Minneapolis

“Welcome to Generica!” the Right Reverend Brian Prior announces as I pull into his driveway. Brain and his wife Staci live in the kind of planned neighborhood that all financially stable white people are supposed to live in. They like their house just fine, but neither can shake the uncomfortable feeling they get from living in structured suburbia.

My first morning in Minneapolis I drive into the city to visit Brian at work. Brian’s office is in a fairly unassuming building a few blocks away from the famous Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. I tell the receptionist that I’m here to see the bishop, and she says he’ll be right out. She offers me water, which I politely refuse. After a few minutes Brian’s assistant, a capable woman in her 30s, comes out to let me know that he knows I’m here and will be just another minute. She offers me water, which I politely refuse. She’s glued to her phone, and clearly knows his entire schedule for the day. She disappears and I watch as several employees around my age pull vinyl signs out of boxes. “I wanted to see what we have before I do a big order,” one of the young women says to another.

BellBrian emerges, giving his last goodbyes to a young black woman, a priest by the looks of her collar. Brian’s assistant leads me into his office, which is a minimalist wonderland. There’s an austere bookshelf on the wall which is filled but not full. The books represent varying degrees of religiosity, with some specific to the Episcopal church and others on secular philosophy. His desk is clear and clean. There’s an iPad on a stand with no external keyboard. There are no cords anywhere. I sit on a comfortable but simple couch, opposite a pair of matching chairs. The coffee table is decorated with a single, colorful bowl of peanut M&Ms. I grab a handful to help fight off my envy for his beautiful workspace.

“Tell Katrina what she should do with one day in the city,” Brian instructs his assistant with a smile. I recognize the tone. It’s the same one my boss always uses when he knows I’m better than him at something. She starts rattling off a list as Brian glides around the room, clearing away the water glasses from his last meeting.

“Would you like some water?” he asks me.

Brian has another meeting to run off to, but he takes a moment to introduce me to the young people I’d been eavesdropping on before. I ask them where I should go for lunch, and there’s much confused debate as the group tries to come up with the best recommendation. Once again I’m reminded of my own workplace, where we often can’t manage to pick a lunch locale to save our lives. Before I leave one of the young women offers me a small piece of plastic off of her keychain. It’s an unlimited pass for the city’s bike sharing program. She’ll be in the office all day, so she sees no reason I shouldn’t take advantage of it. It’s the best way to see the city, she says.

Man an Woman taking Photos at the CherryI take off, hitting destination after destination. I start with the iconic cherry and spoon sculpture in the park. I’m excited to discover that it was designed to be a bridge, but disappointed to learn that you’re not allowed to walk on the art. I grab some fried tofu at the Malaysian place the staff recommended, and ride my bike up Nicollet Mall. I quickly fall in love with the bike sharing program. It combines the best parts of both buses and taxis. The racks are spread throughout the city, and the only rule is that you have to return the bike to a rack – any rack – within 30 minutes of checking it out. I download the app to my phone to help me find the nearest racks, and I never have a problem getting a bike when I need it.

RuinsAfter a quick stop in the beautiful Guthrie Theater, I walk to the back of the Mill City Museum to check out the open area in the back. The rear of the building was destroyed in an explosion, and it’s been turned into an open air exhibit. After snapping a few photos I start towards the river and the Stone Arch Bridge. I see a sign indicating I’m entering “Mill Ruins Park,” and there are a few scattered pieces of old foundations around the sign. I assume they’ve named the park after the nearby old mill, and I head towards the bridge. After walking 20-30 feet I glance back towards the shore to see a scene out of a movie. Set back into the sloping riverside are the actual mill ruins. They look like they belong in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, or maybe some live-action version of Cinderella. If it weren’t for the modern city buildings less than 100 yards away, you’d swear it was the kind of place fairy magic comes from. The walls of the mill structure are crumbling so that some rooms are fully open and others completely closed – perfect for a romantic assignation with a prince. There’s water coming in and out of passageways just big enough to jump over if, for example, the treacherous Captain Barbossa was coming after you with a sword. And of course there are plenty of half-collapsed walls you can hide behind in case you find yourself in a shoot out with – or against – Indiana Jones.

Locks and FallsAfter the Mill Ruins Park, the stone bridge and manmade waterfalls almost seem like a let down. There are so few adventures I can imagine having on them. I hop on a bike and make my way back towards the diocesan offices, stopping to take a photo of Mary Tyler Moore along the way. Brian and I meet up with Staci at her school, and the three of us carpool downtown for dinner. Our pizza is delicious but quick, as Brian has to run off to a men’s prayer group and Staci needs to be back at school for the parents’ open house. Other than a few passing moments at General Convention, I haven’t seen Brian and Staci since he was elected bishop and they moved away from Washington several years ago. Our time is brief, but it’s worthwhile. In planning this trip it never occurred to me that I could use it to renew so many old friendships.

