Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #076. First published in the St. Cloud Times Nov. 26, 2013

Thanksgiving is just two days away. Whether you’ll be doing the HealthPartners Wishbone Walk/Run, or eating turkey and dozing, or — as you can these commercially obsessive days — shopping, I hope it’s a good day for you.

But for some people it’s not going to be a good day. I and a number of my Times Writers Group colleagues know this. Before adding my own contribution to the list of concerns, I will recap other November columns that have reminded us how not all is well as the holiday season approaches.

Challenges abound

Eric Loehr (Nov. 11), concluding his stint as a columnist after five years, tells of his involvement with Artists Striving to End Poverty in a play in New York that sheds light on what “home” means, and particularly what it feels like if home is taken away.

Linda Larson (Nov.14), author of “Grow It! Eat It!,” notes in her Give to the Max Day plea for donations to food shelves that the average benefit available under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is $3.75 per day.

Peter Donohue (Nov. 19), in a wrenching piece, presents a no-flinch account of the anguish an entire family experiences when one of them is suffering from addiction.

Lori Long (Nov.20) highlights the well-attested wave of loneliness that overwhelms many people at holiday time, when a grief journey is all the more painful because it’s the season to be jolly.

None of these writers stops at gloom.

Loehr implores every one of us “to see more and to value every single human being as we do those closest to us.” Larson notes that while food shelves don’t solve the problems of poverty, they do solve the immediate problem of being hungry. Donohue tells of learning compassion. Long says that “slowly, ever so slowly, we begin to heal.”

The approach of Thanksgiving has put me in mind not only of my good fortune in so many blessings that have come my way, far beyond my deserving, but of the chance I have to be grateful for the opportunity to do something for those whose catalog of “things to be thankful for” is short.

There are two issues that are of special concern to me now. Both are resonant with what my colleagues have said in their columns, and one is the same as Loehr’s — homelessness. The other is sex trafficking.

Imagine no home

To be homeless in St. Cloud is miserable, and this time of year quite possibly lethal. As you gather round your table Thursday, exercise your imagination: the food, the furniture, the walls, the roof all dissolve. That’s “homeless.”

And then imagine children in that empty space. There are several hundred such children every day in the St. Cloud-area schools. Several hundred. Every day.

The district is doing everything it can to provide some stability for these kids; as their families move from shelter to shelter, or wherever they find a temporary place to stay, the district buses them to the school where they initially enrolled.

But they need stability, and here’s a way you can help. Be a tutor. Your regularly showing up one day a week will be a point of reference for the student, something to count on. Your helping the student to learn is of course important, but probably even more significant is your demonstrating that people can be trusted. Go to to learn how to volunteer.

Sex trafficking

The other issue is trafficking, especially sex trafficking of young girls, often as young as 12 or even younger. This scourge, pervasive in Minnesota as well as across the nation, has boiled up to widespread awareness.

On Nov. 17 a play, written, produced and acted by young people ages 12 to 22, and performed at St. John’s Episcopal Church, searingly portrayed the complex warping — indeed, stealing — of psyches and values by the manipulations of pimps and johns.

To find out what you can do, get in touch with the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force or the SCSU Students Against Trafficking & Sexploitation.

Join Loehr, Larson, Donohue, Long and me in giving thanks for your blessings. Then recognize that those blessings are not only a gift but an obligation.