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AN HOUR

Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I’m detecting less energy in the culture for celebrating Christmas this year. Most people I know say they’re forgetting the Christmas cards and dialing back on the entertaining, especially with what can be the daunting world of food allergies and preferences. And not enough time…

My grandsons don’t seem to want much that I can afford except X-box cards (wince). Some friends say they’re buying fewer gifts because people “have everything”. Fewer people are going on cookie-baking marathons because they’re watching calories, or cutting back on the outdoor lights to save energy (unless you live next door to the rector, that is. There are not only Santa and mangers, there are Christmas penguins! It’s something to see….)

And each year as we get older, the holiday “baggage” may increase, with painful memories and more empty seats at the table.

As for me, I take solace in the old Christmas movies from the 1940’s: “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” “Christmas in Connecticut.” In some ways, the present landscape is so depressing – especially politically and with the planet in such peril – that I need to get away for awhile to a different set of problems. World War II and its clear-cut patriotism permeates these films, with soldiers in uniform and beautiful ballads… “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Let It Snow,” “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing…”

Still, we come to church, to hear the stories, to listen to the music, to pray the prayers, to receive the Bread and Wine, to be a part of the community, and to have an hour to be quiet amidst the bustle.

This week, the wild man John the Baptist strides into the picture, the desert ascetic, outrageous, offending the wrong people, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and later wondering if he is indeed “the One.” John, who must have been a huge disappointment to his priestly father. John, whose appearance we know more about than anyone else in Scripture. John, whose passion for speaking out cost him…. well, that happens later.

I thought the picture above was good with the hair…

Church is a constant for many of us, a community, a place to ask the Big Questions, a place for the head and the heart.

“Could you not watch with me for one hour?” Jesus asked his sleeping Disciples on Maundy Thursday. Each Sunday morning, maybe he asks the same of us?

See you in church.
It will be about an hour.

Barbara

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GET RID OF THIS STUFF!

by The Rev. Barbara Mraz

How embarrassing to find things in your basement from decades ago, especially when those things are beyond stupid. “Who the heck gave me THIS?” you wonder. Was I ever so unsophisticated as to think this was funny?

Then there was the day I found Big Mouth Billy Bass. Here is what a recent Internet posting said about it:

First released in April 2000, Big Mouth Billy Bass wasn’t just a hit, he was a cultural sensation. The premise was simple: comprised of realistically fishy rubber and plastic mounted on a trophy plaque, the Big Mouth Billy Bass was typically hung over a mantle or fireplace. On first glance, the fish looked real — perhaps a taxidermy prize from a relative’s fishing expedition? Walk past him, however, and the head would abruptly swivel away from the wall to face the room. After a slight pause, he would sing.

Remember, this was back in 2000, a time when Tickle-Me-Elmo and Furby had ushered in a national obsession with cute, animated toys. Initially, Big Mouth Billy Bass was genuinely startling. “It was magic,” remembers Jason McCann, chief executive of Gemmy Industries. “People wanted to show their friends so they could watch their reactions.”
Tweets, Facebook posts, Vines and YouTube videos didn’t yet exist; Billy Bass went viral anyway. Restaurants lined their walls with the talking fish, DJs played the “fish song” (back then, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “Take Me to the River”) in venues across the country, and Billy Bass appeared on talk shows. At first, stores sold out so fast that waitlists were implemented. “We sold millions and millions and millions,” says McCann.

Maybe I bought this thing for a Christmas present one year for my dad and then my brother must have stuck Billy into the pile of stuff I was bringing home when we cleaned out our parents’ house?

Ha ha.

Well, Billy has just crooned his last melody because he is in the pile of stuff in my car for the monthly trip to the Goodwill, along with boxes of books, bags of clothes, and container after container of “housewares.”

It seems that I am in a continual state of “decluttering,” simplifying, and downsizing to make my life saner and my surroundings less frantic. My kids gifted me with the best-selling Marie Kondo book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tiding Up” in which she says you shouldn’t keep anything that isn’t useful or doesn’t bring you “joy.”

What if we applied the same principles to religious faith: disregarding what is outdated, no longer works, or is down right embarrassing intellectually? What would make the cut? What would be left? Why does it matter?

Well, it matters a lot when people are leaving churches by the thousands (Star-Tribune, November 11 2018, “Fastest Growing Religion Is None”).

Asked another way, what is the irreducible minimum that is necessary for Christianity? It may not be what you think….

