I got to thinking the other day about what is the measure of a person — man or woman, or for that matter the measure of any institution, or nation. What is it that determines where we place our trust or support? Walter Cronkite used to be the last word for the whole country. If you couldn’t trust Walter Cronkite as he brought us the evening news and CBS, well you couldn’t trust anyone. We listened to the Kennedy assassination, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the Watergate hearings, man on the moon, dozens of elections, the Vietnam War and we trusted that the words we were getting were words we could believe. But within the last few years the level of trust in this country has plummeted. If we don’t like the news, its fake news. So you believe nothing because who can you trust. Every level of our trusted institutions in this country are being questioned. Nothing is sacred.
There are a great many yardsticks that we use to determine who we will follow. For me, one of the key elements in a person’s character is how they treat “the least of these.” Jesus coined the phrase when he talked about helping the hungry, those in prison, the poor. He said when you have helped the “least of these, my brethren”, you have done it to me.” When he says, ‘my brethren’ he is calling them, my brothers, my family.
Often “the least of these” get short shrift from humanity. I will start with our treatment of animals. Imagine, the world needs a society to prevent cruelty to animals who are often tortured and neglected, defenseless creatures. To see someone mistreating animals is a warning sign that there is worse to come.
Children are high on the list of those we work to protect worldwide. Children need food and shelter, they need protection from those who would harm them in many ways — slavery, sexual abuse, physical abuse. Children deserve medical care and they deserve an education. To deny children quality teachers and learning material and facilities that are safe is criminal.
The elderly need protection especially when physical illnesses, dementia, and age make them fragile. In Japan the elderly are called national treasures and they are cared for and honored as such. They have worked hard and contributed to society all their lives and are examples of courage and determination. To hurt those who cannot defend themselves is criminal.
Today I saw someone assisting a person with disabilities. It was a startling reminder that those with physical and mental disabilities need our continued support. The American Disabilities Act has helped achieve some of that, but there is more to do.
The #Metoo movement has helped us see the least of these is a gender issue as well. Just visit with women who clean motels or hotels or work as waitresses to better understand the poverty level wages and the sexual harassment they face.
Without a doubt, worldwide, the plight of millions of refugees is calling the world to account for the disruption caused by political turmoil. The bombings and acts of terrorism always hurt those who can least cope.
Overwhelming list, isn’t it? And yet, each one of us has probably walked this road at some point in our lives. We have been the ‘least of these’ and been hurt by the world around us. A list like this makes you want to go to your home and shut the world out. It hurts so much to see others hurting. We can’t fix the world, but we can find ways to actively care about others and demand our political and institutional leaders do the same.
Voting is coming upon us very soon and whether it is a school mill levy, a county or national election, each is a referendum calling those elected to be accountable and show compassionate care for those in need. We must vote with heart and mind and not allow the bullies and the braggarts to be in control. We are duty bound to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
Who do I trust? Those who walk beside me using hands and heart for the good of all.
I had forgotten this was in Terry, Montana, until I drove past it the other day. It isn't the best photo, but you get the idea -- the fanciest two-holer you've ever seen. Brick with a carved door and gables!! You have to see it to believe it!
Which reminds me how important it is to go off the main roads once in awhile. Anytime you can take a two-lane highway that goes through the smaller towns on the map it is really worth the trip. There are so many fun little things that crop up you will be enchanted and amazed!
Turn off the Interstate at Hysham and follow it in to Forsyth. Close to Forsyth you will find a little place you can turn off the road. It was a place for water. You could drink it, but it was also for overheated radiators back in the day. It is a cozy little nook.
I remember turning off the Interstate at Sauk Centre, Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis' hometown and basis for Main Street. I headed west into South Dakota. The 55 mph drove me nuts, but it was good to see the green fields and big white farm houses and church steeples peeping above the tree tops.
Last year in April you readers traveled with me south from Minneapolis to Northfield and south where I discovered some beautiful churches. It was wonderful to find these treasures as I drove along in the rain. I stopped to explore and wish I had more time.
If you take "The Enchanted Highway" near Richardton ND (don't miss the beautiful Benedictine Abbey and cathedral in Richardton.) you will travel through some lush, rolling farm country. The highway curves through several small towns as you stop to look at the huge sculptures that highlight the road.
Anytime you have the opportunity to turn off the road it is important to take the time. The slower speed gives you a chance to look around and enjoy the view. The old line "stop and smell the roses" is never truer that when you take the 'blue highways' of the world.
