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 #142. First published in the St. Cloud Times online May 3, 2019; in print May 5

Long-term. We all know it’s how we should think. We also know we seldom do it.

The quarterly report. How the Dow did today – or even just this morning. The election only 18 months away.

Don’t get me wrong. All these near-term concerns are real. They – especially the last – make a big difference in our lives both individually and together.

Last month, though, I was in three meetings that reminded me if we’re to achieve the goal articulated memorably by Yogi Berra –“The future ain’t what it used to be” – we have to make decisions now that move us toward that hope.

The three meetings: Strategic Planning Task Force for the Minnesota Humanities Center; Minnesota State Conference of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, held in St. Cloud; and the monthly meeting of the Homelessness Community Solutions Team of United Way of Central Minnesota.

The Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC), of which I’m a board member, will soon celebrate its first half-century. It’s a good time to reassess and re-imagine.

We’re getting to fundamentals: values, vision, mission. How we’ll put all this together remains to be seen, but I believe two values we’ve already identified will be part of the plan: inclusivity and statewide reach.

The humanities are not an elite preserve, something some people possess that they then transmit to others. The humanities are what we discover as we explore and invent the human experience together. MHC understands that equity, empathy and engagement are consequences of listening to all voices.

In Minnesota, “all voices” includes the half of the state’s population outside the Twin Cities metro area. From the beginning, MHC has taken seriously its statewide obligation. With this value informing vision and mission as we think long-term, we will help undergird “One Minnesota” by amplifying what unites us rather than what divides us.

I’ve long been persuaded by the overwhelming consensus of scientists that climate change is happening and we’re mostly causing it.

Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL) has a particular take on the crisis. One of its fundamental values is bipartisanship. Though the parties are in general on opposite sides of this issue, there is movement – especially among young people, both conservative and liberal – toward acknowledgment that there is a problem and it’s urgent. There were conservatives at the state conference.

CCL’s vision is a protected Earth. The value of bipartisanship directs its mission toward support of U.S. House of Representatives bill 763, called “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.” The bill puts a tax on carbon, which will propel energy innovation. The proceeds from the tax, the “dividend,” are distributed to the American people – you and me. It’s a meeting ground for liberals and conservatives.

At the CCL state conference, statements by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, on the left edge of Congress, and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, on the right edge, were displayed side-by-side: Ocasio-Cortez in favor of the Green New Deal, Gaetz for the Green Real Deal. If you didn’t know the identities of the speakers, you’d never have guessed they were far apart politically.

H.R. 763 is a real possibility. Join me in urging Rep. Tom Emmer to sign on to it. It’s a practical mission that builds on a hopeful vision that is grounded in a value – bipartisanship – that has almost disappeared.

The number of families experiencing homelessness in Central Minnesota has increased 42% in the last five years. Reports from many organizations at April’s meeting of the Homelessness Community Solutions Team make clear that the future we’re now in is what it used to be – even moreso.

  • The Salvation Army shelter is full at all times, with 30 families waiting.
  • Over 1,800 applied in a one-week period for the Housing Choice Voucher Program administered by the St. Cloud HRA. One thousand were put on the wait list.
  • Church of the Week houses 30-50 a night, even now in nicer weather.
  • Catholic Charities transitional housing: Domus has 16-20 females with children on the wait list; Emily's Place, for single females without children, has 6-10.
  • Area schools report an average of 180 homeless students in any given year.

The value is simple: What a homeless person needs is a home. The vision is clear: Everyone in the St. Cloud area housed. The mission of UWCM, which has joined forces with CentraCare and many other organizations, is to coordinate efforts including seeking financial support from the state legislature to make that vision real. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also saves the public lots of money.

Long-term thinking – by CCL for the entire planet, by MHC for the entire state, by UWCM for our region. I urge you to get involved with one or more groups – there are many of them – that are thinking and acting long-term so that the future ain’t what it used to be.