Brian Mogren: Being Who He is and Being That Well

Brian Mogren: Vis Companion, Director of St. Jane House

by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger

“Be who you are and be that well.” St. Francis de Sales

It’s been a decade since Brian Mogren quit a long-held job at Target Stores to heed the call of St. Francis de Sales to “Be Who You are and Be That Well.” In that time, what Mogren has been is the provider of shelter to the temporarily homeless, the purveyor of a quiet space for spiritual seekers and a persistent, insistent, consistent friend of the Visitation Sisters, his neighbors in North Minneapolis. His work won him the Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service from the esteemed McKnight Foundation, given to those who “give their time to improve the lives of people in their communities.” He’s done that all right and along the way served as an unofficial counselor, coordinator, gardener, director and caretaker for those who use his home on Emerson Avenue North. “This opened up a world of possibility for me and my life,” Mogren writes on his website, “that I could not have imagined: bringing my unique gifts, creativity and connections to contribute to the transformation of North Minneapolis.”

A Call to the Northside

With Two Marys: Brian and FDTL Founder Mary Johnson Roy and Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie

Mogren’s transformation began, in part, when he met the Sisters. Since 2008, the Sisters have leased his home (The St. Jane House) for retreats to women seeking empowerment, students wanting enlightenment and mothers shedding resentment. A grass-roots group, From Death to Life, counts the St. Jane House as its home. Its founder is Mary Johnson, a mother who sought out, and forgave, the man who killed her only son. Mogren serves on the board.

“This is what it’s all about – connecting across difference and discovering our common humanity.” — Brian Mogren

His journey owes something to an epiphany moment years ago when he was leaving a parish council meeting at St. Philips Catholic Church on 26th and Bryant Ave. N.   He noticed a woman frantically trying to pick up papers strewn about the street; she’d left them on top of her car as she pulled away. Now she was scurrying to pick up the papers and sheet music and Mogren gave her a hand. They walked back to the church arm in arm. The moon was out. The evening was quiet. And Mogren felt at peace. Suddenly a car with dark-tinted windows pulled alongside, rap music pounding as the back window began to roll down. Mogren’s moment of bliss turned to terror, fearing they could get hustled, hassled or hurt. Just then, a teenage boy stuck his head out the window, smiled and said, “Hi, Miss Muggs.” This was a teenager talking to a 70-year-old Irish Catholic.

Role model and friends.

“They had love and affinity for one another,” Mogren recalls. “Later I wept. I thought, ‘Oh, my Gosh.’ This is what it’s all about – connecting across difference and discovering our common humanity. I felt called to move to the Northside.” He did, building what would become the St. Jane House in 2003. .He moved in and became an official North Minneapolis resident, still holding on to his creative job at Target. He decided to quit, after 24 1/2 years, following another epiphany experience – this time while listening to a tape of students’ spoken-word poetry.

“[Brian] has mentored a few young people who look on him as a role model and friend. He loves North Minneapolis and it shows.” Sr. Karen Mohan,VHM

I remember hearing the urgency in their voices,” he says, “and in that moment my heart was burning. I needed to do what I could to ease the pain and provide a path for those who needed it. I wanted to make a difference.” A big part of the difference began when the Sisters and Mogren got together with the St. Jane House. He had the space. They had the plans. They’d bring the people. He’d be the director.

St. Jane House Ministry

St. Jane House: A Place of Rest and Delight

In the years that followed, the St. Jane house has provided guest rooms for overnight visitors, hosted a weekly centering prayer group, offered retreats for healing and support groups and served as home base for students – high school and college – seeking an “immersion experience” in the flow of neighborhood life.

“I feel loved and celebrated by the Sisters….They embody the God of my understanding, and they define the notion of inclusion. I am able to give to others what I receive from them.”

It doesn’t surprise Sister Karen Mohan that Mogren can handle such varied groups with finesse, grace and hospitality. It was modeled by his parents, Jerry and Arlene, who were quick to welcome others to the Molgren family. He’s had a lot of practice. “When we became ‘family and friends’ with Brian,” she recalls, “we inherited all his brothers – 11 brothers and no sisters. When our community went to his mom’s home for one of the family get-together suppers, we were welcomed by a big sign outside on the lawn. “’WELCOME SISTERS. WE ALWAYS WANTED SISTERS. And now we have them. YOU.’ We love the Mogren boys and we loved Arlene, their mother. After her funeral a few years ago, the 10 living brothers all carried her casket singing, ‘She’s ain’t heavy. She’s our mother.’ There wasn’t a dry eye around.”