(read the old book BLUE HIGHWAYS by Daniel Least Heat Moon)
If you were born anywhere from about 1946-1964, you are a “baby-boomer’ and we have changed the country. We are the children of the Depression era and World War II generation. Our memories are stories of hard times and separation, but we grew up and lived in a time of great affluence. Life was good.
We graduated high school in the sixties and were on to bigger and better things until the Vietnam War hit our consciousness. I remember sitting in my dorm room at college when the draft was reinstituted and hearing girls crying as their boyfriends’ birthdays were given a draft number. It was a tumultuous time to live in.
But we moved on into adulthood, marrying, getting jobs, raising kids.
Now we are into a new life. For my birth partners, (1948) this is the year we turn 70. As Linus said to Charlie Brown when his dad turned 30, “Do people really live that long?” We are at the biblical threescore and ten.
Where class reunions once revolved around the kids, moving to advance in your job, dealing with divorces and lay offs, now the subjects are kids that are married and there are grandchildren and people are relocating to be closer to grandchildren, or going to where there is no shoveling snow, or closer to airports and doctors. We are retired and seeking out experiences which define our passions (as were our counterparts in the 60s, we are still ‘trying to find ourselves.’). Discussing surgeries and physical conditions (my knees, hip replacement, heart bypasses, cancer) we also remember classmates who have died. Some of us have great-grandchildren. Who would have thought.
Now the dilemma is down-sizing, but there are magazine articles about warehouses full of beautiful furniture, fine china and glassware. The kids don’t want that ‘old stuff’, so what to do. In our immediate futures are smaller homes, less square footage, somewhere people do the lawns and shovel the snow for us and we don’t have to step around the stuff we have accumulated. Either we’ve done it, are doing it, or just looking at the full basement and closets and muttering, “I’ll leave that for the kids to do.”
The accumulation of ‘stuff’ takes half your life. It fulfills the ‘wants’ side of our character. We ‘want’ it, we buy it. Then, like any child we get tired of it and it goes into a storage bin in the basement where it sits until down-sizing begins. I have been down-sizing for the past four years — after retirement. I have literally touched everything I own. A younger friend has helped me with Dawson County New and Used on Facebook, then of course there is The Attic, and the Used Furniture Room at our church, and the city landfill. It is quite an eye-opening process and what I feel is healthy and liberated. I am down-sizing living quarters as well.
I am surprised at the emotional response these things elicit. Gifts that were given at various times in my life as well as events I remember. Parents, relatives and friends that have died are called to mind. Right now I have stopped for awhile. The next stage will be to dig deeper. Every time I carry something out to the car it is a good feeling. If you have children you can leave it all to them, but from what I hear they don’t want to deal with it either. I don’t have children, but I am stubborn enough that I want to take care of my own stuff and I am getting there. Another load goes out today!
Before I go on to other things I need to get down some apologies for my rant the other day. I don't apologize for my frustrations or necessarily what I said, but I do apologize for leaving without a real word of hope. One friend reminded me of all the good people in Congress who are trying to right the wrongs, but are as frustrated as we are. She also reminded me of all the groups of people that have formed to work to make things better. I did mention populism and I think a reminder of all the groups like women's rights as well as civil rights that were and still are populist ground swells in answer to a bad situation is important.
So we go on speaking out, writing out, and as another friend said vote, vote, vote. I feel better today. Thanks for listening.
I am not sure how everyone is doing these days if you are trying to follow the news. As my Norwegian ancestors would say, “Uff da!” On a shop window in Westby, Wisconsin, I once saw this — “Uff da!” Is to a Norwegian what “Good grief!” Is to Charlie Brown!” I really do understand why people quit watching the news. When things get this messed up you feel helpless. Presidential and congressional candidates are always going to Washington to clean up the mess or as Trump said, “Drain the swamp!”
Well, there seems to be a whole series of things going on that they aren’t quite able to get a grip on:
The recent bombing runs in Syria — there are over 50 documented chemical attacks on Syrians and yet this time we make one run in and think we’ve done the job? Assad isn’t going to give up that easily and Russia was relieved they didn’t get seriously hit. Of course they were warned ahead of time that we were coming.
Then there is always the question of whether or not the bombing was a diversionary tactic so people will pay more attention to that than what is going on in Washington.
Legal news seems to have moved slightly from the Russia investigation to more tampering with criminal cover-ups and trying to side-step the law in issues concerning the women with whom Trump is involved, the payoffs by lawyers, the money laundering, and people in government flying all over and being where they should not be and not paying attention to what is needed on the home front.
