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This month parishioner and retired Religious Studies Professor, Paula Cooey, shares her thoughts on and experiences with Theology and Finance.

Theology addresses questions of who God is and what God has to do with human life. These past few months we have focused on personal finance in a variety of ways. This week we look at a partial view of what God has to do with such matters. The Church rightly focuses on giving: giving time, material resources, self in service to others, not to mention God’s gifts to us daily in our solitude and in community. The God of scripture, history, and for many of us, experience focuses heavily on need, however, our own as well as that of others. From a Christian perspective God so focuses on need that God becomes incarnate, one of us, to suffer what we suffer, even unto death, with us. God’s economy places heavy emphasis on need.

In my own experience, I readily admit to spiritual impoverishment. I wouldn’t be at the altar taking the sacraments otherwise. By contrast, I find it almost impossible to admit to material need, not in this society, so defined by independence and self-sufficiency. Yet, in scripture, note the Gospel of this past Sunday, God not only values those in material need front and center, but places a heavy emphasis on the poor persisting to get their needs met. In Luke 18:1-11 even the judge who respects neither God nor people grants justice to the persistent widow (widows noteworthy for their poverty). My childhood experience further exemplifies how need and persistence in the face of need, God’s and ours, challenges today’s central values.

When I was a little girl, my mother—a dance teacher—and my father—a lawyer—prospered.  During this time my mother taught dance lessons all over the county to anyone who wanted to learn to dance. It didn’t matter whether they were any good at it; a desire to learn was all she required. She charged a dollar a class lesson and two dollars for private lessons. Her classes flourished though not everybody could pay cash. For them she worked out an alternative. One of the mothers dressed both my mother’s hair and mine once a month in exchange for a month’s lessons for her son and daughter. Another, who worked at the Lovable Brassiere Company, got lessons for all four of her children for making some of our clothes and for feeding my sister and me dinner once a week. In addition, we got produce. We got eggs. It was a wealth of material goods. For those who couldn’t pay because the father had been laid off by Lockheed, or there were unexpected medical expenses, well, she just carried them until things got better. If the mother of such a family was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had gone wrong, Mama just point blank asked when the child quit coming to classes. Mama and her clients operated on a mixed economy of money, bartering, and welfare, depending on need and ability to pay. Like the early churches of Paul’s time, they simply shared what they had according to what was needed. Growing up with Mama taught me to share, to enjoy giving, to want to give.pikwizard-bd495b667141dc6e5ad9c110420f8c24

Times changed for us. My mother’s classes dwindled almost to nothing as my father’s law practice dissolved into alcoholism. We lost our house, at which point my mother divorced my father (heavily stigmatized where I grew up). She was forced to beg her own parents who forked over their meager life savings for the down payment on a new house. She persisted in finding work until the Director of the YWCA hired her for a low paying job. We continued to live in debt. She was never able to pay my grandparents back; she was never able to finish her college degree in order to get a higher paying job. I had the good fortune to go to college on a full scholarship with part time work right on through graduate school. My siblings also worked, my sister who graduated from college at the age of 42, and my brother who now owns a successful business. My mother died debt free. We kids turned out fine over the long haul. Nevertheless, all three of us still remember the shame felt about the divorce of our parents, our father’s alcoholism, and the loss of our home. I also remember that had my mother’s poor, ageing parents not stepped up with all their savings, had my mother not persuaded the Director of the YWCA to hire her even though she had no college degree, had scholarships not come through for me, the story could have been more tragic. It was dependency, not prosperity, followed up by persistence in need, not pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, all the way down.

My mother taught me to give graciously. Our poverty, her persistence, and my shame have hopefully taught me empathy. I still feel the shame of our past need, but I recognize this as a symptom of the times in which I live that has no role to play in God’s economy. Were I to fall into poverty again, I hope I would have the courage to ask, to persist in seeking justice, not only for others, but for myself.

God’s economy places the dependent front and center—whether due to loss of material resources (the Prodigal Son), lack of sufficient material resources (the widow and her mite), loss of health (the woman with a flow or hemorrhage), or Paul, economically dependent, in order to do God’s work. As it turns out, God is all about needing, acknowledging need, and persisting in getting need met. As Mathew points out, it is in the faces of the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, and the outcast that we find God’s face. We as agents of God are called to recognize material need as well as spiritual from birth to death both in the lives of others and in our own lives for need, like gift, is crucial to Incarnation.

Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact executive administrator Sarah Dull.

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“Weird Preacher”

We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.”

John Wesley.

Really?

I saw this on an online site called “The Weird Preacher.”  Usually there is good stuff here but this gave me pause.  It’s certainly not the prevailing wisdom of the day. Now we are encouraged to try and feel good about ourselves, have more confidence, and celebrate our accomplishments.

At least that’s the word for women who are often too hard on themselves. Yet I also don’t know many men who are “rigorous in judging themselves.” Certainly not our federal leadership!

However, this is the message of Sunday’s Gospel. The Tax Collector has no mercy for himself (well, he is a real swindler) while the Pharisee sings his own praises in healthy 21stcentury style, yet Jesus is very displeased with him.

Of course, there’s more to the story than this but I know that in this story the Pharisee is my guy (as Elisha was Craig’s “guy” two weeks ago).  Scripturally incorrect, but there it is.

Society is relentless in demanding we prove ourselves and often we all take the bait.  Hard to believe we don’t have to.

More on Sunday as we talk about the quaint, antique idea of “humility.”

See you in church.

Barbara

 

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By Lea Anne Schmidt,
Coordinator of Growth & Member Engagement

Each week we have the privilege of worshipping with an average of 3 to 6 first-time visitors. And during the last program year, St. John’s welcomed over 25 new members! This fall you will surely see some faces of fellow parishioners whom you recognize but haven’t had the opportunity to meet. Our parish is growing and with that, we multiply the opportunities to cultivate new relationships and friendships through worship, ministry, and prayer.

This program year, St. John’s has adopted a theme of Seeing through God’s eyes, Noticing each of God’s beloved, and Welcoming with God’s love. The joy of noticing and welcoming our new members belongs to each person in the parish. To name just a few examples: You may hear new voices in the choir this fall with the addition of Courtney Veszi and Beth Rhodes. If you attend a weekday morning prayer service, you will be praying alongside Jayan Nair, the primary morning prayer officiant. And when stopping by the office on a Tuesday afternoon, Marjorie Rapp will most likely be the one to greet you. All of these members have been profiled in The Evangelist in the past, and in this issue we are introducing you to two more households who joined the church in May.

Our newest members have courageously jumped into life at St. John’s with both feet. Please meet their enthusiasm by noticing new faces and taking a moment to introduce yourself. Ask them what they love about the ministry they serve or the liturgy they attend, and let them know we appreciate the energy, presence, prayers, and voices that they bring to our faith community.

Andrew Fox

Andrew grew up in Hastings; his family goes back six generations in Dakota County. At Augsburg College, he majored in Medieval Studies and Religion. He first attended St. John’s at a Compline service a few years ago. The rich liturgy, music, and welcoming atmosphere have made him feel very much at home here. He’s grateful to have been recently confirmed and now be a “full-fledged Episcopalian!”

He loves visiting museums, especially the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the American Swedish Institute. He works for the Minnesota Historical Society and has a great fondness for historic houses.

Phillip & Julia Takemura Sears

Julia grew up in Japan and Iowa, while Phillip (having a father who worked on army bases) moved around a lot. They were actually both born in Maryland, but didn’t meet until attending Iowa State University together.

Julia, a digital archivist, loves to sing, dance, draw, paint, do voice acting, and roller skate. Phillip loves telling stories with friends.

Phillip first came to St. John’s as a staff singer. He says, “As a singer for church services, I have sung in many congregations of which I was not formally a part of.  Julia and I decided that we wanted to sing and also join the church we sing for.” Julia adds, “I ended up joining the choir and have kept coming ever since. I also keep coming back because this church seems to be about open-minded thinking and universal love.”

Originally published in the September/October 2019 Evangelist.

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LOST

Most of us dread getting lost, losing our bearings, our reference points, and the sight of familiar people and landmarks.

The cliché is that men don’t like asking for directions but women have no problem with it. Not taking a position here. Actually today, virtually no one asks for directions anyway!

As someone who has a negative sense of direction, I consider the GPS one of the Ten Greatest inventions of All Time, ranking right up there with electricity. Of course I also use MapQuest before a drive to places unknown, just in case the GPS doesn’t work. I also have a “key finder” and am a prolific list-maker so I don’t lose track of – well, anything. You can’t be too careful if you’re directionally challenged. Or scared of losing your way.

