unknownI’m in a bit of a predicament as a preacher, as are all of my colleagues preaching this coming Sunday: I can’t talk too much about Christmas because it’s still Advent (although it’s Advent IV – come on!). Also I’m supposed to preach about hope and I’m finding it a little elusive right now. Because it’s the elephant in most of our rooms, I have to reference the political scene but how? I’m looking for the hope, I really am. I’m pretty sure I’ll find some. I’ve got another day.

I’m reminded of those Sunday noon dinner table conversations (i.e. battles) at home when my dad and I discussed politics. He was fortified by three or four bottles of beer, me by my unshakable progressive convictions and a big fat dose of Adolescent Intensity and Rightness.

It wasn’t pretty, as I extolled the virtues of Hubert Humphrey and all things Democrat, throwing out facts and statistics (even then an inveterate researcher), examples and specifics. My dad retorted that when the Democrats get in, we always have war. And they were all a bunch of crooks. He was also, to be frank, a racist and that set me off further: “How CAN you say that? How the heck many black people have you even MET? Zero? You have no idea what you’re even talking about?”

You can imagine how well THAT went.

My mom’s overdone roast beef with lots of “seasoning salt” sat untouched on my plate along with the inevitable mashed potatoes, gravy, and lettuce wedge smothered in Western French dressing. My younger brother stuffed his face, oblivious as usual, and my mother nervously pushed the food around on her plate: Another Sunday dinner wrecked because Barbara just can’t shut up. (“Me? Me? What about HIM?”)

Eventually I learned that only experience can change some people’s minds. Many years later, my dad stopped being a racist and he didn’t even realize it. In the nursing home, he was gently cared for by men and women of color. Never one to hold back, he couldn’t sing their praises loudly enough. Wisely, I never pointed out that —- I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!

Some arguments you cannot win and I know that now. I have hope that my dad does, too, along with knowing how far he really came. Wherever he is, I’m really glad he has not been here for this past election. REALLY glad.

Regardless of your persuasion, this Sunday we will celebrate the hope that is the promise of this beautiful season. And it WILL show up.

It always does.

See you in church (even if it’s cold),











“Should you say what you sincerely believe is true in a sermon, even if it means your church might lose members?”

That’s the weighty question we faced at a clergy workshop I attended recently. Needless to say, the consensus was, “It’s complicated.”

I’m pretty sure that St John’s lost a couple of members due to my preaching around the issue of marriage equality. That was a long time ago, in the earliest stage of the debate. And as Jered points out, we also gained members from our stance on this. Nonetheless, preaching conscience vs. congregational temperament is tricky, and an issue that many clergy are facing right now.

Some hold the belief that the Church must not say nothing to upset people in their spiritual lives, nothing to make them squirm or detract from the purity of the worship experience, from the personal prayers and the ancient liturgy, as if people should be insulated within church walls for an hour each week from what is happening outside of them so they can be at peace.

Is the church called to be this kind of sanctuary? I suppose you could argue it either way.

Of course, the Church should not endorse one candidate over another, but many denominations have no trouble treading into political/cultural waters. The Roman Catholic Church is clear on its opposition to abortion. Evangelicals preach against same-sex marriage and push for prayer in public schools. As usual, Episcopalians try to walk the middle ground.

The answer for me is Scripture, particularly the Gospel. Whatever we say must be informed by the text and presented in that context. As Episcopalians, we also believe that the teachings of the Church as well as our own reason and experience influence our interpretation of God’s word. Which makes it more, well, complicated.

Last week, the St. John’s clergy read a letter signed by dozens of Episcopal clergy declaring their support for any individual or group that is victimized by governmental policy or personal actions. “We see you,” we said. I was proud that we took this position.

But in addition we must talk about national mood and policies that might result in this victimization, about the people who support these policies and create them, about the concerns of those who vote for them, and what to do in addition to offering sanctuary.

There is so much I would like to say on Sunday that I can’t. So much hurt I want to voice that I shouldn’t. So much fear that I have that I must temper. And realizing that the Church can lose as many members from NOT taking a stand as from taking one….

When I started to prepare this sermon, of course I turned to the text and there it was: words so perfectly in tune with the times that they could have been written yesterday. It’s not a cozy Advent message but Advent isn’t all that cozy anyway for some of us. I see you.

See you in church.




imagesA beautiful fall Friday night on Grand Avenue. People are out shopping, going to restaurants, strolling along…… that is those lucky enough to find a parking place.

BUT the trusty St. Paul Parking Enforcement team is out en masse with their measuring sticks (I’m not kidding) to ticket those who have offended by inches. It’s a nice hospitable touch to our fair city. You may have seen them near St. John’s doing their work on Sundays, during funerals, you name it. Measuring tape in hand…

So of course I got a parking ticket (the second in my lifetime – the first in the very same spot). In my quest for justice, I have now called ten separate numbers, from the police department to public works asking them a simple question about the sign that was posted and which I (and two other ticketed cars next to me) obviously didn’t understand.

Three separate officials have told me that mine is an excellent question! And then they refer me to another person who says the same. No one seems to know the answer to my question – which makes me wonder how drivers should know! The last time I left a message at the “media office” telling them I am not FROM the media but will be GOING TO the media unless I get my question answered in two days.

Yes, I am going to fight this. I HAVE SO HAD IT!

It’s been that kind of a week (someone even stole my xxxx campaign button at Walgreens! I had it pinned to my purse – how did I not see them? And no I didn’t lose it!

Gee, maybe it’s not just the parking thing….

I preach this coming Sunday and am pretty sure that the horrific political campaigns will be the proverbial Elephant in the Room. Of course, preachers cannot and should not endorse specific candidates but the moral tone of the campaigns, the deceit, the incivility, the sexism…. these things are spiritual in nature. They drag us down to the gutter; they hammer away at us; it feels like it will never end. To insist that the Church should be above it all is simply not defensible to me. To say we should take a breath and move on is naïve.

The day’s lessons certainly agree!

Ironically (and it so often is) the day’s Gospel is about “not losing heart.” It is about persistence in fighting for a cause. The Epistle even says this: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truths and wander away to myths.”

And look at what Jeremiah says in the day’s reading: “The teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.”

Ya think?!

As usual, Scripture has pulled me back and even given me hope. Wrestling with the lessons (in-joke for anyone who reads the lectionary ahead of time) has given me perspective and strength. Join us Sunday and let me help you ….or arm you….or at least challenge you. Maybe even a little comfort.

See you in church. Park carefully.



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

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

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

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

“I hope the flight’s not late.”

“Do you think the balloons might scare them?”

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

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

“Do they speak any English at all?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we all do …. want to adopt them.

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara Mraz









“You can be anything you want to!”

“Never ever quit because you CAN do it!”

“Set your mind to it and it’s done!”

Well, no.

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

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

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

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

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

See you in church.



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

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

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

Resources for talking to children about racism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

neil elliot 7 13 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to all of you in the work of reconciliation.










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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in church.