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After spending way too much of my life bemoaning that my little bungalow didn’t lend itself to “an open floor plan,” with a center island (popular since 1990) my anguish has ended.  I’m reading now that designers have decreed that they are “out!” Veranda magazine (May 2020) explains

The open floor plan presents some serious design problems such as a lack of privacy, poor sound control, and a cluttered appearance (despite regular tidying).

Oh well, you can always put walls up and the designers will change their minds in a few years anyway. They always do. 

Preachers have different feelings about relating Scripture to the popular culture.  Some feel that the world outside of church is where people ARE most of the time and they are more likely to be interested when a tie-in or reference can be made. Others insist that it corrupts the holy texts if they are not discussed strictly on their own terms, with amplified theological comments along the way.

I am drawn to the historical aspect of the Bible, that book where part of it is sacred to the Jews, some of it to Muslims, and all of it to Christians. It can be a challenge to find the relevance to the present day of the ancient words, to learn how different sections of the Scriptures have been emphasized or fallen from favor over the years. I love that no matter how often you read a section of it, new things can still just smack you that you’ve never noticed before.  One of tomorrow’s reading did that for me. Hmmm.. I never noticed THAT before…

As a preacher, I like to make “real-world” connections as much as possible, always using the text as a base. It’s amazing what can be brought in… and yes, there will be a brief mention of floor plans tomorrow! And yes it will be relevant and theological and Scriptural.

You’ll see us in church.

Barbara

ADAGIO

This is Barbara writing, not Craig or Richard.
It may not seem like it but….

“Adagio for Strings” by American composer Samuel Barber has been called “the
saddest piece of music ever written.”

It’s the piece of classical music that was played at the funerals of Princess Diana,
John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It has been featured in the movie “Platoon” and “The Elephant Man.”

I recently learned that there are pop music renditions such as when the British
musician William Orbitt remixed it, and in 2003 when the Dutch DJ Tiesto did a
version. (Frankly, I gave up trying to listen to these.)

Maybe this song will appear again as a lament for the losses of Covid.

You will hear the Adagio on Palm Sunday as the background for the reading of the
Passion. I was privileged to do this pairing several years ago with Sonya Sutton,
our interim organist. This time, Richard will be at the organ. It will close our
service and lead us into Holy Week with stunning force.

You’ll see us in church.

Barbara

A snapshot of a comic Abbie made for a collaborative book called ‘Sanctuary”. It is a Risograph print comic called “silence.” 

Abbie Mitchell is a member of Circle of the Beloved in Minnesota and is currently serving an internship with St. John’s Children, Youth, and Family Ministry. I asked Abbie to share her financial experiences to give us some insight on the challenges facing today’s young adults and the role her faith plays in money matters.

As the daughter of an accountant, I grew up listening to my mother’s advice to be careful and keep track of my money. From a young age I would stash away my Christmas and Birthday cash, but for what? I was never certain. My dad would constantly rep the phrase “buy nice or buy twice” that he’d learned from his own father. When I had my first job, as a golf caddy, I saved all my money from that summer and ultimately decided to invest in an expensive new laptop for college, knowing I would need something suitable for Art and Design School. I felt rich, like all teens after getting their first job. I also felt hopeful and confident that my patience would help me to continue saving.

As I passed my 18th Birthday and prepped for college, the financial burden of what was to come became very real. Despite coming from a lower middle class family and being a 4.0 student, government financial aid and scholarships were constantly returning my applications with letters of polite refusal. I would have to pay for university with loans. 

So I was off in the world of a borrower, scouring for the most reasonable interest rates and payback plans for what would be an overwhelming expense. I felt hopeless. When I turned to my family for emotional support, I was often met with the anachronistic suggestion that was “when I was your age we worked ourselves through school.” I don’t think many in the generations before me understand how much more expensive university has become since they attended. In an article published by CNBC in November of 2017, author Emmie Martin describes the statistics of tuition cost from 1987 to 2017. In only 30 years the cost of tuition at a public institution has increased 213%, and it has increased 129% in private institutions. It has since continued rising at a rate much higher than inflation. 