There is no one taking care of business at home. Cabinet positions are held by incompetents only interested in lining their pockets. The rate of turnover in these offices were it in any corporation, would make stock holders vote out those in charge. People who are career diplomats and who understand the situation have been discharged or retire because they cannot stand the terrible mismanagement.
Agencies that have had the responsibility of being watch dogs in a variety of issues are skeleton crews who can’t begin to keep up when something goes wrong or else have their hands tied so they cannot take action.
Congressional Republicans are so afraid of their constituents these days and afraid they won’t get re-elected that they will not take a stand on anything. Rather than stand for the people and the Constitution, they retire and leave Washington, D.C., to continue its path to what looks like destruction. Democrats are so much in the minority they have become weak and refuse to speak out as well.
It is like no one is paying attention to business these days. Trump hops from one thing to another and when he does do something that has some validity he is easily side-tracked and uses everything to his benefit and plays to his own ego.
I don’t know if the ground swell we are seeing in some corners will continue or not — teachers seem to be stepping forward and demanding the country take some responsibility for the education of their children and their safety. Many women have stepped forward to run for political office. I am a believer in populism when those in power need to be reminded where their responsibilities lie.
The behavior, ethics, morality, whatever you want to call it in Washington, D.C., has never been so open to view. Some say, “well, everyone does it so no one should point a finger.” Of course that is no excuse for ineptitude and people have to be held to account for what they do or don’t do.
Unfortunately I don’t see anyone on the horizon in either party that could cause me to take hope. People who study these situations say we have slipped back into tribalism. If you study your history you will remember the barbarian tribes that ruled Europe until the Romans made some inroads. They were able to help people think in terms of a “community” working together for the common good instead of just trying to bash each other’s heads in literally or figuratively. Christianity was also a civilizing factor at the time.
Tribalism is still an issue in some areas of Africa; certainly Myanmar; parts of the Philippine Islands; throughout Western Europe where the European Union struggles; in Eastern Europe where after the fall of Communism, the Balkan countries broke up into warring nations once again. And of course in our own country where political parties have become the new tribes causing people to identify themselves as red or blue. Society to my way of thinking has fallen into a regressive state and it is going to take leaders with a common vision and great moral fortitude to reintroduce a set of goals and values that will reorient the world into seeing that what we can do together is so much better than demanding one way of doing things. Well, ‘lots of luck’ on that one.
When the world remembers “it is not about me” then perhaps we can begin to get something accomplished for the good of humanity.
Enjoy the photo. It was sent to me on Easter by friend Jan Nash in southern Arizona. I do love the desert and she has a real thing for the plants and flowers. "Spring in the desert!" she texted. Gorgeous.
Ran over to Miles City today -- recycling, a couple of things from Walmart and then just leisurely driving around Miles City. Back at the motel and working on a funeral sermon for Monday. Will drive down to Broadus tomorrow to preach and then home. Snow is pretty well gone but the wind has been icy!! Brrr! I came down early because the weather tomorrow is supposed to be some snow, sleet and rain! Ugh! Hope the weatherman is wrong!
Hope you will take time to read the post that follows this as it was my column about National Library Week which is coming up. Library Week is something we should celebrate with fireworks and blaring trumpets. The freedom to read, to exercise our right to access to information is by far one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy. It surpasses the right to bear arms hands down. It builds up, rather than tears down. It is mind expanding. Celebrate!!
I wish I could change the pictures on my blog, but it looks pretty much the same. There is snow on the ground tonight. Not a lot, but enough to cover everything. The ice is out on the River -- March 22nd, this year. But otherwise we have had clouds and sunshine and bitterly cold winds. The other day someone said it was -12 degrees windchill. Cousin Phil in Perkins County South Dakota remarked about how cold it has been. The wind blows right through you.
Of course my other news is a new adventure. I am selling my beloved house on Snyder. Today I got the title for the lot I wanted and tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, I will walk the lot with the builder, a young man of great enthusiasm and one who has a vision for what I want, I think. He is in his father's construction business although his father died some years ago. He was an art major in college and has now translated that into architecture and construction in our small town. We are very fortunate to have him back, raising his family here.
People ask if it will be a tiny house and my answer is, "No", a small house about 600 square feet. The point is that I am getting out from under higher property taxes and other costs to living in a larger home, although my home is not large by any standards. The other experience is down-sizing and as I told one friend it is not for the faint of heart. I spent two months down-sizing and selling my parents' home when they moved in with me in 2002. That was an entire house. Fortunately I had good friends to help. I have been working on this for the past four years but now I have to accelerate the pace.