Loved and Celebrated by the Sisters

Family and Friends: The Mogren Brothers, Mother, and Visitation Sisters

“It’s wonderful to be in the presence of the [Sisters’] non-judgmental, joyful spirit. They have helped me to be gentle with myself and that helps me to be gentle with others.” 

Mogren remembers first meeting the Sisters at St. Philips where he started attending mass because of his respect for Father Greg Tolaas. He met them there, but he really got to know them after he moved to North Minneapolis. “I feel loved and celebrated by the Sisters,” Mogren says, “ever since I met them. It’s wonderful to be in the presence of their non-judgmental, joyful spirit. They have helped me to be gentle with myself and that helps me to be gentle with others. They embody the God of my understanding, and they define the notion of inclusion.

“I don’t see any other than the life I’m living,” he says. “I get to be who I am and to be that well.”

“I am able to give to others what I receive from them. They have entrusted me with their platform and space.” He’s been a fine defender and caretaker of that Salesian spirituality, in the opinion of Jeff Pearson, a long-time friend and benefactor of the Sisters. “Brian can weather the storms,” Pearson says. “If it doesn’t work one way, he’ll figure out a different way. He’s got the kind of compassion that keeps him coming back.”

Brian with Alafia Foundation Members

Sister Karen notes that Mogren, now 51 years old, is something of a Renaissance man, who’s an artist, a graphic designer, a photographer and a fun-loving guy with a sense of humor. Mogren, who lives in the basement of the St, Jane House, prefers to think of it as “the garden level.” “Brian was inspired to begin the Alafia Foundation to encourage leaders from the neighborhood,” Mohan says. “He has mentored a few young people who look on him as a role model and friend. He loves North Minneapolis and it shows.” Mogren would smile at that description. He’s a man who loves where he is: in his city, in his heart, in his life.   “I don’t see any other than the life I’m living,” he says. “I get to be who I am and to be that well.” That’s why the welcome mat is out at the St. Jane House.

* This is the thirteenth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

Zen Weaving Studio @ St. Jane House

Join us at St. Jane House for this Zen arts meditation experience!

Join us at St. Jane House for this Zen Arts Weaving Meditation experience!

by Brian Mogren, St. Jane House Director and Visitation Companion

February 14-18, 2014
St. Jane House, 1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis

For five days in February, the St. Jane House will become a Pop-Up SAORI Weaving StudioThe fun begins with a special Valentine’s Date Night event on February 14th, and includes a Zen meditation retreat as well as opportunities for parents and children to create unique works of art together. 

Certified SAORI weavers Chiaki and Dan O’Brien will lead sessions in this contemporary Japanese style of weaving that celebrates self-expression, sees beauty in “imperfection”, facilitates healing, and reveals the uniqueness and dignity of each person.

Nine looms and a variety of threads and textures will be made available. If you wish, you are invited to bring your own materials as well to incorporate into your creation: cut up strips of worn clothing/fabrics, unraveled yarn, heirloom jewelry, shells, twigs…anything you might like to work into your piece to make it your own.

All workshops and retreats are donation-based, “pay what you can” (with exception of the Valentine’s Day fundraising event). A portion of the proceeds from all sessions will support the acquisition of a SAORI loom for the St. Jane House.

Some of the events include:*
Feb. 14th: Valentine’s Date Night Dinner Event
Feb. 15th: Two Mothers and YO MAMA Art of Mothering retreats
Feb. 16th: Zen Meditation Weaving Retreat
Feb. 17th: Family Weaving Workshops
Feb. 18th: “Be Who You Are” Open Weaving Workshop

Space is limited. Click to learn about each of the 9 sessions being offered and to register.

Personal SAORI Weaving Retreats at the St. Jane House 
If you are unable to attend any of these events, but would like to contribute to the cause, a tax-deductible donation can be made to help acquire a loom for the St. Jane House. As an expression of our gratitude, those who contribute $50 or more will have an opportunity to enjoy a personal weaving retreat at the St. Jane House during 2014.

Check out photos and get updates on Facebook event page.