The Gospel for Sunday is about getting lost – and then being found. It’s a popular parable referencing lost sheep and missing coins. It has led me to consider a variety of connected topics, like loneliness. Loneliness is a form of lost-ness.

The studies are unanimous that loneliness is a rampant problem in the America of 2019. Since it should be so much easier for people to connect with each other, you wonder why so many people suffer with isolation.

I drive through several college campuses in my neighborhood and notice that the vast majority of students are walking alone, many of them on their phones. I see very few students having impassioned conversations or having any conversations at all. The same in my neighborhood. I’ve been there for twelve years and know a couple of people – but certainly not well. I can’t help but remember my parents’ neighborhood (they DID live there for 60 years but still) where neighbors were their best friends, almost like family members.

Some say that you should challenge yourself periodically by intentionally risk getting lost so as to open yourself to new experiences and people. What comes to mind is one of my favorite documentaries by my hero Ken Burns: “Lewis and Clark, The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.”

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson sent four dozen men in two oversized canoes up the Missouri River to encounter the “new land” and the people who lived there. They got lost many times, were rescued by the native inhabitants, and pushed on to the Pacific.

For Lewis and Clark, getting lost provided amazing gifts: the beauty of the land, the extent of its resources, the kindness of the people who lived there, and undiscovered resources within themselves.

And us?

“I once was lost, and now am found…. “

It is amazing grace that challenges us, saves us, and leads us home.

And it is ours.

See you in church.

Barbara

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After limiting my exposure to the news and social media for health and sanity reasons, tonight at 11 PM I checked in after finishing some writing and there it was: “Trump insults heckler’s weight.”

The portly president telling someone in the crowd they could stand to lose a few pounds? I flash back to his comments about ”horse-face” women and his ruthless pantomime of a handicapped person.

Clearly, acting “presidential” has been left behind long ago,

But instead of screaming, I just feel like crying.

Every single day, there is another outrage, a new insult, another scathing blow to an individual or group. My reaction is visceral.

When I try with all my heart to listen to 45’s supporters, the vast majority of the time they start talking about Obama. Where can you possibly go with that?

If I wanted to, I have the lessons to work with on Sunday to blast away at the Washington insanity. The Gospel talks about Jesus promising to bring division, not peace. In fact, he’s furious, almost out of his mind with anger about what he has to go through and the state of the world.

Me too.

I am so defeated by the constancy of it all that I am worn down, like I have PSTD. So I will focus on to the equally-scathing epistle (talk about violent language!) with its beautiful concluding words about the “cloud of witnesses,” that is people who have helped us know how to live. Three people who exemplify character, courage and creativity for me: “A Nun, a Bishop, and a Sinner”. Not one of them meek and mild.

The thing is, there are people who are upset on Sundays if the preacher isn’t traditionally “spiritual” enough and gets into political* (I would say moral) territory. There are others who are upset if the preacher ignores it. There are people who see church as a refuge from the world and others who see it as a place to confront the world.

So you say a few prayers, lead with the Gospel and follow the prompting of the Voice within that you just can’t ignore. None of us is cavalier about this, I assure you. We agonize over these decisions.

See you in church.

Barbara

(*And if you’re worried about these words are too “political,” expect a little tutorial Sunday on the separation of church and state. I’ve done research.)

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Episcopalians believe that we shape our faith through interactions with Scripture, Church teachings, and our own reason and experience.

We will be working with two of the three this fall in Bible Study on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month from 10:00 until 11:30 at St. John’s in the library.
Facilitated by the Rev. Barbara Mraz, the group will be working with the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday.

Everyone is welcome but, if you haven’t done so already, please email Barbara to let her know you are coming.

Pictured is Barnabas, probably at a group studying Scripture.

Be like Barnabas.

Come to Bible study.

barbara.mraz@ymail.com

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THE DAY AFTER

 

 

 

 

by Barbara Mraz

An older Hmong woman tries to seat herself at the picnic table and has to force her leg over the seat. I nod and smile at her, like “Me too.”

Did she smile back at me? Is there an instant of connection here? I’m not sure. Walking among the tables later, I try to make self-disparaging comments about myself (“I’m always dropping things!” Gotta love dessert, right?”) but no one responds. I feel stupid. I so want to connect……

It’s the annual picnic for St. John’s and Holy Apostles, a primarily-Hmong congregation in St. Paul. We’re in the picnic shelter at beautiful Lake Phalen on a Minnesota-perfect early August day. I imagine the Feeding of the Five Thousand was on such a glorious day. We would probably have enough food for them, too.

