Of Books and Blizzards

After the boys are in bed one of us (usually me) reads to them a bit from a "Little House on the Prairie" book. Right now we're in the middle of The Long Winter. Which is ironic because we really haven't had much of a winter here. In the book, the Ingalls family (along with the few other settlers in De Smet, South Dakota) are in the middle of seven months of constant blizzards. The trains have not been able to run, so the town has been out of supplies for a while. The Ingalls family is down to their last loaf of bread and six potatoes. They've been living strictly on brown bread (no butter) and potatoes for several weeks now. There is no kerosene left for their lamps and no coal for their stove (the only means to heat the house).

I can't imagine.

I can't imagine eating only bread and potatoes (with nothing to go on them) for months. I can't imagine the threat of not even having that to eat.

I can't imagine waking in the morning to feel the air outside the quilts at the same temperature it is outside the house. I can't imagine not having an insulated enough house where on cold days, the only heat is immediately around the stove. I can't imagine the darkness and the isolation.

The prairie village where they lived is just over four hours from where we live. What separates us isn't so much climate or location, but time. Our wealth today (even though we are poor by most American standards), ensures us that we have food on our table and heat for our house. When we do have a blizzard (we experienced a few last year), I don't have to worry that it might be a while before we are able to stock up on supplies. Usually within 24 hours I can get somewhere. And even if the electricity goes out or something else happens, I know it won't be long before it's back on. Chances are, someone I know still has theirs if worse gets to worse.

For a s good as we have it, I also think we're missing out on something.

People 132 years ago--even in those tough times--had great attitudes. They never complained, even when only eating bread and potatoes day after day. They worked hard. Really hard. In harsh conditions. But they also knew when to take a break and enjoy themselves (not with video games or television, but with the fiddle and a book). Most of us couldn't survive if anything like that happened to us. We don't have the day-to-day survival skills of going without daily conveniences.

I'm glad we're reading it. It gives me (and hopefully the boys as well) an appreciation of what we have and what people went through to get us here today. It's good for us to remember where we've come from and the sacrifices people have made.

And I don't have a Pollyana-esque image of life back then. I know things weren't perfect (the white settlers tended to have way too much racial elitism for one). And I wouldn't want to give up the conveniences of decent medical care, being able to talk to and visit my family when ever I want, or being able to eat more than one type of vegetable through the winter.

I wish we could retain some of the attitudes: the perseverance, the humility, the strength, the positivity (or at least not focusing on the negativity). I'm thankful for books to remind us of these things.


Of Concerts, Culture, and Church

I remember reading that the Minneapolis metro area has the highest per capita average of museums/theaters/cultural venues of any city in the US. Not bad for a little Midwestern city. And they do a good job at keeping many of them accessible. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is free and it has a great selection of works from a wide range of artists (including classic painters like Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Gaugin). The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is free (both the zoo and the art museum welcome donations, of course), and while on the smaller side, has a good variety of animals as well as a relaxing place to sit and look at flowers. The library system offers free passes to a number of other museums. In the summer you can catch Shakespeare in the park or a variety of free outdoor concerts.

Last night my wife took me on a date (a much needed one) to see the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra a few blocks away in the Capri Theater. The SPCO wanted to make themselves accessible to the people of north Minneapolis, so they put on a free concert. It was a nice, intimate gathering (we were three rows back). And the people in attendance truly appreciated the concert.

I appreciate those who have worked to make culture--museums, concerts, etc.--accessible to all (I wish more would take advantage of those opportunities).

Many have tried to do similar things with church--thinking that if church was more "entertaining," it would appeal more to those who don't come, trying to make God more accessible. God is accessible, of course. And He is even more accessible through us.

There's a puppet theater in Minneapolis that wants people to have them come to their yard (or garage/basement in the case of rain) and invite neighbors to come see a show. They know that a lot of kids in our community will never get taken to a theater. So they take the theater to the kids.

God has the same plan with the church. He doesn't expect non-followers to come to church. Church is about God and the faith community; a non-follower would be out of place in that setting. So He has us make Him accessible. We are the ones who are to take God into our neighborhood, school, or workplace.

God is accessible to all. We are the ones to make that happen. (Thankfully, He is gracious when we fail)


The Gospel According to Colbert

"If this is going to be a Christian nation tht doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
- Stephen Colbert