*SELECT EVENT INFO:

Share the Love” Valentine Date Night Event
Friday, February 14, 6pm – 9:30pm
St. Jane House
1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis’

The popular Zen Box Izakaya Pub and Kitchen is teaming up with the St. Jane House and SAORI Studio Fun to create the “Share the Love” Valentine’s Date Night Event on February 14, 2014, from 6pm – 9:30pm. Enjoy drinks and a candle-lit dinner for two, complements of this local Asian restaurant, followed by a 2-hour couples weaving session with certified SAORI weavers Chiaki & Dan O’Brien. Leave with a beautiful work of art you and your sweetheart create together. Wine, beer and other beverages included. $125 donation per couple. The proceeds from this fundraising event will help acquire a SAORI loom for the St. Jane House. Space is limited. RSVP today.

Zen Meditation Weaving Retreat
Sunday, February 16, 10am-3pm
St. Jane House
1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis

Certified SAORI instructor and meditation teacher Dan O’Brien will lead this retreat that incorporates weaving with awareness, as well as breaks for meditation and discussion. People of all spiritual traditions will find this a welcoming, ecumenical experience. Lunch provided. Participants will create a unique piece of woven art. In the Zen tradition, people donate based on their means. Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

“Be Who You Are” Open Weaving Workshops
Sunday, February 16, 5pm – 8pm
Tuesday, February 18, 9am – noon
St. Jane House, 1403 Emerson Ave. N. MinneapolisEnjoy three hours of “weaving with a happy heart” with SAORI instructor Chiaki O’Brien. In this free-style form of weaving, there are no mistakes and beauty is seen in imperfection. Participants will create a unique piece of woven art that is an expression of their deepest self.Light snacks and beverages provided. OptionalCentering Prayer session at 8am precedes Tuesday morning workshop. Space is limited.Reserve your spot today.
Family Weaving Workshops 
Monday, February 17, 10am – 1pm, 2pm – 5pm
St. Jane House 1403 Emerson Ave. N., Minneapolis

These two special sessions on President’s Day provide an opportunity for parents and their children to weave together a variety of colors, threads and textures to create a unique piece of art that will become a family keepsake. Consider bringing meaningful textiles, fabrics, jewelry, etc. from your family’s history to incorporate into your creation. Also open to mentors and the young people in their lives. Space is limited. Sign up today.

“My Soul in Stillness Waits” – Advent Prayer

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

It’s Tuesday morning in Advent and I am seated in a circle of prayerful people at St. Jane House. I am here as part of the weekly Centering Prayer experience lead by Visitation Companion Brian Mogren. On this particular day, our circle convenes in special celebration to honor and welcome longtime participant Harriet Oyera’s children from northern Uganda — a family separated by war in that region, and re-united just a week ago.

The coffee is brewed, the treats are laid out, a large sign of welcome has been constructed and posted for this family. Our special guests have not yet arrived, and so after a period of waiting, Brian calls us to be seated and silent. We enter into prayer with the following mantra:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I enter into the quiet with a mind full of chatter. Errands to run. Anxiety about holiday plans surfacing. Thoughts of my missing billfold–  including my driver’s license and credit cards– come to mind; “Where did I last put those blessed things?” From my heart arises the latest text about love and life. I think about Harriet, her kids, our friend Dorothy in Ghana.  Thoughts about my deepest desires well in my body; I take a deep breath and try to find calm, center, the quiet. I long for the peaceful emptiness that allows me to recognize God filling me up, renewing my faith, spirit.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

Mary comes to mind. I see her as a young woman, a teenager, who is unwed and pregnant with Jesus. I breathe in and out and imagine her and the Angel Gabriel in conversation. Mary’s “Yes” to bearing new life resounds in my ears. I wonder, prayerfully, how God is inviting me to fuller life, love, or to be faithful; I wonder how I  am called to say, “Yes”?

I try to get quiet.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I breathe in. Out. I empty myself. I am renewed. The Advent song continues in my breathing:  “Truly my hope is in you.” I release. I receive. Over and over again.
And then I hear it. The door opens, and sounds of people quietly entering the space fill the room. Boots are taken off, coats unzipped, items are laid down, I hear the jingling of hangers in the closet.  Four sets of feet creep onto the rug; Harriet and her children take their place among the circle. I continue in my prayer, joyfully, ecstatically, knowing they have arrived.

I smile deeply within myself.

It’s funny what shows up when we have our eyes closed, and our hearts tuned toward God. In this Advent season of waiting, hoping, preparing for a babe to enter, in this circle of quiet meditation,  we literally receive a mother and her children. It feels like the Divine entering and reminding us of Love’s abundance, power, grace, miracle. This experience gives me pause and inspires my further prayer.