I arrive here battered and teary after hearing about the second of the shootings last night in Ohio. I haven’t felt this vulnerable since 911. No one really wants to talk about it with me it so I mentally regroup, still sensing how vulnerable we are in such a gathering. God, I hope that is not the new normal…

Yet it is a glorious sight: Hmong people are sitting at picnic tables next to European-Americans and a few African-American people; the celebrants are a Hmong-American woman named Bao and Craig from Zimbabwe (he of the majestic voice); a young musician named Richard from SJE is accompanying the singing, along with a Russian from Belarus named Sergei who is playing the accordion; a very tall verger – Bob–in a knee-length verger ensemble towers over the four acolytes from Holy Apostles. Across the table from me is a woman who recently was a regular at the 8:00 service but now has lost her sight. The preacher is named “Romero” and greets us in Spanish and gives an inclusive invocation evoking several religions.

On the surface at least, we are Diversity Personified (maybe not economically though) and I breathe it in as my German-Norwegian ancestry recedes a little from its usual dominant Minnesota position. It is a relief.

The service is accompanied by the sounds of children playing outside the shelter and women talking while preparing food in the nearby kitchen; clouds of smoke ascend as the barbecue grills cook hamburgers for the picnic; Lake Phalen glistens in the sunlight; voices in two languages blend as we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

There is a sweet sweet Spirit in this place today.

The Martha’s are in the kitchen preparing food and laying it out; the Mary’s are in “church” – superficial distinctions, to be sure. A soft breeze blesses us as we listen to the Rev. Daniel Romero a UCC clergyman and tireless worker for immigrant justice. He mentions the sacred Episcopal name “Whipple,” in connection with the Whipple building at Fort Snelling which is now used by ICE to hold and process immigrants for deportation several times a month, information which elicits an audible gasp from me.

It is a masterful sermon with cringe-worthy statistics. Rarely do I throw twenty bucks in the offering plate unplanned, but the Rev, Romero brings me to this point where I feel I have no choice. I go up to him after the service: “I’m a pretty good speaker and a decent writer and I have time. What do you want me to do?” There is a gracious response. He thanks me. He will be in touch soon.

I am intrigued by Sergei, who is the resident musician at Holy Apostles. I can tell he is Russian Orthodox from the way he crosses himself. Sergei, I find out, has been here since 2006, having to leave his family in Belarus because there were only funds for one person to emirate. He worked to establish a place for his wife and two daughters and also to get together the $1000 a piece for “the papers” necessary to bring them here, finally in 2016. He is a composer and has much of the thoughtful melancholy I associate with Russians I have known (“It’s all about the money,” he tells me, referring to the immigration process), as well as artistic flair. Playing the keyboard, his hands dance.

We send forth the pilgrims: campers from Holy Apostles headed for the Boundary Waters; Sheryl and Jennifer, going to the St John’s Clinic in Uganda.

It is an international world here today.

I am sitting at a table with Marv and Sue and I ask the older Hmong woman sitting next to Marv about something on her plate. Struggling with the language, she says it is cabbage and proceeds to give me a bunch of it. And then some to Marv. And to Sue.

Later I tease Marv about being in the clean plate club. In a few minutes he has an egg roll on his plate. His Hmong neighbor is softly giggling as she keeps putting food on his plate whenever it’s empty. A small but genuine connection here and I try not to make too big a deal of it but I am loving it very much.

This is such a fine day but I can’t help but think that the people heading for the Walmart or to the streets of Dayton thought they were in safe territory, too. And yet we are so vulnerable to the next crazed white male who comes packing heat and sprays bullets around like confetti at a birthday party. This seems like the elephant in the room and I wonder if we should all be talking about it openly. I would love to hear what some of the Hmong community think about this. Why do I not have the courage or energy to ask?

No I think the cabbage is a better strategy.

I feel like a Viking giant next to these short, compact people. I am trying not to loom or tower over them, to smile a lot, and to ask questions. I will ask even more questions next time (while not looming or towering).

And then Russian Sergei launches into “The Beer Barrel Polka” on the accordion and we are in Minnesota again.

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