with that. We must face the ugliness of racism and injustice that are a part of our way of life.

Perhaps more than anything, that’s what the shooting of Philando Castile brings home for me. Philando graduated high school from Central. He worked here in the public school system. He was known and loved by the children of our community. He was a colleague. He was a neighbor. He was a friend to folks that you know and I know. For once, the fatal shooting of someone whose only crime appears to have been driving while black, happened not in some other place, in the “black community”, far removed from our leafy suburbs and quiet neighborhoods – this happened in OUR community. The death of Philando Castile brings into focus the thing that should be painfully evident in every instance of police brutality and racial injustice – these things are always happening in the midst of our communities and our cities, to our neighbors, and our fellow citizens. White privilege may allow us to keep the suffering at a distance. That privilege may allow us to ignore or explain away or deny. But, when we move out from behind our privilege, when we actively confess it as sin, and seek to dismantle its effects, then we might see that those who are suffering are our neighbors and friends and colleagues – they are our brothers and sisters.

So, I’m going to daily try to confess my privilege, and work to dismantle it as best I can, and I will do my best to move into the neighborhood of suffering. It isn’t the courageous thing to do – its the honest thing. For me, that will mean speaking up, demanding justice from my elected leaders. For me that will mean having honest conversations and confronting the lies of racism whenever they cross my path. For me, that will mean committing to join my brothers and sisters of color in working for justice however I can. I hope you will join me.

Faithfully,

Jered+

 

 

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“Oh, you made yourself a little corsage!”

The strange match-up of crinkly orange paper ribbon and an orange zinnia I had grabbed from my garden on the way to church confused a lot of people.

Was it my birthday? (no)

An anniversary? (heavens, no)

Some kind of celebration of summer? (hardly)

I expect that only the clergy got it – remembering that a couple of weeks ago was the Sunday when Episcopal clergy were encouraged by their bishops to wear orange to protest gun violence in America.

When I woke up and heard about the Orlando massacre, I just had to do something. So I pinned a bunch of orange ribbon on my shoulder that looked like it belonged at a kid’s birthday party and stuck a flower in the middle.

I didn’t even care if nobody got it, although some people asked and I told them what it was for. I needed to do something in response to the killings of innocent, brown people, most of them gay. Yes, brown. There was no mention of the fact that this was a Latin nightclub for several days. Didn’t they know?

Like many of you now, I am saturated with the news about Orlando. Everyone on the planet, it seems, has weighed in on social media, news outlets, and in conversation. I am sick of it and sick at heart. I have a gay daughter and I am scared for her a good part of the time, knowing the amount of hate there is out there and how many of the haters have guns.

A gay man posted this on Facebook:

“I live in Texas and was not personally effected by this tragedy. We’ll still go out and attend functions and hold our heads high. I’m about as “don’t give a shit what ANYONE thinks” as anyone you’ll ever meet… but when I reach to hold Matt’s hand in the car I still do the mental calculation of “ok, that car is just slightly behind us so they can’t see, but that truck to my left can see right inside the car”.  I’m never fully in the moment. I’m always parsing who is around us and paying attention to it. There’s a tension that comes with that… a literal tensing of the muscles as you brace for potential danger. For a lot of us, it’s become such an automatic reaction that we don’t even think about it directly any more. We just do it.

But we will be doing those mental calculations for the rest of our lives. Those little PDAs you take for granted with your spouse. They come with huge baggage for us. Every single one is an act of defiance, with all that entails.”

Last Sunday – the day of the shootings—coincidentally I interviewed a gay man for the Evangelist who is among the bravest, most thoughtful and compassionate people I have ever met. He told me his story, discussed his struggles and his triumphs. What a privilege to be trusted to write this and just to hear him, as you will when the next Evangelist comes out.

This coming Sunday the Gospel is about Jesus’ exorcism of the Gerasane demon, that pitiful, shackled soul that lives among the tombs. I also will be preaching about the demons that enslave us all, collectively and individually.

And we will have orange ribbons should you want one to wear one to signal your outrage over gun violence and the innocent lives it blows away. You may want to take it with you and wear it in public and field the inquiries it brings.

At least this is doing something.

It’s a start.

See you in church.
Barbara