What do you hear, notice, when you get quiet and repeat the following:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits”?

Advent blessings!

Honoring Our Brother Brian Mogren, aka. “Mr. St. Jane House.”

2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Human Services Award recipient Brian Mogren surrounded by family, collaborators and northside friends.

He’s making the news, this time being seen for his role in supporting our northside brothers and sisters. We couldn’t be prouder of our dear friend, lay companion and brother, Brian Mogren, who was honored this week with the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award.

“I accepted the award on behalf of everyone I conspire for good with on the north side. It truly takes a village and I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of extraordinary people doing important and good work.” – Brian Mogren, Visitation Companion, St. Jane House Director

As director of St. Jane House, Brian exudes the charism of our Visitation order in and through his hospitality, service and quiet leadership. We can only imagine our co-founders St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales smiling broadly down on our brother Brian this day — as he goes about building relationships and “Living+Jesus” in North Minneapolis — and beyond!

We invite you to get to know our dear friend and Visitation Companion who resides just two blocks away from our monastery in the St. Jane House. Come and pray with him on Tuesday morning at Centering Prayer. Or treat yourself to an afternoon of reflection or overnight stay under the hospitable care of brother Brian — and learn first hand what his heart and mind are up to as he seeks to “be who he is, and be that well”.

Read more about Brian and the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award:

 

On Contemplative Listening: A Doorway into a Deeper Encounter With God

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice contemplative listening

by Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

God invites. Are we willing to listen?

Be still and know that I am God.

That’s what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46.

Like many of the psalms, the context of the lyrics refers to a powerful God in whom humanity is urged to find strength in the face of distress. But, there is another facet of messaging in those words that I find I prefer. Indeed, it’s one I find I can’t live without.

It is a message of comfort; of confidence; of connection. And, as a recent spiritual retreat hosted by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis reminded us, it is one of openness and hospitality. Those who are willing to immerse themselves in the implication of the message are being offered a doorway into deeper encounter with God.

The sisters and those great spiritual guides who have long gone before call the practice of being still in order to know God, contemplative listening.  What one may hear is never a certainty. But what becomes apparent in undertaking the practice is that it’s very easy to lose God’s signal for all the noises that surround us in our daily lives.

Convened in a circle

Convened in a circle

That the sisters should be particularly skilled in contemplative listening is no surprise. It is, after all, something of a staple of the monastic community they form. That they are so solid in their commitment to its practice where they happen to live is something that impresses me deeply. And that they extend that grace and invite us into their company so we can also be still and perhaps come to know God better, is a privilege.

That sense of privilege is one I know that is shared by the rest of the Visitation Companions who participated on this special day. As one of our group observed afterward, the experience of the retreat left her feeling like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. This companion admits that she is more often like Martha, planning, preparing, serving.

“I can and do read lots of books and articles on Salesian spirituality,” she says. “But nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of these wise women who share their knowledge, their lived experience and their love with all.”

She goes on to say that, “On this day, I am glad that I decided to be a Mary and leave my inner Martha behind.

I would offer that so say we all who were able to partake.

Be still and know that I am God.

Engage with Us: Summer Volunteer Opportunities

Service Immersion: Welcome to the Class of 2013 Visitation School Seniors!

Service Immersion: Welcome to the Class of 2013 Visitation School Seniors!

Come and pray with us! Come and serve!
Come and join us!

As we welcome the Visitation School students – here for their Senior Apostolic Service experience and urban plunge – and with Memorial Day rapidly approaching,  we know summer is right around the corner! The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis would like to invite you to prayerfully consider ways that you might engage with us these warm weather summer months.

