Archive for October, 2012



I was in New York a week ago and frankly, the subway freaks me out.  Less lyrical and poetic than the Metro in Paris where the street musicians bring their accordions and Les-Miserable-looking children into the cars to perform and the name of each stop sounds like poetry,  the New York subway system seems to exist in the dark  bowels of the earth in its own eerie world of rumblings and rush.

Yet who could have imagined the subways would ever be closed, that water would flood the streets of Brooklyn and the lower East Side, and that the scenic Jersey shore would be ravaged by hurricane-force winds?

Who could have imagined anything knocking the election coverage off the front page?

Or that anything could close the stock exchange?

Enter Superstorm Sandy.

Like a formidable Minnesota blizzard, there are times when nature simply shuts things down, no matter how important, no matter how reliable.  Stops it all.  Then we remember that electricity is not a given, that transportation doesn’t always work, and that our world as we know it is not guaranteed always to be there.

When a really big storm hits, planes, trains and ships lay low.  And we do, too.  Separated from many of the usual forms of diversion, escapism, consumerism, and work, a coziness can settle over life in our homes, an unfamiliar gratitude, a slower pace.  Hence as a student and then as a teacher, two of the happiest words ever were “Snow Day.” An unplanned respite, a broad space of unscheduled time, a day without the usual obligations.  Yay….

A storm, super, snow or otherwise, is a reminder of human dependency on factors beyond our control and that can be disturbing.

In the New York of the 1920’s, the Plaza Hotel was one of the tallest and grandest buildings in the city. (Ernest Hemingway advised Minnesota writer F Scott Fitzgerald to give his liver to Princeton and his heart to the Plaza.)  But Fitzgerald wrote than when he first went up to the roof of the Plaza at night and looked out over the city, he was profoundly disappointed.  He saw that far from being the endless, magnificent stream of light that went on forever, it was surrounded by a dark wasteland as vast and dismal as the city was glorious.  New York had limits.

Besides doing terrible physical damage, a  storm can remind us that we human have limits.    Which can be a good thing, as we remember that the God we worship does not.

Now…..what if the Internet went down……

See you in church.


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Listening and Welcoming

Because I want to make sure the following message is heard in as many venues as possible, this will also be replicated in the November Evangelist.  Please don’t hesitate to call me with questions or concerns.

Dear Friends,

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”

So writes Henri Nouwen in his pithy book Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, acknowledging the difficult truth that the life faithfully lived, especially in community, needs ample space, silence, and opportunities to listen.  We’ve been doing a lot of talking at St. John’s of late – especially about the upcoming Marriage Amendment and our subsequent support of the Vote No movement in the state of Minnesota – and while there is surely more conversation to be had, your parish leadership is also aware that now is also a time for listening.

We’ve been doing some of that listening already, particularly about the vestry decision to support the “Vote No” movement and our subsequent posting of a banner to the same effect on Summit Avenue.  For every 10 comments in favor of those decisions, there is 1 or 2 that feel less than favorable.  A few of you have articulated that in one way or another the words we’ve been saying about this issue, whether it has been the content of those words, or how we’ve said them, have left you feeling alienated from St. John’s.  This is regrettable.

At the end of the day, the actions of the vestry, the words of our sermons, the forums and special speakers have aimed, in the broadest sense, at creating space for listening and conversation.  In the end, that’s what voting “no” does, it allows the conversation about marriage to continue.

If you disagree – if you think churches shouldn’t get involved in political movements or if you are going to vote “yes” on the marriage amendment and you are feeling alienated from St. John’s as a result – you need to hear that you are still welcome here.  This church’s support of the Vote No movement does not mean we think you have to follow suit.  Unlike some churches, we truly believe you ought to vote your conscience.  No matter if you disagree with the decisions and direction our parish has taken on the marriage amendment, the reality is we all still have so much in common and so much we share.

Yes, St. John’s decided to take a stand on this issue.  That decision emerges from a process of conversations, listening, and from longstanding relationships in this parish.  At the end of the day though, St. John’s is a community whose embrace is wider than one issue or one position.  We mean it when we pray “build us up in the knowledge and love of God, that we may welcome all people into this community of faith”.

If you have lingering concerns about this issue or any other, if you are feeling disconnected from St. John’s or if you just need to vent, please know that I’m available as are the other clergy and the wardens.  We’d be honored to listen and we’d love to hear from you.



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The cold is here.
It will freeze hard some night soon. I’ve already taken the spent annuals        out of the pots, enjoying working outside in the warm sun. I’ve had the furnace checked. Gotten a flu shot. Had lunch at a sidewalk café last week: The air was clear; the red and gold leaves vibrant, electric; everything more precious because the cold is coming again.
I like some things about winter, but dread others. I feel more vulnerable then, and the increased darkness is foreboding. And it’s so long.
I’m planting my tulip bulbs this week. I’m reminded of what the writer E.B. White observed when he saw his wife planting tulip bulbs in late October in Kansas: “There she was, calmly plotting the resurrection.”
Resurrection may be hard-wired into us in more ways than we think. In our trust that spring will come again, that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that winter has gifts that will come to us unexpectedly.
Nonetheless, am amassing resources for the long haul. Here is a meditation from one on whom I rely a lot, Bishop Steven Charleston:

“Here is a prayer for the hollow places, for the hollow people, for the emptiness inside. How often our lives are determined by the need to fill something within us, something stolen away when we were small, something that has long gone missing. So tender is this space we rarely speak of it in public, but shelter down in our souls to hold it hidden. It can make us brittle. It can make us rage or cry or fear. We can seek to fill it with power or pills, drink or drama, but wake more empty than before. Come good Spirit and give us the love that heals the hollow we know but never name.”

And that healing is resurrection.

See you in church.


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Sunday blew through the doors of St. John’s, a whirling flurry of white surplices and giggling children.  After the last notes of the oboe floated up into the rafters and the bulletins were collected from the pews, the altar cleared, and coffee consumed, I shuffled into the nave of the church to have a sit and to take a moment to soak in the stillness.  As the afternoon light cut silent trails through the settling dust I enjoyed the rare chance to just be in that space, to sit where so many of you sit week in and week out.  And, sitting there, the echoes of Psalm 62 came back to me in that moment – my soul in stillness waits.

Fall, this season peppered with back-to-school and a rush of activity, resists the pull of our soul toward silence and stillness.  After a summer of leisure, of lakeside retreats and books on the porch, autumn brings with it an over-industrious urge.  The promise of winter propels some of us into a forced productivity and busy-ness.  During the months of September, October, and November the voice in my head seems to shout “Hurry, hurry, hurry! – Get it all done!”  At the same time, the voice in my heart cries out – “Slow down! Rest! Wait!”

Waiting is often a theme more closely linked with the coming season of Advent – yet here, in “ordinary time”, in the busy season of harvest, the need for waiting and watching is as vital as any other time in our lives.  Only as we pause, only as we sit, only as we wait, can we tumble to the knowledge of who and whose we are.   When we stop and when we are quiet, we can silence the urgent voices of both our head and our heart and hear the one that is both still and small whispering to us “Come to me and rest. Come to me for refuge.  Come to me and be made whole.”

This is a message that transcends creed and that finds resonance in both sacred and secular realms.  One of my favorite bands in a recent song on their new album puts voice to the longing for restoration in a song simply titled “I Will Wait”.  If you’re a fan of rambling and rowdy bluegrass music, give it a listen, and even if you are not, the words stand on their own as a poetic testament to the need we each have, to pause, to wait, and to find in our waiting, the embrace of the One whose love knows no bounds.

And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun

And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

And I will wait, I will wait for you

See you in church.



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