While I would need a job to finance my student career, it would not be enough to keep my debt at bay. So I moved to a new city, along with the reality of my loans. I hopped from one cheap apartment to the next over the next several years, with a schedule that kept me busy almost 60 hours a week to make ends meet. When I began my senior year, I opened up to my Academic Adviser about my overwhelming stress. By then it was making me so sick and exhausted that I was unsure I’d even want to walk for commencement. She insisted I walk across that stage, as I was her “success story.” She would apparently tell others about my persistence in pursuing two extremely demanding degrees, all while maintaining a GPA above 3.0. She was so proud of me, and wanted to see me walk in celebration of my accomplishments.  I felt so supported and realized that I have a lot to be proud of, despite feeling like every day was a burden. 

Today I have 2 Bachelor’s degrees (A Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts), and about $85,000 of debt for only 5 years of higher education. To top it off, I attended my commencement alone in bed, where a robot said my name while the world was shutting down to keep a pandemic at bay. I never got to walk the stage for my Adviser, but I met with her on zoom that day and she told me to keep in touch. I know this sounds like a sob story, and it is a little bit, but to me it is a story of strength and hope. My faith has kept me strong through all of my financial disappointment. 

I had faith despite my disappointment in a system that makes debt the only option and my disappointment in myself for never slowing down to stop and be proud of myself. Everytime I wanted to shed tears for having to dip into my savings account to buy food, or peek at my loan report, God was there to say “I will provide.” I have been able to make it work day in and day out. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly, despite those things always seeming like an uncertainty. I have a long way to go when it comes to feeling financially secure, but that seems like the reality of most young adults my age living in this time. God has shown me joys in poverty that I would not have otherwise experienced if my finances came without struggle. How the bus can be a place where commuters become friends with people who take the same route every morning. How a neighborhood with a bad reputation has a strong community that holds one another up when the system brings them down. How the feeling of hunger inspires you to feed others, not just yourself. 

So what comes next? What are my plans for the future and for security? We all know with the Pandemic that plans seem unrealistic, and I think that’s the way they have always seemed to me. In the 2019 Best Picture film Parasite, a father describes poverty to his son after a severe weather event displaced them from their home. He says, “You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned… You can’t go wrong with no plans.” Although it seems like hopeless advice, there is freedom in relinquishing these anxieties to God and trusting oneself to make the right decisions. I have endless dreams and goals for sure, but no plan. Despite the vast infinity of what-ifs that cloud the future, all I can do is my best in that moment and that’s what I will continue to do. God will provide and I will let his plan guide me forward. 

Thank you Abbie! As an older adult it is helpful to hear the younger generations experience. Your attitude and faith are inspiring.

Understanding and navigating our society’s financial systems as followers of Christ can be challenging. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull – you never know who needs to hear your story.


Martin, Emmie. “Here’s How Much More Expensive It Is for You to Go to College than It Was for Your Parents.” CNBC, CNBC, 29 Nov. 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has-increased-from-1988-to-2018.html.

 Bong Joon Ho, director. Parasite. Barunson E&A, 2019.

Shirley during a visit to Kayoro, Uganda

I was able, recently, to interview one of our quite active and longtime members, Shirley Sailors. We talked about faith, giving, chosen family, and the connections between them. In my time as rector, I have come to know Shirley for her involvement in several programs, but also as an adult who has deeply invested both time, talent, and treasure in the lives of some of our children and youth. I was curious to know how those relationships emerged, and how she envisions her role in connection to these, her chosen family.

[JERED] Hello, Shirley! I know you’ve been at Saint John’s for quite a while, and you’re well known by many. But, for those who might not know you or your background here, can you give us a little insight into when you joined and how you’ve been involved over the years at Saint John’s?

 [SHIRLEY] I began attending St. John’s in April, 1982.  Laid off from my job in February and no longer having a work group, I had begun to feel the need for community.  Growing up with a church connection, it was logical to look there for compatible people.  I quickly found a “home” and being unemployed had the time to participate in a variety of activities, becoming very active very quickly.  Most of that volunteer work was involved in what is now termed Faith in Action.  Later, I also undertook more institutional responsibilities, serving on the never-ending Search Committee after the retirement of Grayson Clary and as Junior and Senior Warden in the early 1990s when Dick Lampert was Rector.  My involvement now is again primarily with Faith in Action programs, particularly the St. John’s Clinic in Kayoro and the Farmers Market and related food programs. 

[JERED] Wow! That is a long time at Saint John’s and a lot of ministries served! I know it can be hard to talk about personal matters like faith, but can you say a little about your own spirituality, what keeps you coming to church all these years, and what you take away from being a part of a faith community?

