Counting Blessings

(Painting by J.J. Sletten on dispaly at Northfield Arts Guild Gallery)
Sometimes we have to count our blessings. There is an ancient Chinese curse that goes, “may you always live in interesting times.” We certainly do, with hurricane clouds crashing on the coasts and tornados and winds tearing across our own state. The lives of my students sometimes pain me and sometimes make them difficult to work with. I try to recognize the heroic efforts they make to survive and remember the words my St. Olaf professor George Helling quipped to me: “These are students you must hold in an unqualified high regard. Because if you don’t believe in them no one will.” Sometimes others describe them as “student at risk” – terminology they don’t like much and I don’t use anymore because as New York author Lee Stringer says, “All children are at risk. All children fall down. The question is, ‘Is there anyone there who will pick them up again?'”

I finished a busy week of school and spent the evening looking at artwork of past and present Northfielders and many others during the Archeopaleo & Art on Water showing Mary Ruth’s batiks and some interesting work by Eastern European artists. ArtOrg featured some very interesting work by poster and book cover artist John Berkey. Creativity lifts the human spirit it clarifies why Albert Einstein would say, “Imagination is greater than knowledge” and why the arts are so important to our schools. I did not get to all of the many galleries that beautiful evening and ended up at home worrying about the swirling storm pounding down on Louisiana and Texas, feeling helpless to do anything but check in on what was happening.

Earlier this week I joined a small group to celebrate the world day of peace. Sharon Gates Hull introduced speakers and musicians. Mayor Lee Lansing offered praise for the organizers and expressed thanks for all those who work hard to make the world a better place. It is inspiring when you stop and consider in spite of all that is wrong with the world there are many examples of good people doing good works for others.

Lakota George played beautiful traditional Lakota songs from his hand carved flutes. I asked George how his son Les was doing. Les attended Northfield ALC program a number of years ago and now is employed as a chef. Les was a great basketball player; we had trouble finding gym time to let him exercise his affection for it.

Barksdale sisters read eloquently from a collection of children’s poems about peace that they had selected. Wayne Kivel led a choral group in several songs and Marge Evans de Carpio and Lan de Carpio Evans played several Latin American songs lamenting oppression and longing for peace. Alex Beeby blogged about the event on the site.

A week ago I joined Laura Soltis and her mom Yosh at a house party for gubernatorial candidate Bud Philbrook who has spent the last 20 years managing a volunteer program promoting international understanding and peace. Bud has quite an impressive life story promoting the things most of us learned in Sunday School but forgot about after that. Bud believes the world we live in is filled with wonderful people, and we who have much must learn to help those who have little, and the world will be a much better place. It is a courageous message that we all too often forget.

Remember that John Lennon tune, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I regretted missing an event over in Belle Plaine for peace that happened this afternoon but I just couldn’t fit it in. I understand they had a good turn out and pictures should be forthcoming. I know that as they planned the event there was some consternation over whether or not it would be seen as a problem for some veterans in town. I am glad to hear it went well. Our democracy is enhanced by the willingness of citizens to gather and speak out in this way.

Democracy is fragile; some fear it falls into chaos and results in dictatorship. When asked what form of government we have, Benjamin Franklin emerging from the Congressional conference remarked, ” . . . you have a Republic if you can keep it.” At the time most were worried we would have mob rule, but we should have been as wary of the influence of money on our government. Recently we hear over and over an appeal to be bi-partisan and work together to get things done. But if what some people mean is that some voices should be silent so others can have their way, that is not democracy. A democracy is made of diverse voices that may often disagree but finding resolution means making sure the solution comes from considering all those who need to be heard. This is what mean by bi-partisanship, perhaps it should be multi-partisanship as the two political parties are not the only entities we must listen to, letting the various voices speak with a faith that we can find common ground and move forward.

The power of money to silence other voices is what is at the root of our vanishing middle class, but more about this in another blog. For the past twenty-five years on the national level we have seen our mixed economy diminished and the livelihood of middle class citizens decline while the wealthiest Americans have seen their wealth and improve many fold and their tax liability decrease. The gap between rich and poor has skyrocketed. This is not an accident, and not a result of hard work vs. laziness. It is a direct result of government policies that benefit the wealthy and strap the middle class and the poor with paying for more. Paying for increased healthcare costs even when services decline. Paying more for schools and roads and services even as they all decline. Minnesota resisted this trend until the last five years when we have seen an attack on government.

It doesn’t have to be this way if we would get government and the economy working for people, but we will need a real democracy to do this. A community is more than its market place. I was reminded of this when I attended my church block party and the harvest festival at the Valley Grove church. Two events that relied almost entirely on volunteer labor. Why? Because it was not about profits or making someone rich. It was about a community knowing itself and celebrating itself. We need a mixed economy made up of public, private and nonprofit interests where adjustments are made so that the economy serves people and not the other way around. An economy that brings tax fairness to small business and property owners and maintains public services to support them. So we can have roads that work, schools that educate, a government that gets things done, fair taxation, and a safe and clean environment.

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