One of the things a faith must have for me is a sense of humor, even if it’s simply the difference in how we perceive things now from when the texts were written. One of my favorite lines in this respect is from Sunday’s first lesson, from I Samuel. Here Hannah is having trouble conceiving a child and is in utter despair over this fact. Her husband Elkannah (who already has another wife and kids) says to Hannah, “Babe, aren’t I more to you than ten sons?”

Okay, I added the “Babe,” but Elkannah must have been quite a guy based on that statement! I am guessing that Hannah wanted to answer no but….

See you in church, when we will downsize, and in the process, I hope, fall in love all over again with the beauty – and usefulness – of Christian faith.

Barbara

 

 

 

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At first I thought I had won the October Lectionary Lottery.

Two weeks ago, the Gospel presented the topic of divorce. Last week Jesus said that to follow him you need to give away all that you have. This week I drew “humility.”

In comparison, how hard can that be?

Oh wait…..

Could there be a less relevant topic in our self-esteem-obsessed, arrogant culture? All you have to do is watch the wrenching political ads that play repeatedly and relentlessly on television and you know that humility isn’t much in our political or national vocabulary. The highest leaders in our land can’t seem to admit their mistakes and hurl insults at half the population on a regular basis.

It can be exhausting and depressing, more so if you are on social media where your friends post regularly about their justifiable anguish. It also just makes me sad, discouraged.

Maybe we have to look elsewhere for examples of humility, those who are secure in who they are and yet have no need to attack others in the process.

Like Big Bird, whose puppeteer Carrol Finney, retired this week at age 84.

‘On July 2, 1990, Big Bird appeared at Jim Henson’s memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, singing Kermit the Frog’s signature song, “Bein’ Green”. Performer Spinney nearly broke down several times during the deeply touching performance, which was later described by Life as “an epic and almost unbearably moving event.’” (Wikipedia)

See you in church, where Jesus calls us to service, and God gives a heart-stopping reprimand to Job and to all of us. In the meantime, take a break and watch an 8-foot tall yellow bird show you what humility look like.

Barbara

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On New Member Sunday, St. John’s welcomed 10 new families into our faith community. Read on to get to know some of them a little better and say hello next time you see them!


Denis and Lynette O’Pray

Lyn and Denis are “coming home,” as they began attending St. John’s about 53 years ago, and their three sons were baptized here.

Denis started his life as a professor of American Studies. While worshiping and teaching at St. John’s (Lyn was Treasurer) he got the bug to become ordained in the Episcopal Church. Since then, they have lived in the Twin Cities, then in California for 27 years, then back to Minnesota ten years ago to lead the Church of the Nativity in Burnsville. They now have a “family compound” in Minneapolis where they and two of their sons have homes within the same block.

Denis and Lyn are active participants in the arts including the SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra, and the Guthrie.  Lyn also does glass work, reads a lot, and loves her kids and grandkids. Denis has a shop where he is building Shaker furniture that he hopes to enter in the State Fair.


John and Melissa Mulloy 

John and Melissa found the Episcopal church a bit later in life, after being brought up in Lutheran and Catholic traditions.  They first came at the invitation of Elaine and Tom Eyre and were drawn to the beauty of the church, the “formal” liturgy, and the music.

John works for Thrivent and Melissa is a business litigator at Larson King LLP, in downtown St. Paul. When they are not working, they enjoy football, running, kayaking and cooking. They have season tickets for Minnesota Gopher football, and are also enthusiastic Packer backers. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.


 

Edwin Schenk and Jennie Walker

Edwin and Jennie joined St. John’s after seeking out a faith community near their home. They wanted a congregation that could speak to their evangelical background, with Jesus-centered worship, but also with a sense of broad horizons.

Jennie is a librarian at the Debra S. Fish Early Childhood Resource Library in Little Canada, and Edwin owns Abstract Pigeon, a web development company.

They have been together for three years, and are raising two daughters. They enjoy cooking together, hosting friends, reading, going on walks, traveling, and working together on a blog. This summer they’re looking forward to keeping up the blogging, while fishing, getting out into the cities, finding the best restaurant patios, and doing some home remodeling.


Lesley Pandian

Lesley comes to St. John’s most recently from Dallas. He has a worldly perspective; his parents are from India and he was raised in Moscow.

He is a programmer at Thomson Reuters in their financial risk sector. He loves his work. Growing up, Lesley enjoyed playing video games, but while playing would imagine how he could make it better. He ended up getting his masters, where his work was to create virtual reality for people to train in “real world” environments.