 [SHIRLEY] Community is the reason why I continue. It is people. My spiritual or religious sense is limited. I am pretty much a “here and now”, in the world, kind of person. I don’t know how many sessions on personal prayer and meditation I attended over the years at St. John’s before I recognized that just isn’t me. I find my sense of being with others as of highest value. 

[JERED] That’s helpful. And, in the church, we do place a high value on community. As you know, we refer to the church as the Body of Christ. Which means we associate our community with Jesus, with the Divine. I often wonder on baptism days if the congregation fully appreciates the promises they make to the children being presented. In a very real sense, the promises we make are on a par with the godparents and parents when it comes to supporting these children in their life and faith. It is an extraordinary thing to see that our children don’t just belong to our individual families but, through the church, they belong to our whole faith community and the Body of Christ. Does that meaning inform why community is such an important part of your connection to church?

[SHIRLEY] I suppose it is there in part. I am aware of this connection, and at times take meaning from it. But, ultimately, people are the reason, in and of themselves. I find great importance in the value of connections in community, in the people here at St. John’s.

[JERED] And, ultimately, those connections and those people are the main reason I wanted to interview you for Finance First Friday. Over the years I’ve seen how engaged you are in the lives of several of our young people. I heard, too, about your generosity in giving scholarships to help some of these kids through college. But, more than this, I could see that you had genuine friendships and deep relationships with each of them and they with you. Can you tell us a little about how those relationships emerged and evolved over the years? 

[SHIRLEY]  Because I don’t have children nor have I had close family with children, I have enjoyed “borrowing” kids over the years for fun activities as well as providing occasional relief to their parents.  As a single person looking on, I am regularly amazed by the difficulties of parenting and impressed by those who do such a good job.  I appreciate the families who have “let me in” to their lives and trusted me with their children.  Beginning with my two Godchildren, with whom I have a very special and close relationship, and continuing over the past 35 years with a number of children, primarily from St. John’s, I have been fortunate to be a non-family adult who is interested in what they’re doing and who they’re becoming.  Children can never have too many adults in their lives who care about them.  And I have the fun of attending concerts, sports events, and hearing what’s up in the lives of young people – things I would never otherwise experience. 

[JERED] It is so true that kids can never have too many caring adults in their lives.  Research backs this up even in matters of faith. In fact, the National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal study of youth across religious traditions in the U.S., found that for faith to “stick” with kids into adulthood in meaningful ways, kids needed at least 5 faithful adults in their lives. You talked about what you gained from these connections, but it is clear that you not only received meaning and joy from your relationships with these kids, they also gained so much from you. And, not just the kids. As a parent myself, I can imagine that what you did here must have meant a great deal to these kids’ parents. 

[SHIRLEY] Yes, one family let me take their toddler one afternoon after Church on Sunday for a few hours every week just so they could sleep or rest or whatever. The father was clergy, and I can only guess that Sundays are exhausting for clergy, so, yes, it was a break for them. But it was a gift for me. I got to watch this little girl grow up each week doing little girl things together with her. I remember one Sunday she pulled all the pots out of the cupboards in my kitchen and made a fun mess! You know, normal kid things. We went to parks and playgrounds. Simple stuff.

Not having kids doesn’t mean you don’t want them, like them, want to be with them. It just means I don’t have any in my house. Being with kids enabled me to do the things I liked doing – going to the zoo, the Children’s Theater, etc. I don’t have kids but I like doing things kids like to do and taking kids makes it more fun. As I realized the benefits I was gaining from these kids, I realized I wanted to give back.

[JERED] One of the ways you “gave back” was in the form of informal scholarships. Can you say more about why you chose education as one tangible way to support these kids?

[SHIRLEY] One of the difficulties of parenting these days is certainly the cost of rearing children and, especially, of sending them to college.  I am old enough that I went to school during a time when states fully supported higher education for their citizens.  The basic cost at a public university was minimal and for me the addition of a state-supported teacher education scholarship meant a semester’s tuition was $19 which included textbook rental.  I do not see how students and their parents are able to afford education at today’s prices and feel a bit guilty that it was so cheap for me.  Because I am not a parent and have been fortunate to have had a good salary and now a good retirement, I have excess funds that I enjoy using to support students that I like and with whom I’ve developed a relationship.  Ten students have so far been recipients of my Book Scholarship that pays for textbooks for undergraduate college education.  That doesn’t represent a huge amount of money but does provide some financial assistance to the students as well as helping them realize that someone outside of their family is rooting for them to succeed and willing to invest in helping them do so.

