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 #150. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Dec. 31, 2019; in print Jan. 5, 2020

My 150th column. New year. New decade.

My mind is teased by philosopher Yogi Berra’s observation that “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Browsing what I’ve written since August 2007, I detect some story lines that get to the present with a mix of what the future both was and wasn’t back then.

Dozens of themes surface, especially three.

What does it mean to be a citizen?

How do I identify myself? As citizen? Or as taxpayer? In July 2008 I said, “‘No new taxes’ is not Minnesotan.”

Howard Mohr’s book, “How to Speak Minnesotan,” gives the basics. We often say, “You bet,” or “That’s different.” Sometimes, “Whatever.” “Yeahbut” constitutes a strong stand.

“No new taxes,” however, is nowhere to be found in Mohr’s book. The phrase is a foreign intrusion into our vocabulary and our culture.

I urged all of us to challenge candidates then, and I repeat in 2020: “Invest in Minnesota, invest in the common good – heckuva deal.” That’s authentic Minnesotan. You bet.

I’m not so silly as to think there aren’t limits, but it’s a huge mistake to treat our common life as a zero-sum game: I win, you lose; you win, I lose. Either “I” spend my money or “they” (the government) do. But the government is we the people. We have banded together to get things done that can’t be done alone, for the sake of all of us.

The late Larry Haws – math teacher, wrestling coach, city parks and recreation director, county commissioner, legislator – about whom I wrote in May 2010, was the model of what it means to be a citizen. He knew about getting things done together.

“It’s like a coin is sitting on its edge,” he said. “One says ‘heads,’ the other ‘tails,’ and still neither is seeing what the other sees. We’ll find common ground only if people come around and look from the other side. I like to solve things, and you get things done by building bridges, through relationships.” That’s citizenship.

Support for education

Levy referendums. New Tech High School. Lawsuit challenging the state to fund special education. United Way/Partner for Student Success. And so much more.

Already in October 2007 I was reflecting on what I had recently seen in China, where the whole society is committed to education. No one was saying, “Because I don’t have any kids in school, it’s no concern of mine.” It’s everybody’s concern.

And further, in June 2011: Move student success to the top of your mind as good for this entire community, then start believing — really believing — that kids want to succeed and that you can play a role in the development of a child’s self-motivation, self-determination, persistence in education, academic performance and goals for the future. If this extends to your volunteering to tutor or mentor, all the better.

But don’t underestimate the significance of your attitude. When everyone takes ownership and acknowledges a stake in the development and achievement of all our children, the St. Cloud area will be transformed, deserving even more its “most livable” designation.

In 2020 we’ll have another opportunity to make the future ain’t what it used to be: support a referendum to modernize the 50-year-old Apollo High School.


This issue put us in the New York Times. In July last year: “There are no ‘others’ – St. Cloud is for all of us,” challenged that now infamous article. The story wasn’t balanced; it overestimated the strength of C-Cubed and its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim message. But that message must be countered relentlessly.

At least 13 times, representing over a year’s worth of columns, I have dealt with the challenge and opportunity that immigration poses to our community, highlighting initiatives and events that demonstrate our capacity to welcome.

Last October I recounted the most striking instance.

In mid-July, the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project’s “Birds Sing Differently Here” was presented at GREAT’s Helgeson Learning Lab Theatre. 

A week later they performed in the Twin Cities. At the after-show talk-back a person asked, “I read an article in the New York Times telling what a hateful place St. Cloud is.  What was it like performing in this place of hateful people?” The Iraqi-Minnesotan performers responded, “Not true,” with stories like “St. Cloud was the most warm and loving audience of our entire tour,” and spoke of how St. Cloud “leaned in to listen,” and how they “felt heard.”

“Big enough to make a difference...small enough to make it work.”

In January 2014 I quoted these words of the Rev. James Alberts II, describing our area. In citizenship, education, diversity – and in so much else besides – “big enough” and “small enough” is why we’re fortunate to be here. This has not changed. True in the past. Now. And for the future.