Mary Tyler MooreI briefly consider driving out to the Mall of America, but decide I’d rather have a quiet evening back at the house. Minneapolis is a big city, and because of the bike share I was able to cover seven miles of tourism in a matter of hours, hitting every major attraction on my list. It was exhausting. Most of my big city visits are like this. There’s so much to do and see that it’s hard to slow down, let alone process. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off just picking one thing I really wanted to do in a city, and forcing myself to hang out in that spot until I’m overcome with boredom. It’s not a bad idea, I suppose. Maybe I’ll do it  next time I’m in a big city. Unless, of course, there’s a bike share.

I Should Have Budgeted More Time for the National Cathedral

I love visiting churches, and before I left Alexandria my friend Josh recommended I stop by the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. I couldn’t remember if this was one of the attractions I had seen during my first visit to the city in high school. So much of that trip blurred together. But I figured a church is a church and I would still enjoy looking around.

MLK CarvingI parked in the garage, where the first half hour is free. I figured I could be in and out in thirty minutes, no problem. I was so wrong. You don’t visit the National Cathedral like it’s a church, you visit it likes it’s a museum. There are pamphlets and self-guided tours and every piece of art has meaning and history. On either side of the main worship space are small alcoves, labeled as “Memorial Bays” on my map. Each bay has a unique stained glass window and stone features, such as the Kellogg Bay which features a carving of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as  he preached his last Sunday sermon from the Cathedral’s pulpit, or the George Washington Bay with abstract designs reflecting the search for freedom.

Woman in the WindowI saw in my brochure that the Cathedral had a “Space Window” commemorating the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. The window contained a piece of moon rock brought back by the crew. I located the window on the map and begin walking down the alcoves in search of it. As I passed by the memorial bays, one window caught my eye. In the lower left there was a picture of a woman. She is dark-skinned with large eyes. She looks at you. She walks toward you. I found her captivating and couldn’t say why. I kept walking in search of the space window, only to realize I must have passed it. I walked back, once again stopping at the window with the woman. Who was she supposed to be? I remember looking at the description and not understanding the connection. Later I tried to remember which bay she was in, and went searching online for photos. I could find more photos of her window than any other, but few were labeled for where in the Cathedral the image was taken. Finally I found it – it was the Woodrow Wilson Bay. I can’t begin to guess why, except that she must represent some policy he created. All I have now is her haunting figure, asking me for something. Trying to tell me something. I have no idea what.

Eventually I found the Space Window. I had been looking at eye-level where the memorial bays were, but the Space Window is high above, near the ever-distant ceiling. I walked out into the nave to gaze up at it. It’s a nice affirmation to my understanding that science and religion are not at odds, but in harmony. It’s too bad many of the people who work so close to the Cathedral can’t seem to come to the same conclusion.

Chapel Altar PieceThere are multiple side chapels, each constructed and decorated to a theme. There’s the Children’s Chapel with a figure of Jesus the size of a six-year-old child. There’s the War Memorial Chapel with images of soldiers and valor. Saint John and Saint Mary each have a chapel as well, and after circling through each one you end up back at the front of the very long High Altar space, where you can see the three rose windows to the north, south, and west.

I had already passed the half hour mark, but figured I could still finish my visit in an hour and only pay the minimum for parking. Then I turned my map over. I hadn’t been downstairs.

Downstairs?

Few and far between are the churches with publicly accessible crypts. The crypt at the National Cathedral holds an additional four chapels. All of them are as beautiful as the main nave above, if not more so. The Bethlehem Chapel has dozens of hand-stitched prayer cushions depicting the birth narrative of Jesus. In the Resurrection Chapel, mosaics line the walls. The color and shine bounce off the art in such a way that the whole room glows. I’ve never seen a windowless room be so bright.

Eternal Rest in the Gift ShopThe anachronistic feeling in the Cathedral gift shop made me giggle. In order to maintain the beautiful gothic exterior, no additional buildings have been added on to the Cathedral. This means the shop must be incorporated into the existing structure. And when the existing structure happens to contain 100 years of religious practices, it means that occasionally someone’s burial tomb is directly above the “My First Communion” books.

Like seemingly all significant churches on the east coast, the National Cathedral is an Episcopal church. I beamed with pride upon seeing the table of paraphernalia dedicated to the Episcopal church. Would you like a T-Shirt of Robin Williams’ “Top Ten Reasons to Be an Episcopalian?” How about a pocket-sized Book of Common Prayer? They even had the book written by current Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. I feel like it gives me a lot of denominational cred that my church’s highest office is held by a woman – not to mention a licensed pilot.

Older Style WindowAll told I spent over and hour and a half visiting the National Cathedral, and I didn’t even get to look at the gardens outside. Unfortunately I had places to be and battlefields to see. Had I known I suppose I would have tried to get an earlier start on the day. But the Cathedral wasn’t the first place I visited where I wished I could stay longer, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get. Maybe next time I’ll get to see the Darth Vader gargoyle. I may even find the time to pray.