[JERED] That is really quite wonderful. I appreciate how you make sense of your own experience of receiving affordable education and “paying forward” in a sense this privilege for others who have not had the same opportunity. Does your philosophy or belief about helping others stem in any way from your faith in God? What drives your generosity?

[SHIRLEY] I feel like I have been so fortunate. Others have not. Not through any goodness or worth on my part, just by happenstance as it were, and I feel as if I need to share what I can with those who have not been as fortunate, by no fault of their own. The idea that by God’s choice some are rewarded and others are not offends me, because that is not my vision of God. I am jealous of people who have a strong concept of who God is. But I do know that such a vision of a God who shows favor to some and not others is not my own.

[JERED] Thank you for saying that. Absolutely, the image of God in our tradition is of one whose blessings are all grace – unearned and unmerited. God’s love is given to all, freely, without reservation. It is a small vision that says God’s love can be earned or that God loves some and not others. You talk about how your giving stems from a sense of appreciation for what you have and/or what you’ve been given in your own life, and I’ve heard you talk before about how it makes you feel good to be able to help these kids out in this way.

[SHIRLEY]  And there are some benefits for me in addition to “feeling good.”  For example:  I enjoy traveling, and I arranged a trip to Prague to coincide with a student friend’s junior semester abroad.  I had the chance to learn from a knowledgeable person who introduced me to the college and a different part of the city.  The other members of my Road Scholar tour, basically senior citizens, were impressed that I had such a young friend and were excited to welcome her and her roommate to join us old folks on a tour and concert.  As someone with few members of a birth family, I am grateful for these relationships as a way to deepen connections with people I see as a family of choice.

[JERED] Ultimately that is what our faith is all about – about our connections to one another not just by blood and familial relationships, but of an equal and profound bond we share with others, across boundaries of age, gender, race, and culture, through the body of Christ. Thank you, Shirley, for taking the time to share some of your story both of your connections with Saint John’s and with your family of choice and about how finance and money play a role in these. 

NO DOUBT

By the Rev. Barbara Mraz

My grandma and her youngest son, Don. The picture still calls to me. 

He was seventeen years old, barely out of high school in 1942. And hell-bent on going in the Air Force — with a war on. 

His mother — widowed at age forty with four kids — had to write a letter to the Air Force since he was underage, saying he had her approval.  I still have the letter he wrote to her, explaining why she should agree.  It is heartbreakingly sincere, clueless as to what he might encounter as a flyer.  He talks about several friends who have gone to serve their country, saying that it would be “swell” if she allowed him to go, too. 

How did she ever do it?

He ended up flying fifty missions over Germany, piloting a B-52. Four years later he made it home, not a kid any longer but still a man with a sweet spirit who went on to have a good life.

How do you make a decision with such clarity and commitment? How do you know it’s the right choice and not a terrible mistake? These are questions that have certainly not gone away.

Today our choices can feel more restrained due to the pandemic. Yet there are still things that call out to us, decisions to be made – so many that are truly life and death, even something as simple as deciding if we should go to the grocery store. 

Sunday’s Gospel is about choices, as Jesus starts his ministry by forming his “team”.  It is a deceptively-simple lesson that still calls out to us as we struggle on this cold day in January, 2021 when so much has changed and so much is still the same.  

You’ll see me in church.

Barbara

The following is a guest post by member Lea Anne Schmidt about the nature of Eucharist, and some of her own learnings and wonderings coming out of our three part Advent author series Yearning and Eucharist. Thank you, Lea Anne, for your words prayerfully offered, and for engaging so deeply with the idea of the Eucharistic life and how we can be living it even now as we are absent from regularly receiving the sacrament in person.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

by Lea Anne Schmidt

Raise your hand if you like Zoom. Anyone? If there’s any one demographic who might have their hand up, it could be the working moms. As a mother of four who works outside the home, I don’t have spare hours in my week. While I, too, tire of our Zoom existence, I do harbor appreciation for the convenience and time saved, and the opportunity to hear some new voices and perspectives from folks outside of St. Johns. 

I felt fortunate in early Advent to be able to join, along with Lydia, the Wednesday afternoon reading of “We Gather at This Table” by the Rev. Anna Ostenso Moore. Likewise, I was able to join the recent presentations by the Rev. Dr. James Farwell and the Rev. Emily Scott–while simultaneously making dinner for my family. While I probably couldn’t have dragged them to an in-person series, watching from the kitchen allowed my older kids to catch little bits of the discussion as they passed through the house. “A little” is better than “none”! 