ONGOING OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Join the Sisters for Prayer and/or Masses: The Sisters pray four times a day at the monastery; Centering Prayer is every Tuesday morning at 8am at St. Jane House. Call ahead if possible. Contact: Sr. Mary Frances Reis: maryfranreis@aol.com, 612.521.6113.
  • First Friday Adoration and Mass:    10:30 a.m. the first Friday of each of each month. Call ahead if possible.
  • Cursillo Men Prayer Time: 7:00 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month: Time of prayer and fellowship. Call ahead if possible.
  • Code Red: Join with the mother’s of From Death to Life and others (MAD Dads) to pray for peace and be a silent witness: Second Saturday of each month. Prayer 1⁄2 hour, stand near Broadway 1 hr. Contact: Sr. Mary Margaret.
  • Movies with Jane: Join with others at St. Jane House to watch a selected movie and then discuss. See the St. Jane House Facebook Events page  for more information or contact Brian Mogren at:
  • Books with Jane: Join with others at St. Jane House to discuss a selected book. See St. Jane House Facebook Events page for more information or contact Brian Mogren.
  • Mentor a Neighborhood Individual or Family: Establish an ongoing relationship with a neighborhood individual or family. Examples: Teach how to clean house gutters, make small repairs; Teach how to budget or make meals from scratch; tutoring, etc.    Contact: Sr. Suzanne.
  • Sisters Garden: Help plant and weed the gardens at Fremont House. Contact: Sr. Suzanne.
  • Door Ministry: Greet visitors to the monastery; Hand out tokens or cub cards; Pray with visitors; Training provided. Contact: Sr. Suzanne.
  • Library Assistant: Help with dewy decimal labels; Record new books on spreadsheet; Help shelve returned books/dvds/cds/vhs. Contact: Sr. Mary Virginia.
  • Family River Cook outs: Invite a neighborhood family to join you at a cook out down by the river. Purchase and make food; Plan some games. Contact: Sr. Suzanne.

MAY-JUNE-JULY-AUGUST EVENTS

The sisters have a whole list of events that require volunteers this summer. Please see our calendar as we update it. Here’s a sampling of upcoming activities:

  • Friday, May 24, 1pm: Women’s Retreat Set Up Contact Sr. Suzanne.
  • Saturday, June 8, Neighborhood Mothers March for Peace Contact: Sr. Mary Margaret
  • Sunday, June 9, St. Jane House 5th Anniversary Party Contact: Sr. Karen Mohan
  • June 15-21,  Camp de Sales Contact Sr. Karen Mohan
  • June 16 and 29: Provide rides for Youth in Theology and Ministry to St. John’s University
    Contact: Sr. Katherine Mullin
  • Heart to Heart Ministry: Visitation Co-founders Sts Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal

    Heart to Heart Ministry: Visitation Co-founders Sts Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal

    June (date to be determined) Catholic Youth Camp Send-off Contact: Sr. Mary Frances

  • June (date to be determined): Back to Summer Party! Contact: Sr. Mary Frances
  • Water Park Chaperone Contact Sr. Karen Mohan
  • August (2nd week) Neighborhood Night of Peace Contact: Sr. Mary Frances
  • August (date to be determined): Valley Fair Family Fun Day Contact: Sr. Mary Frances
  • August (date to be determined): Back to School Party! Contact: Sr. Mary Frances

“An action of small value performed with much love of God is far more excellent than one of a higher virtue, done with less love of God.” – St. Francis de Sales

You are Invited: The 5 Year Anniversary Party for St. Jane House!

St. Jane House Anniversary Event ImageYou are invited to at this open house and garden party celebrating 5 years of the St. Jane House!

5 Year Anniversary Party
Sunday, June 9, 2013
1-4pm
1403 Emerson Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55411

At 2pm, there will be a brief program which will include the unveiling of an new painting of St. Jane de Chantal by Brother Mickey McGrath commissioned for the occasion. Whether you are a regular or a new visitor to the house, we’d love to have you join us!

St. Jane House is a ministry of the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis and their companion Brian Mogren, located at 1403 Emerson Ave. N.

To RSVP for this event, please visit the St. Jane House facebook page.

For more about the St. Jane House, visit: www.bewhoyouare.info

The Gift of Neighboring: Our Salesian Spirituality Center

By S. Mary Margaret McKenzie in collaboration with Brian Mogren

st Jane House

You are invited to the FIFTH Anniversary Celebration of the St. Jane House Sunday, June 9, 2013 1403 Emerson Ave North Open House: 1-4 pm Program with special guests: 2 pm RSVP by June 1 to vmonastery@aol.com or to 612-521-9282 (St. Jane House phone number)

Five years ago in our long range planning we envisioned a third house. This was inspired by our need to respond to many persons who were drawn to enter into our neighborhood ministry more than into our monastic lifestyle. This would be their house more than ours and could accommodate both men and women for overnight retreats or hospitality. It would be called the St. Jane House.

Where would it be, and how could we maintain and direct it? Clearly this would have to be God’s “make-over.”
When Brian Mogren heard what we were mulling and that we were looking to rent rather than buy, he offered his newly built, beautiful home on Emerson—his commitment to the neighborhood. He had given up his job as graphic designer for Target to give his time and talent full time to the Northside. Plus, his instincts had already directed him to and steeped him in Salesian spirituality.