Many of you have gone through it in some form or another and it is a grieving process. Most of what I have is part of a story -- my story. And each item brings up a name or an event. If I don't get rid of it others will. This way I can give it to whomever I choose. I am stubborn enough that I want to take charge of "my stuff".
When I moved into this house in 1997 I bought it because it was small and easy upkeep. Over the past 20 years I have redone most of the house and the yard. After four years of retirement and spending much more time in this house I have decided it is much more room that I want or need. Hence the idea of selling and building a smaller living space.
People have looked at the house and one couple in particular is especially interested. I can't start building until my house is sold hence I am living in limbo, but it does give me more time to do thoughtful down-sizing and be hard on myself if it is something I have not used for a long time.
Wish me well and hopefully I will have some more 'spring-like' pictures when next I share.
When I traveled in India many years ago, a speaker told us if his country could reach 50 percent literacy they would have achieved a huge goal. Women, mothers, were the key. Imagine a society where the majority of children leave school after the first grade to help support the family, who never have the opportunity to learn to read or write.
The middle of April will be National Library Week. Not a big deal to most of the world, except for the millions of people who have no books, who cannot read nor write, who do not know what a library, as an institution of an educated society, even is. Time and again history has shown us that an illiterate and uneducated populace is quick to fall victim to any passing person who promises ‘bread and circuses’ to keep them fed and entertained.
Is that what has been happening in our own country in recent years? This is all the more sad because we are supposedly educated. We have all manner of books available to us in a variety of forms (i.e., Kindles, Nooks, etc.). But still we have people who choose not to read, who refuse the gift they have been given, who live only in the reality of the moment and for whom history and all its lessons are not worth the consideration of a modern, technological age.
Besides reading there must be access to information. “The true university of the people is the library”. Libraries recognize the playing field needs to be leveled so that everyone, regardless of economic means, has access to the same information. Information should not be limited to those who can afford to pay. Julius Caesar had a library for the people and the great library at Alexandria, Egypt, which was destroyed by vandals and fire contained all the knowledge humanity had acquired to that time. For centuries of history the value of reading and access to books has been immeasurable.
We all know the stories of Abraham Lincoln who walked miles to borrow a book. The image of our founding leaders were men and women who read. In the South, during the days of slavery, it was a crime to teach a slave to read and write. Yet there were slave owners who broke that law, so important did they believe reading and writing were to people. When the Civil War ended the very first institutions established were schools and colleges for the education of former slaves. There was a hunger to learn, to know. Schools were the first institutions established on the frontier.
My mother, a rural school teacher, talked about the boxes of books that were rotated to the schools from the county superintendent’s office. It was like Christmas when the new books came, children grabbing something new to take home and read. Remember when we had to write book reports in school? It was a terrible assignment for many, but teachers knew the importance of books and reading to developing the minds of the children.
These days we have a leader who says “I don’t read.” But then sadly, he is not alone. Reading is a deliberate act. Reading is a discipline that requires practice. You won’t read if you don’t read, even if it is the cereal box on the table in the morning. Reading is a gift: to be able to immerse yourself in other times and places; to share the ideas of philosophers and politicians and those first-hand accounts of people who have done great things. I have often said I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I had not had books to read. And my greatest fear is to be without a book at hand (or two or three).
People with learning disabilities, people who are illiterate, live in the shadows of our society. This year let us, as an informed populace who really understands the importance of access to books and information, celebrate National Library Week in ways that make a difference: make a gift to your local library; read a book to a child or better yet, listen to a child practice their reading; then let your children see you reading a book — history, politics, or plain old escapism. The joy of reading, the skill of reading, the inner fire that burns in each of us to know more should never be dimmed because of a lack of access to reading material.
(On a personal note: What is in the stack of books by your favorite chair? I recently finished my second reading of “The Monuments Men”. What a great true mystery story that highlights the importance to our civilization of art, sculpture and books. I am now starting a biography of Red Cloud, the Sioux Indian chief who kept the U.S. military at bay by uniting a variety of tribes and fighting all across the Great Plains, blocking the Bozeman Trail. In-between times I am reading a great biography by N.T. Wright on the Apostle Paul. I recently finished and already gave away “The Preacher” by Camilla Lackland, a Swedish mystery writer. But not before I had read late into the night to find out ‘whodunit’.)