The kitchen has at times seemed the most appropriate place to be for church. We’ve gotten so much more technologically savvy, bringing more and more of the church experience into our homes. While I miss the physical space and the live music, what I wonder most about these days is the Eucharist. The table is where I want to be.

Yet throughout my life, but especially in 2020, the kitchen was often the most tedious, frustrating place to be. I believe in trying to create sacred spaces in our homes, and modelling the values our faith calls us to act on, but incorporating a Eucharistic experience at the family table has been a challenge to me. Everytime I turn around my children are hungry, looking for food and wanting it to taste good. Some weeks, cooking has been an exhausting, even resentment-filled experience, not a sacramental moment. 

So, when I learned that our Advent read and formation series was focused on the Eucharist, I was intrigued. I ordered the books and jumped in. Even after the series finished, I have continued to pray about the Eucharist these last few weeks. Three themes remain with me in particular: community, practice, and opportunity. As the Rev. Anna Ostenso Moore signals with her book’s title, we gather at this table–wherever or whatever that table looks like. Whether it is a holiday meal over zoom, s’mores over a backyard bonfire with “our pod”, dinner in the dining room of our care facility, or the never-ending task of feeding hungry children, we can celebrate and give thanks to God. The burden of providing three meals a day–or four, when you have teenagers–is also an opportunity to practice praise and thanksgiving to God. 

While St. John’s has not offered drive-by or pickup of “communion-to-go bags” as some churches have, the writings and presentations of the guest speakers helped put this decision in perspective. Lacking the ability to gather around the table safely, to be in physical proximity with one another, their works reminded me that the Eucharist in some form, can be found in our homes and our communities with some creativity, effort, and humility.

That returns me to how difficult it can be to create a holy experience at the dinner table. In his introduction to his book, “The Liturgy Explained”, the Rev. Dr. Farwell offers the following thought:

“Rituals are not simply utilitarian; they don’t simply get something accomplished but situate the practitioners within a higher value or set of values that give life meaning. Ritualizing is centered on beliefs or values that a particular person, group, or culture, considers in some way central to their identity and flourishing. It is centered on them in the mode of practice, not simply by way of ideas.” 

For someone who wants her family table to reflect a Eucharistic experience, even just occasionally, but doesn’t love to cook or consider it one of my greatest strengths, I welcomed his emphasis on “practice”. A practice emphasizes repetition and allows–even accepts–errors. The value, as he notes, is not in the utilitarian, whether that’s the nutritional content or the wondrous mix of flavors. Rather, it is the repetition, and if there’s something lacking in the meal one night, you will have many more chances to redeem it. And along the way, the practice of the meal ritual is how we become who we are. A practice offers grace. Sometimes I feel pressure to “keep up” with folks whose food posts seem magazine worthy. I bring that perceived inadequacy along with past hurts to the kitchen in the disguise of impatience and resentment, or even worse, allow it to spill over onto my family. 

With the Eucharistic table, God provides daily forgiveness and ample opportunity to try again. There is room to put my ego aside, give thanks that I have food to cook, and try to incorporate little changes that model the values we want to enact. I have only begun exploring what that might look like. Perhaps my husband, Patrick, and I can mix up our daily dinner prayer routine. Perhaps I become more intentional around including my children in the family meal prep. Maybe we begin to share our highs and lows of the day during dinner, providing more space for thanksgiving and forgiveness. Maybe we simply share a corny joke at each meal, to offer some humor or a bit of joy during this crazy period of isolation. Whatever the changes, I am hopeful that each experiment will create more space for us, the “we” at the table, to feel the love God extends to all of us.

And then there is, even more, the reminder that we have the opportunity to extend the Eucharist to others beyond the table in the sanctuary. This became even more powerful to me this year when remembering how many would struggle to put food on the table while I was focused on planning our traditional feasts and festive treats. Quoting liturgical scholar, Robert Taft, the Rev. Dr. Farwell observes that “the purpose of Eucharist is not to change bread and wine, but to change you and me: through baptism and eucharist it is we who are to become Christ for one another and a sign to the world that is yet to hear his name.” How can I decide what to buy, what to cook, and join with a healthy family, without recognizing that these are gifts? We can also gather at a different table, seeing the work of sharing food with the hungry or the food insecure as the act of creating altars in the world. 