Lesley is also an accomplished tennis player and thrives on the hard work and challenge that the game offers.


Amanda Gould, Joseph OBrien, and Olivia O’Brien

Amanda and Joseph are new parents who were blessed to welcome Olivia Rose into the world last fall. Amanda’s background in real estate keeps her plenty busy, as does Joseph’s background in structural engineering. They enjoy nature walks, volunteering, and writing children’s books.

They were initially drawn to St. John’s as a place of worship close to home. They’ve enjoyed meeting the church’s friendly members. during subsequent visits, and are excited for Olivia’s baptism.


Jeff, Sherryse, and Eleanor Corrow

While living in Canada, Jeff and Sherryse found an Anglican church, which they loved. When they moved back to Minnesota they began looking to find a church home here that would continue along the same path. A colleague of Sherryse’s recommended they try St. John’s. Jeff was happily surprised to see Richard Brynteson, a former professor of Jeff’s, attends here as well.

Jeff is an Operations and IT Manager for a non-profit and Sherryse is a professor of Child Psychology and Neuroscience at Bethel University. Five-year-old Eleanor enjoys sword fighting, riding her bike, and walking her new puppy named Jefferson.

Sherryse and Jeff are eager to get to know others at St. John’s.


Patty Voje

About a year ago, Patty moved to a brownstone across the street from the church. She spent last summer listening to the church bells at St. John’s, and finally made her first visit on Christmas Eve.

The mother of two 20-something daughters, Patty was raised as a Catholic but left the church after a divorce.  For many years she didn’t attend any church. She missed being part of a religious community but didn’t think that there was a place for her in organized religion. She appreciates many things about St. John’s; the warm welcome she’s received, our programs, and our music.  She feels that she has found a church home again.

Patty is the president of Spot Communications. She is also an accomplished oil painter who exhibits locally and nationally.


Richard and Paula Day

Richard and Paula have been attending St John’s since November of 2017.  They picked St John’s after checking out other churches.  They are here because of the music, liturgy, and outreach.

They are relative newlyweds, having been married for just about a year and a half now.  Richard was living in Madison and Paula in Eden Prairie when they met via the internet.  They clicked and picked a middle-ground location in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul to settle together in.

Richard is a widower and has a married daughter with two teenage children.  Paula has two sons from her previous marriage. Richard is retired from medicine, an internist; Paula still works as a media buyer and planner.

Richard knows several languages and Paula several more. Richard plays the organ (they have one in their house!) and enjoys musical performances, while Paula enjoys reading, music, politics, and travel (and her work).


Megan August-Hau and Andrew Kampa

Megan & Andrew are planning to marry in February, 2019. After graduating from Cretin DH, Andrew went to UW-Stout, but decided to move back to St. Paul and found his calling attending Dunwoody College for HVACR Systems Servicing. He is now an HVACR Service Technician.

Megan grew up in St. Paul and spent her early years at St. John’s, leaving to continue her education at U of MN – Morris. She then returned to St. Paul, completing her degree in Social Science at Metro State University. Megan is now a Logistics Program Manager.

Megan and Andrew enjoy spending time outdoors, camping, and relaxing at the lake . When asked if they have a “favorite” part of the liturgy, Andrew mentioned the Homily; Megan enjoys the passing of the Peace.

 


Mike, Jamie, Louie, and Charlie Bents

Mike and Jamie Bents have a very busy household.  Besides two energetic boys— six-year-old Louie and two-year-old Charlie, they both have careers and lots of hobbies.

Mike is a software engineer with Target, having received his MS from St. Thomas. Jamie is a transportation planner, working in Environmental Studies out of Chicago, and is able to work from home.

When not working or tending their boys, you will find Jamie in her potter’s studio or with her plants and gardens.  She is also very involved in social action campaigns. Mike likes hockey (playing and watching) and is interested in baseball stats.

Their quest for finding a mutual church home has been an interesting one, as their backgrounds are very different.  Jamie comes from a Reformed Jewish background in Iowa, while Mike was raised as a WELS Lutheran.  While living in Chicago, they gravitated to the Methodist Church, but began looking at the Episcopal Church.  After moving to this part of St. Paul, they found St. John’s and feel as though they have found a real fit.

 

 

Originally published in the May-June and July-August 2018 Evangelists.