Under Brian’s direction and gift of making dynamic connections we find ourselves sponsoring and at times participating in outreach ministry that embraces:

•    The practice of centering prayer
•    Support in living discerning lives
•    Bringing together for dialogue those who need a neutral space
•    Healing for those suffering because of violence and killing
•    Openness to forgiveness and reconciliation
•    Offering retreats to a variety of groups and individuals
•    The home-base for Vis Companions
•    Discussion groups around inspiring books and films
•    Encouraging and developing lay leadership
•    A safe place for teens to be developed as leaders
•    Urban immersion for college and high school groups
•    A safe place for people to connect across differences to discover our common humanity

All of this is fertile ground for the growth of Salesian spirtuality and holy ground for contemplative presence and hospitality.

As we ready ourselves to celebrate the 5th anniversary of St. Jane House, we are anticipating a new portrait of St. Jane by our dear brother and friend Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS. We also see more clearly what God has created out of our visioning—a very specifically focused Salesian Spirituality Center. The primary sources and resources offered are persons relating and inter-relating—our gift to neighboring that has even gone global with the heartfelt use of social media to Live Jesus.

Christ: The Social Innovator – A Meditation for this Advent Season

Nativity Scene by G Cuffia

Nativity Scene by G Cuffia

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“..and she gave birth to her firstborn son. 3 She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7

And Advent is upon us! As I make my way into this first week of the holy season, these images return to me: a teenage Mary who is pregnant; a radiant angel with big news; a baffled bachelor named Joseph;  doors closing at the hands of (perhaps unapologetic) innkeepers; a bright star overhead; and a blanketed olive-skinned babe laying atop a bed of straw. And I marvel on the historic narrative informing this Advent season. This is a tale of woe and wonder. It’s a tale of adversity and mystery. It’s a tale of ache and awesomeness. It’s a tale that at its core, lays bare a God who chooses to come to us in this frail human form: as a child born into poverty, squalor and strife. I think, “This Incarnation is something to behold.”

***

On Tuesday, December 4, 2012, Sr. Katherine and I attended a leadership event at Macalester College sponsored by InCommons – Supporting the Courage to Lead. The “Social Innovation Lab” as this event was referred to, was on “Vulnerability as a Resource for Innovation.” Visitation Companion, director of St. Jane house and northside community leader Brian Mogren invited us to attend this event organized by a former Visitation Neighbor, Michael Bischoff.  It was a perfect sort of Advent experience.

As the room of 120 or so participants convened, we were invited to reflect on a time when we had led from a place of vulnerability.

Q: What do we mean by vulnerability?
A: Uncertainty, risk, transparency, and openness to diverse perspectives.

A goal for our gathering was to help shift the dominant view of “judging vulnerability as weakness to valuing vulnerability as a positive resource that takes strength and courage.”

Okay.

My thoughts went immediately to Christ. To Mary. To Joseph. To the cast of characters that make up the gospel story of Jesus’ birth. I thought, “How many of Jesus’ encounters depicted in scripture are about a person who leads from vulnerability?” I took a breathe and then considered, “What is God inviting us to do today and everyday?”

Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.

There are some very important disclaimers to make about vulnerability. First of all, it’s something we must choose if we are seeking to lead from this place. Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.  It’s a space of incredible privilege, however, to elect to see vulnerability as a gift and to act on it.  This is my second disclaimer: To have power wielded over us that renders us vulnerable, or to be in deep crisis,  instability or mentally unwell and be invited to lead, is not what the conference leaders meant by their invitation; and I would assert is not what Christ meant through his humble example as servant leader and as the son of God.

***

What is your story of vulnerability? How do you seek to align yourself with the swaddled babe or the teenage mom or the baffled boyfriend-turned-father who are all homeless? How are you choosing uncertainty, risk, transparency and openness this Advent Season?

Blessings as you meditate and respond.

Snapshots from the Sisters: Title This!

Image and text by Brian Mogren Director of the St. Jane House, Visitation Companion

“One of the things I love about this time of year is finding a REAL fire burning and a hot cup of tea ready when I stop by to visit the Visitation Sisters. Oh, and great conversation, but that’s year round with any sister!”
(Sr. Mary Margaret is pictured below.
) —Brian Mogren.

Care to provide a creative caption?

Care to provide a creative caption?