A while back I read a Facebook announcement from Roseville Area Schools offering free family meals. It read, “Stretch your budget. Save time. Reduce the stigma. Employ your community. Support local farmers. Family Table meals are for everyone.” I abstained from taking part, not needing to take a meal from those who needed it more. A week before Christmas I was nudged by a girlfriend to try it out, with some justification about how this would help the organization sustain their funding and “employ community workers”. So off I went, in order to “reduce the stigma.” It was dark as I pulled up beside the school. Just a few lights highlighted a white folding table and some shiny aluminum pans. In an instant, I rolled down my window and a gentleman leaned over to my car to ask how many people I was trying to feed that night. Blood rushed to my face with a mixture of emotions. There was embarrassment: Yikes! Does he think I need food to feed my family? I am here to “break the stigma”! There was bewilderment: How did I get drawn into this? And then there was gratitude: I am thankful there are nutritious meals available to everyone. What a gift! 

I have been on the flip side of donation lines and delivering meals, and have seen how their responses matched my own. I recognized these as parts of the Eucharistic experience, be it at the altar of St. John’s; a meal from the hands of my husband or a friend; or at a community altar in front of a school. Is this gift for me? Am I worthy? But, thank you

Advent is a season of longing, and even after it is over, I am still longing for the Eucharist as we knew it before 2020. But through St. John’s Advent formation, I have learned that in our long wait to return to our physical church, the more I am able to see the Eucharist unfolding in my home, our community, and throughout the world. 

I am especially grateful to our Associate Rector the Rev. Craig Lemming and our Rector the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson for dreaming up this series on the Eucharist and above all else to Ellie Watkins, our Media Specialist and Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator, for their outstanding work coordinating and communicating this series. Thank you.

If you too would like to learn more about the Episcopal churches rich Liturgy and especially the Eucharist, I encourage you to read the three books selected by our clergy. Jered’s reflection provides a wonderful introduction to each of them.

We Gather at This Table, by the Reverend Anna Ostenso-Moore (a read aloud by Anna)

For All Who Hunger, by the Reverend Emily M.D. Scott

The Liturgy Explained, by the Reverend Dr. James Farwell

I invited longtime parishioner and Godly Play Storyteller, Jay Clark, to share his wonderings about money and Christianity. I hope his thoughtful reflections inspire you to consider the role of finances in your faith journey.

Christianity offers us much hope of love and peace, but at the same time challenges us to work for these signs of the new kingdom. I often wonder if I am up to this challenge. Am I handling the things that have made up and make up 20th and 21st century life in a Christian way? How do I take the guidance and wisdom of 1,900+ year old texts and apply them to the way our society is structured and works – not least of these being the accumulation, spending, and management of money?

For me, learning how to deal responsibly with money while being true to the Christian way has much to teach about being Christian in general. It brings up so many of those things that make us human and that we must deal with – how we read the Bible, deal with power, avoid idolatry and the tendency to never be satisfied with what we have.

I often wonder whether it is possible to be both financially stable/secure and follow the ways of the New Testament. In the extreme, must we be members of an itinerant preaching community, with only one set of robes and little in our duffle, depending on the hospitality of strangers for meals, and focusing on the imminent end of this world? In modern society, would this be irresponsible, placing a burden on others and failing to care for our family members?

I find approaching the Bible literally often provides little insight – looking into the transcendent message is necessary. In other words, does one focus on the statement or the meaning? Historical context is important, but we must also relate to our current context. If we follow only the words instead of the message, we will probably run into trouble.  [As an aside, read the book “The Year of Living Biblically – One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” by A.J. Jacobs for a take on this.]  While I find the historical perspective fascinating – showing us the timelessness of the human condition, we do not live in this type of world in which the overt prescriptions may not even be relevant.

The impact of money in our society and time cannot be understated and is driven home, for me, by those who experienced the Great Depression. I sense, the lack of money created lasting impact – for my father, I think the conditions of this period influenced every decision/choice he made. 

In last fall’s finance formation series, we read about the metaphor of our economic system as a behemoth which has swallowed us – we are surrounded by it. I found this a very useful construct in helping to understand our relationship with the financial system – even if we do not agree with it, we are part of it and must deal with it – we must acknowledge it and figure out how we will navigate it. 