 

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The world’s greatest superpower is under the contrail of a fragile and insecure narcissist known for objectifying women, bragging about his wealth, and turning every personal slight into a full-blown national crisis. His ineptitude would be comical were if not for the xenophobic advisors who hood court in his administration, threatening the lives of religious and ethnic minorities with unjust laws.

Gotcha.

The reference here is actually to King Xerxes of Persia, identified in the book of Esther as “Ahasuerus.” Eventually the king gets outsmarted by a Jewish orphan named Esther and a group of shrewd resisters. (1)

Sometimes the parallels in the Bible to present day events is startling. Such is the case this coming Sunday with the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures about David and Bathsheba.

David was “a man after God’s own heart” but was by no means perfect. The story of the rape (and it was a rape) of Bathsheba is perhaps his most egregious failing:

David did what was right in the sight of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. (I Kings 15:5)

Uriah was Bathsheba’s husband.

Is David just another failed political leader who disappointed those who followed him? Why doesn’t God deal more harshly with David? Does the repression of women in “Biblical times” taint its message for women today? And – have to do it—what are the parallels to the present and its implications of what we must demand of our leaders? And, more importantly, of ourselves?

Lust, a rape, a murder, a cover-up, and one man who speaks the truth and changes everything.

See you in church.

Barbara

(1) Rachel Held Evans,” The Bible is literature for the resistance,” Washington Post. July 12, 2018

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The deepest crisis of any society are moments of change when the stories we live by today become inadequate for the present situation.”

Thomas Berry
American monk, historian

Stories have been a major theme at St. John’s for some time, especially the stories about ourselves that we tell each other and the stories of Scripture that we hear each Sunday.

The thing is, the “truthiness” of stories changes (thank you for the term, Stephen Colbert). I know that some of the stories that I used to tell about myself aren’t as true as they once were because I have finally learned some new ways to understand my life. Old stories such as: Me as the kid whose parents never told her they loved her; Me as the kid in high school who never fit in; Me as the sad but valiant survivor of divorce.

My stories now are more like this: Me not fitting in during high school but who wanted to be with those people anyway; Me modeling resilience for my daughters; Me as “successful” by the standards I now value; Me, grateful for the changes that almost destroyed me.

And now you don’t even have to eat with me!

Some of the stories in Scripture are not as pristine as we may have thought once. Next Sunday’s lesson from Samuel is an example. The story is about the selection of David as the new king of Israel and it begins with a lie.

Saul was losing it as a king and God sent Samuel out to find the new king – with a cow. He did this so when the nervous elders asked him what he was doing in Bethlehem he would say, “Oh nothing, just going to church to make a sacrifice — see the cow?”

No report on what happened to the cow, but Samuel found David, the greatest of Israel’s kings.

Each Sunday the preacher of the day has a mighty challenge because of what people want at church. Some want comfort, peace and direction –they are unhappy if the stories are interpreted too much in light of present events, especially political ones. Others are unhappy if the stories are NOT interpreted in light of the present day because the outrage and despair they feel about the state of the country and sometimes their own lives cannot be instantly forgotten as they walk through the red doors. They want immediate relevance.

Jesus didn’t have much time for the separation of church and state. In fact, he was forever reinterpreting the stories of his Jewish tradition. He enlarged the meaning, he changed it; sometimes he even said it was just wrong. He roared against the injustice and selfish arrogance of the Roman oppressors.

Stories are living, breathing entities that change as we learn more about ourselves and about God.

Mine sure did.

See you in church.

There will be stories.

Barbara

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By Eric Odney

In June of 2015 Pope Francis issued his encyclical (letter) titled Laudato Si. The encyclical dealt with many issues but chief among them was a concern for the environment and a “…care for our common home…”.

In 1991 the Episcopal Church General Convention called on “all citizens of the world, and Episcopalians in particular, to live their lives as good stewards with the responsible concern… for the environment” and urged all Episcopalians “to reflect on their personal and corporate habits in the use of God’s creation.”

In a very small and fundamental way, we here at St. John’s can participate in this effort by renewing our commitment to recycling. We applied for and received a grant from BizRecycling (a program of the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Board) for new recycling bins and signage. With this grant, we hope to improve and expand our recycling efforts, and to send less trash to the landfill.

(This also benefits the stewardship of our financial resources, along with our environmental ones. Ramsey County charges a 53% on garbage collection for non-residential customers — but recycling is not taxed!)

We offer our thanks to you for participating, and a prayer that we may be good stewards of God’s creation and our common home!

Originally published in the May-June 2018 Evangelist. 

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