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 #090. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Jan. 26, 2015; in print Jan. 27

Imagine someone in January 2115 reading headlines from this January's St. Cloud Times. Two in particular, one on an editorial, the other on a news story, might attract attention and invite pondering about what we, in our time, did in response to what that editorial and that story report.

The Times Jan. 21 "Our View" declares "Black Lives Matter, so let's start talking; March on MLK Day serves as motivation."

Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island have certainly brought long-simmering racial tensions in this country to the boiling point. The 50th anniversary of Selma reminds us how far we've come; the recent marches are testimony that there's still a long way to go.

But the march to which the Times refers happened in Minneapolis. The Times, while commending the marchers, notes that more than marching is needed: "advocates of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis as well as community leaders need to engage in serious discussions. ... It's going to take people from all sides of these issues sitting down and talking through some difficult differences."

Indeed. But St. Cloud is not Minneapolis. On the same day as the march there, here Police Chief Blair Anderson spoke on a panel at the "Infinite Hope, Meaningful Action: The Color of Unity" event at St. Cloud State University. Anderson said that all anyone who has an issue with the police needs to do is come talk to him or one of his officers — and the same goes for mayors and other officials.

This area, "big enough to make a difference, small enough to make it work," as the Rev. James Alberts II said at the St. Cloud State event a year ago and reiterated this time, is already well on the way to "talking through some difficult differences." This area is a community with an openness that is rare, and worthy of celebration. Greater> is not just public relations hype.

Another set of differences that are of particular interest to me (see the job I used to have in my identifier below) was addressed in a positive way when the invocation was offered by Jama Alimad (Muslim), Lalita Subrahmanyan (Hindu), Joseph Edelheit (Jewish) and Michael Laidlaw (Christian). Yes, there are adherents of each of those traditions who recoil from association with the others, but they are not the ones setting the agenda here. The invocation at "Infinite Hope, Meaningful Action" gave new, 21st-century substance to the 20th-century slogan, "the family that prays together stays together."

The Page 1, above-the-fold news story (Jan. 16) that would get our 2115 reader's attention is this: "New high school would hike taxes for St. Cloud." At first glance this seems in a different realm from the editorial about marching for equality, but it's intricately connected to the same larger issue of who we are as a community, what our priorities are, and how we shape the future.

The proposal for the new Tech and upgrades to Apollo will likely be put to a vote in the fall, but the Times already has begun the public conversation. What the news story reports is of course germane to the discussion. And how the discussion gets framed will determine whether here, too, we will be Greater >.

The issue must not get framed in terms of taxes. In this, as in so many other aspects of our public life, when we define ourselves first as taxpayers and only secondarily as citizens, our vision is clouded, our perspective foreshortened, our life together cramped. We forget that we all do better when we all do better.

I hope our 2115 readers' continuing research comes across another story, from later in 2015, with a headline like this: "Voters overwhelmingly approve high school levy referendum," and a subhead, "Community poised to thrive for the next hundred years."

I want that reader a century hence to think "Wow, back then on equality and on education they showed they really were big enough to make a difference, small enough to make it work. I'm so grateful for what they did!"