Two points must be made here – first, I am not condemning our system outright, I am acknowledging it is not perfect or fair. I have personally done well financially in this system, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think critically about it. Second, I think this construct is a good starting point, but we need to go beyond the model. Most of us are not completely helpless in this system. We do have some control here – we can make decisions about how we will function within this system.

For me, religion’s heart is about control of the ego and renouncing idolatry. Today, we must be actively engaged with money management, but we cannot let it become our obsession. We must trust, at some point, we are doing enough. We must trust that we have enough and not get caught up in the game of having the most “toys” or sacrificing the goodwill of others for accumulation. Money is not the end.

Along with this, we also need to understand that, in our current societal setup, money is power; therefore, we can use our money dealings to distribute power ethically. The Bible, both Jewish scripture and the New Testament, teach us about the trappings of power and how it can be misused – with David, the Herods, and Pilate as examples of how power can consume. Power is not, in and of itself, always negative and the Bible also shows us just exercise of power – the tolerance of Cyrus the Persian and the judgement of King Solomon. We must choose how we will exercise this power. We must respect that this condition exists even if we don’t agree with it. Work to change what we can, to mitigate the unfairness and negatives.

That’s a lot of heavy stuff and warnings. I must state that money can do good – it enables opportunities for us and others. Money, used well, can also enable joy. This is an area I have thought much about recently considering ours and the broader communities’ discussion of the impact of systemic racism.

In the end, I look to a contemporary of the Bible for direction. I think that Aristotle’s Golden Mean applies here – everything in moderation. Savings, consumption, charity all need to be in the mix – when one component gets too much attention then it must be confronted. This requires us to be engaged, to be thinking about our decisions. The key is to actively engage and make decisions as a Christian.

So, can the financially well-off be Christian – yes, I hope so, but it takes reflection and work. We must manage these resources responsibly and use them as a tool to achieve the kingdom (we are in this for the long term!)  In the end, money and power are not the way, they are there, but the way is love and peace. We cannot let other pursuits lessen or distract from this.

Thank you, Jay, sharing your insightful contemplations is a gift for us all!

Understanding and navigating our society’s financial systems as followers of Christ can be challenging. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull – you never know who needs to hear your story.

A Cosmic Gospel

                                

by the Rev. Barbara Mraz

“’Christ,’” says theologian Richard Rohr, “is not the last name of Jesus!”

We know that, yet it’s easy to forget. If only the little word “the” hadn’t dropped away. Jesus “the” Christ.

But that statement is hardly the most troubling of those I found researching for the sermon tomorrow. Read on.

Already the First Sunday after Christmas arrives tomorrow, Dec. 27 along with what is one of my favorite readings: John 1:1-18.

John basically writes a new creation story – “In the beginning,” he says. It’s a cosmic story that says nothing about the little town of Bethlehem. But it has a lot more to say!

So that troubling thing? I looked up the word: “Christ” in the dictionary. The first definition was as expected: “Messiah, anointed one, etc.”

But the second definition was this (the second!) “Christ: an oath used to express irritation, dismay, or surprise. ‘Oh Christ,’ he moaned under his breath.’”

I think we used to call that “taking the name of God in vain” but now it’s almost business as usual in prime time…. And it’s an easy pattern to slip into ourselves. That, and “Jee-zus!”

There is a lot to consider tomorrow as we look at the beginning of “The Fourth Gospel.” It’s still Christmas and yes there will be church. And with John’s help, we will blast off into the heavens.

You will see us there– in church.

Barbara

Longtime parishioner, Judy Southwick, has faced a difficult few years with her characteristic grace and humor. I invited Judy to share her journey and her money narrative with us, that we may be as courageous and vulnerable.

That day, a group of fellow parishioners gathered on Zoom to discuss the book Integrating Money and Meaning by Maggie Kulyk. The discussion leader asked everyone to think back to their earliest remembrance of their family’s conversation around money. In the small group session, it didn’t take long for me to say out loud, “There was never enough!”

Immediately I felt shame and resentment. It hurt to acknowledge in front of others that I’d grown up poor. Old memories immediately came to mind.  Wearing my older cousin’s hand-me-downs. Asking to go to day camp and hearing my mom respond, “We don’t have any money for that.” Getting a used bike for my birthday; the paint was chipped, and it didn’t even come with handlebar streamers! 

My small group listened very respectfully. That day, I felt comfortable sharing out loud a family truth. But for most of my life, money has meant anxiety to me. My earliest reality of not having enough money in the family has followed me right up to the present time.  

Both my parents stressed that whenever we received any money, we needed to save it. I was 15 when I got my first job and worked steadily until I was 70. Not having enough money to retire was always in the back of my mind. Being divorced and alone for several years also guided my thoughts. I had to care for myself and not depend on a partner to impact my income. After so many years of worrying, it was actually a surprise to find that careful savings, Social Security, and retirement income have allowed a comfortable life without a job. When I retired, I had enough.

I had a traumatic fall a year ago and broke my hip. My health insurance covered my injuries, but there was much more to deal with. I spent almost two months learning to walk again. I suffered fear and anxiety. But I wasn’t alone. St John’s reached out to me for assistance. Members showed up on Sundays at the hospital to bring me communion and pray for me. I was assigned my own care committee that came to my home to visit once I healed; they listened and offered suggestions for going forward. After my fall, I kept reliving my accident. In addition to the church care team I sought professional counseling. The counselor diagnosed anxiety. She listened to my fears and guided me through several exercises, and I was finally able to get past the trauma. When I needed support, I had enough.

In May of this year, my high-rise apartment complex had a fire on the 11th floor (my apartment is on the 7th floor). Returning after the fire to check out any damage, I noticed my carpet was damp but didn’t discern any other damage at the time. I filed a claim with my insurance to replace my carpet and I felt confident I would have enough money to cover whatever the insurance wouldn’t.

It turned out that water had rolled through the ceiling and traveled behind the walls into my cupboards and damaged the whole kitchen. My carpet had to be replaced—and so did almost everything else in the apartment. I knew this would be a huge financial stress. It left me in fear of my future. Who would take care of me? The uncertainty of my existence was overwhelming.

Integrating Money and Meaning suggests our goal should be to have our money align with our spiritual lives and our heart center. We need to discern what truly matters to us and create a “courageous vision”. We can start out small. To deepen my path I have tried to answer: “What makes me happy?”

Happiness comes from the online Zoom classes St John’s offers during the pandemic and their discussions that open my eyes. The church’s book group is another activity that deepens my path. When I thank God for all my blessings, I have enough.

Managing my money in these uncertain times has made me a little proud of myself. I think the feeling of “not having enough” will always be a part of my existence and who I am.  But not having enough as a child has guided me to be a better saver and careful money manager. I did find an excellent financial planner to work with me as well.

My sister and I often talk about how our childhood experience of not having enough created insecurity and a sense of inferiority measured against others, but it also taught us to not spend what we don’t have. We learned to save for what we needed. 

As an adult I saved for one purchase I had to have. I bought a brand-new Schwinn bicycle with handlebar streamers, a horn, and all.  When I was riding my bike, I had the biggest smile on my face. I knew I had enough!

Thank you Judy, sharing your story is truly a gift to us all!

Discussing the truth about the meaning of money in our lives can be difficult but, as we learnt in the book discussions, telling your story is essential in order to witness it objectively and consciously. And to do it not with judgement and fear, but with clear eyed honesty. Maybe this is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. And, so, we invite you to share your financial stories and resources. To write a post, share resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.

THE BRIDGE

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bridge, a walkway, a shortcut to that time in 2021 when there is a Covid vaccine, things open back up, and we all feel safe again? 

I love Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, a widely-known writer, preacher and teacher. It’s kind of a little joke how often I cite her work in sermons. Here she discusses the complicated issue or religious faith or belief. She says:

 “Belief is not a well-fluffed nest, or a well-defended castle high on a hill. It is more like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge, sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hang onto except the stories you have heard; that is the best and only way across….”

Faith is a bridge from here to there and what we hang on to when crossing the bridge are the stories. Those we have heard from others that inspire us and the stories of the Scripture we hear read at every single church service, virtual or otherwise. Taylor goes on: 

All you have to do is believe in the bridge more than you believe in the gorge bur fortunately you do not have to believe in it all by yourself. There are others to believe it with you and even seek to believe it for you when your own belief wears thin.”

That’s one reason we have church. 

Here the stories again on Sunday — on New Year’s Eve! It’s the last Sunday of the “old” church year before Advent follows. Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew is a doozy: sheep, goats, heaven and hell. Taylor says that “Matthew gives me a pain” but she doesn’t really mean it. Well, not completely. 

See you Sunday.

Barbara

Here she is: