The Reformation at 500 Years

500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at his home church in Germany. It basically was the beginning of the end of the First Reich (which most know as “the Holy Roman Empire).

Saturday night we were privileged to be among over 1,000 people at Basilica of St. Mary for truly unique event. My “thank you” to Basilica of St. Mary and St. Olaf College: “The program Saturday night was magnificent, I would say, perfect in every way.” Saturday evening seemed to be more than just another program….

Basilica of St. Mary was filled for the concert featuring the famed St. Olaf Choir, and our similarly outstanding Basilica of St. Mary Choir. Here is the entire 1 1/2 hour program: My Soul Cries Out001

The program was free (with donations freely accepted mid-concert!); doors opened at 7:30 for the 8:00 performance. This gave time for a couple of snapshots:

(click to enlarge all photos, double click for more.)

Waiting for the doors to open Oct. 28, 2017

Waiting patiently.

Should anyone wonder: yes, we were orderly, and friendly, and patient, and the doors opened almost precisely on time at 7:30, and we walked in orderly fashion to our seats. Maybe I could ask you to pick out the Catholics and the Lutherans from amongst the group, but I am sure that there were far more than just those.


For myself, a lifelong Catholic whose growing up was in the not-so-good old days of the 1940s and 50s, and participating in the pews of my home church, the evening was an emotional event.

In my recollection, the splendid St. Olaf choir processed down the center aisle to the sanctuary area, and the Basilica choir began the concert in the choir loft high above the church. I’m not sure how the entrance was stage-managed, but I couldn’t help but muse that the entrance wasn’t one of triumph, or conquest, or capitulation. It was, rather, a profound showing of respect for everyone, by everyone.

Photos for a snapshot guy like me were all but impossible. Here is one where, if you look carefully, you can see some St. Olaf choristers in their purple robes, and some Basilica choir members in their off-white. Just click a second time.

October 28, 2017, Basilica of St. Mary.

Most of us in the church were at least generally aware of the hundreds of years of history which preceded this signal event, one of many in this 500th year of reflection on Protest-ant, and the 50th year after official dialogue began between Catholics and Lutherans.

Here’s a Lutheran explanation of the last 50 years.

Here’s a commentary by Dr. Johan van Parys in the Basilica magazine: van Parys spring 2017002

Here is a good reference point for the Lund Sweden reflections referenced in the program.


Of course, the Popes of the Catholic Church have not always been “saintly” in any sense of that term. Pope Leo X was Pontiff 1513-21. Luther had his own failings. We are all human beings, after all.


The concert got to thinking back to my own history as a Catholic, growing up in tiny rural towns in North Dakota. Pope Pius XII died in Oct. 1958 when I was a freshman in college; and Pope John XXIII (Saint John XXIII) was his successor and enabled the opening of the windows of the Catholic Church, ecumenism and renewing relationships with other denominations.

I grew up in the old days of separation and division, and entered college not knowing that I was entering a new era.

Back at home, Sunday, I decided to take a look at my old college annuals, and there in the 1961 annual was this page, including a surprising face: Interreligious Coun 1961001.

I remember five of those in the photo from 1960 or 1961. Our most important act, which had to be facilitated by elders of all denominations at the time, was the very fact that we met at all, and that we were recognized as a group.

Inter-Religious Council Valley City State Teachers College 1960-61


It would seem to me, as an individual, that the best we can expect in our pluralistic country, is that we respect each others beliefs, whatever those beliefs happen to be. We’ve come a long ways. We have a long ways to go.

What Luther did back in 1517 needed doing.

The debate will always continue, but perhaps we are making a serious effort to change.

POSTNOTE: 3:45 p.m. Oct 31.
The spiritual dimension of life has always been important to me, much more so than the orthodox definitions of particular beliefs (which vary greatly, as we all know.)

What intrigues me is the interrelationship between temporal power, and the will of the people.

People perceived to be in power are the ones who make the rules; who enable, or disable initiatives for change.

When I rediscovered on Sunday the committee I had been part of in college, it was something of a revelation to me. I had forgotten any involvement in such an “inter-religious” venture, which would not have happened two years earlier.

In this particular instance, Pope John XXIII was effectively the moving party, encouraging taking a new look at ancient practices, including relations between different Christian denominations. This in turn enabled others at other levels to begin informal dialogues, and not just Catholic. In my small example, some committee at the college had to authorize the organization and the faculty member advisor, and the local ministers also needed to be at least somewhat interested in the dialogue. Absent such leadership, we certainly wouldn’t have been memorialized by a page in the college yearbook!

Of course, direct action by the people themselves is also a possibility, but as we all know who functions as leader, at even local levels, makes a lot of difference.

People have a lot of power, and must exercise it in their selection of leaders.

#1112 – Dick Bernard: Welcoming Refugees

POSTNOTE March 7: Here is a powerful video from Kathy, who says: “Here is a short video recently completed under IARP [Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project Minnesota] guidance. A refugee story of recent reluctant Iraqi refugee.
Ali lives here in Mpls. now. I find his telling of his story quite impactful.”
PRE-NOTE: If you haven’t already done so, help out Green Card Voices with a donation today. The information is here. Deadline is midnight tonight. POST-NOTE to PRE-NOTE Mar 7: Green Card Voices made its goal!
Sunday at Basilica of St. Mary a refugee family was welcomed, several Somalians arriving in the Twin Cities via several years long stay in a refugee camp in Kenya.
The welcome message is here: Basilica Refugees 3-6-16001. I would encourage you to take the time to read the entire message.
Ours is a very large parish, so this was a process covering months. In fact, I’ve written about refugees before. Here are some. Midway down in the December 1 post is another Basilica newsletter.
And, of course, there are differences of opinion. Not everyone is welcoming….
Today’s newsletter brought me back to a post I started in mid-February.
The relevant “snip” from the earlier draft is below and above the * * * for those with an interest.
* * *
Earlier [mid-February, 2016] was the well-publicized dust up involving Pope Francis and Donald Trump about whether a bridge or a wall is the most appropriate way for a Christian to treat immigrants, legal or illegal. The spotlighted case: the Mexican border.
* * *
This flap, as well as the death of Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia about the same time, brought into focus the quandaries of even religious people, of the same denomination, when dealing with issues such as immigration, including completely legal immigration. Those reading will know the distinctions, and probably are on one side or the other of the general issue.
Personally, I noted that this year Pope Francis has declared as a “Year of Mercy” for the worldwide Catholic Church. It is how he spoke at the Mexican border about treatment of immigrants.
Mercy is a call taken seriously by local parishes. I’ve seen it in disparate places, from Waikiki, to the Big Island of Hawaii, to the Franciscan Retreat Center.
At Waimea on the Big Island, Mercy and immigrants was spotlighted two days after Christmas Day. Then back home came another reminder. (both at the end of the post).
“Mercy” is being spotlighted this year. And I’m glad it is.
But Mercy is not as simple as it sounds. It is a challenge.
The declaration, as amplified by the Pope Francis/Donald Trump “dust-up” in mid-February, has brought forth memories of a powerful workshop I attended in March, 2005, where I found myself stuck in the role of Mercy, in competition with Peace, Justice and Truth. (We were all “birds of a feather” in this workshop – people who could talk easily with each other about this topic. At the same time, the instructor forced us to choose one of the four words to ally with.
And I was assigned to “Mercy”.
I’ve dusted off my brief recollection from that workshop, and you can read it here: Mercy002 Note how Mercy fared….
A phrase I hear quite often from friends in Peace and Justice work is that “Without Justice, there can be no Peace”.
Where do “Mercy” and “Truth” fit in?
Something each of us might ponder.
Have a great day.

#873 – Dick Bernard: Easter, a Beautiful, Reflective, Complicated, Controversial Time

It is expected to be a beautiful Spring day in the Twin Cities today. Perfect Easter weather. Of course, not all Easter Sundays have been perfect. We dodged a lot of snow just a few days ago….
(click to enlarge)

Postcard saved by my grandparents at their North Dakota farm dated April 4, 1915.

Postcard saved by my grandparents at their North Dakota farm dated April 4, 1915.

(explanation at end of post)
Basilica hand 4-18-14001
Best I know, the Catholic Church does more with Easter week than most any other Christian denomination. My sister, Mary, near the end of a U.S. Peace Corps assignment down in the South Seas in the island country of Vanuatu, described Easter there yesterday, in an Easter e-mail from New Zealand. You can find her description here, at the very end of this now very long post, dated April 19, 2014.
Good Friday I volunteered to usher at the at noon service at my church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis. We ran out of leaflets – they had printed 450. There were perhaps 500 in attendance, more than anticipated.
The Stations of the Cross are always a reflective time. The phrase that stuck most with me on Friday was this, from the Second Station, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus:
“They shared one another’s life for some three years.
They talked together, ate together, traveled together.
That night, he came to Jesus and kissed him one last time…
no kiss of love,
rather, a kiss of rejection and betrayal.
To feel rejected or to feel betrayed is a painful experience.
To be rejected or betrayed by a friend hurts even more.
Who among us has never felt rejected or betrayed?
Or who among us has never rejected or betrayed someone?

Betrayal is an ugly thing.
Rejection tears at the very fabric of our self-esteem….”
You can read that reflection, and all the rest, here: Basilica of St. Mary 2014 Stations of the Cross Presider Book
As years accumulate, stuff happens…for us all. Hurt, and all the rest, is not only one way. Messes are part of everyone’s life.
After the Stations, I walked across Loring Park to have a cup of coffee with a good friend of mine. She’s Catholic, too. Earlier in the morning she’d had breakfast with a couple of Catholic friends, folks I know, who are disgusted with the Church, one because of the continuing unresolved scandal of sex abuse by some Priests (his was a painful personal experience some 50 years ago); the other because, apparently, there’s nothing in the church for her daughter, who’s becoming Episcopalian.
Earlier that morning I’d written a note to a friend who’s being baptized Catholic Saturday night but had almost dropped out due to the latest scandal news last Fall. We had long conversation at her time of crisis last Fall, and after that and many other conversations with other people, she chose to carry on with her desire to become Catholic.
My general advice to her, as I recall: do as you will; we’re a huge church, and the church is all of the people in it, not just some leader or bad apple.
Before I wrote to her, I’d written to the Priest who’s again in the headlines out here. I had and have great respect for Fr. Kevin – he was my pastor in the 1990s, and Diocese Vicar General as well – the point person on the then-abuse cases. A wonderful man.
Earlier this week he’d spent an entire day in depositions because of alleged mishandling of complaints somewhere back when.
I used to have a job similar to his, representing people in trouble, and answering to a boss, so I understand the dilemmas he must have faced when the scandals erupted years ago.
So it goes.
I have no problem admitting I’m life-long and still active Catholic. “Catholic” is, as already described, a very complex term. As usher, I see all sorts of “Catholics” entering the doors, and I will again at the 9:30 Easter Mass this morning.
It is the people who are the Church, and Catholics are a diverse lot, defying a standard description, from least to most exalted…. The U.S. is a diverse lot, too. Even families, as most of us know from personal experience.
A short while ago, on March 27, was when Pope Francis met President Obama in Rome. I was in LaMoure ND on that day, when the new Bishop of Fargo, John Fulda, came by. He was there for a meeting with area Priests, and the afternoon Mass was crowded.
Here’s two photos from March 27:
March 28, 2014 Minneapolis Star Tribune

March 28, 2014 Minneapolis Star Tribune

Bishop John Folda at LaMoure ND Holy rosary Church March 27, 2014

Bishop John Folda at LaMoure ND Holy rosary Church March 27, 2014

If any two people know about differences of opinion and how they need to be respected, it is Pope Francis and President Obama. They represent immense constituencies where differences of opinion abound. I highly respect them both, and I think their common thread is their efforts to set a higher bar for a more positive tone of dialogue and understanding between and among people.
At their level, disagreement is assumed. Their job is to try to set the tone, and they both work on a positive tone.
Our society, of course, seems to place the emphasis on disagreement, “dissent”. When in doubt, go to war, with each other, or against some other. The fact of the matter is that these two international leaders, one representing people generally, and one representing a religious belief, understand another way of communicating: the importance of dialogue, of relationship.
I suspect the same has to be true of Bishop Folda, a youthful, new Catholic Bishop living in a world as he does where not even all Catholics agree with him, much less the rest of the population.
Which leads back to the hand leading this post: I was cleaning up after Stations and found the scrap of paper on the floor.
It was by a little kid, probably, doing some drawing of his or her family, including an apparently recently deceased pet, Buttercup. Somebody wrote in the names.
I like that illustration; no trash can for it! There seem to be seven people and one deceased animal in it, and behind the words are the real lives of these seven people, and all that surround them. Maybe, today, there’s an Easter Egg hunt at their house, or neighborhood. Perhaps candy. Hopefully something with family, a pleasant day (as we know, such days are not always pleasant for everyone.) Tomorrow is the future, and whatever it holds for all of them.
Happy Easter.
Another old Easter card from the ND farm, undated.

Another old Easter card from the ND farm, undated.

POSTNOTE: 9:30 Mass at Basilica was crammed with more people than I’ve ever seen there over the last 18 years of membership. The sanctuary was filled to overflowing by 9 a.m., and the supplementary overflow facility was also filled to standing room only. A far larger than normal crowd is always expected at Christmas and Easter. This crowd was considerably larger than usual.
Lee Piche, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese, was guest homilist (sermon) and had an excellent message which I interpreted as advice to better care for not only each other but for our earth. I was impressed.
Everyone, of course, has their own story about why they attended today.
To me, the only story is that a lot of people showed up….

#789 – Dick Bernard: One Catholics thoughts on the continuing sex abuse issue in the Catholic Church

UPDATE Oct. 23, 2013: There are a half dozen comments to this post. They are included at the end. As I noted to one reader, I could have gone on at much greater length about this aspect, or that, of this most complicated topic, but chose to keep my thoughts somewhat brief. As is also obvious, individuals have differing points of view. But that’s as I’ve always seen this Church: a rather unruly rabble of good people which is not the monolith it appears to be.
Saturday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune lead front page article headlined “[University of] St. Thomas trustee who handled cases quits”. The trustee, Fr. Kevin McDonough, when I knew him best, was pastor of my Church in St. Paul and Vicar General of the Archdiocese. He was then in the bulls-eye investigating sex abuse cases involving clergy. I had, and have, huge respect for him. He was a national expert on the Church scandal.
Fr. Kevin’s boss, Archbishop Harry Flynn, from everything I knew, then, got it: church operations had to change, drastically, and these changes were implemented. This mornings paper, the front page lead headline is that Fr. Kevin’s fellow St. Thomas University Board member, Board co-Chair, retired Abp. Harry Flynn, has also resigned. I was surprised. Best I knew, Abp Flynn acted aggressively in every instance of abuse identified.
And two weeks ago, on October 7, a retired teacher I’ve known for years, publicly came out as a victim of sex abuse by a Priest in the 1950s and 1960s.
So, somebody might logically ask, knowing that I was at Mass at Basilica of St. Mary again this morning, ushering as usual, “how can you possibly continue in such a corrupt institution?”
Before answering that, here’s a long article I read about this issue ten years ago: Richard Sipe June 2003001. Richard Sipe talked, back then, on the “Culture of deceit undergirds clergy sex abuse.” I was taken by the article then, and I think it remains very relevant now, and I recommend it to anyone. (Re the editor of the publication in which the article appears, Bread Rising, see note at the end.)
So, why do I, and so many “Catholics” stay Catholic? I can speak only for myself.
We Catholics are part of a diverse, ragged and often imperfect “family”. Like all families, there are problems within. Because of our size, and the hierarchical and management structure – bluntly, some of the leaders just don’t get it – there are, and there will continue to be occasional problems. It would be good to be perfect, but we aren’t. In diverse ways, many of us work in various ways within our Church to change the system.
There are many differences of opinion within this family to which I belong (including amongst many members who have left). But today, as usual, my Church was well attended.
I benefit from the experience of having represented public school teachers.
Public School is also a very human institution, and during my work years the spotlight also focused on occasional inappropriate and unacceptable behavior by adults, teachers, in a position of authority.
Allegations about sex, we learned, back in the 1980s, were different than other allegations. The instant presumption seemed to be that an allegation against an accused perpetrator was true. Often this was the case, but not always. But there was a tendency to overreact; normal due process (“innocent until proven guilty”) was more difficult to achieve: once accused, guilty.
I remember vividly when we taught our teacher members NO TOUCH, PERIOD as a defensive strategy, and particularly one kindergarten teachers lament about not even being able to tie her kindergarteners shoelaces.
It took a long while, but after a time a certain amount of common sense equilibrium reached.
This issue has been more difficult in the Catholic Church than in schools, or so it seems. Perhaps this is because the Church is a massive private and mysterious institution, whose management was long accustomed to being out of the purview of the civil law. Some of those Diocesan heads – Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals – were (and some still are) very slow learners. And these cases become newsworthy, front page news.
Would it be best to have no problem like this? Absolutely.
Will the Church, or people generally, ever be totally perfect? Of course not.
I choose to stay with “the family” as I know it. There are lots and lots of good people within the Catholic Church of my experience, and in general it remains a positive asset to the greater community in many ways.

NOTE ON BREAD RISING: I met Terry Dosh, editor of the newsletter in which Sipe’s article appeared, in 2001, when he and I were standing in line, chatting, waiting to meet Bishop Thomas Gumbleton at Basilica of St. Mary, where Gumbleton had just completed a powerful workshop we had attended. I add the bios of Sipe and Dosh to give some important context to their work. (The link is a long video of Terry Dosh describing his own life path as a Catholic. It is very interesting, for anyone with an interest.)
Here is a second Richard Sipe talk which appeared in the January, 2005, issue of Bread Rising: Richard Sipe Jan 2005002

Peace Pole at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, south Minneapolis October 20, 2013

Peace Pole at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, south Minneapolis October 20, 2013

COMMENTS in order of receipt:
from Andrea G: Great post. Today after 10 am mass during our coffee/donuts session, several parishioners were discussing the news of late. A few were openly discussing [Abp] Nienstedt’s actions and basically shaming him for not addressing the issues in public/in person during a mass. My jaw hit the floor as [our church pastor] was in ear shot of the discussion.
from John C (his most interesting website is here):
One can be a true follower of Jesus, even Catholic,
without being Roman.
Jesus never set up an Institution
and even if he did, t’would not be Roman.
Catholic (in the True Sense) evermore, Roman, ne’er again
My Church
Not in structure, organization, culture, or practice,
But as Jesus, in Love and Forgiveness.
Not in common external signs of piety,
But in the pursuit of Spiritual Growth.
Not as members of one universal organization,
But reaching out to serve ALL peoples of the world,
especially the marginalized.
Not in physical lineage to the Apostles,
But living in the Holy Spirit as bestowed on them
and us.
Not in a limiting or exclusive sense,
But in an Expanding and Inclusive sense.
The hierarchy labels Catholics,
who have moved beyond the boundaries
of institutional religion in search of Spiritual growth
Fallen-away Catholics,
as if not following the man-made rules and regulations
signifies a loss of faith.
I asked people for a more appropriate name for us;
Here are some of the responses:
Homeless Catholics, Nomad Catholics,
Catholic Alumni, Exodus Catholics, Liberated Catholics,
Adult Catholics, Non-Attending Catholics,
Un-fearful Catholics, Alienated Catholics,
Non-bureaucratic Catholics, Inclusive Catholics,
Catholics in Love, Catholics in Exile,
Recovering Catholics, Kinda Catholics,
Liberal Catholics, Raised Catholics, USTA B Catholics,
Wandering Catholics, Roamin’ Catholics,
Disgruntled Catholics, Wayward Catholics,
Activist Catholics, Gypsy Catholics,
Agitator Catholics, Jesus Catholics,
Non-bureaucratic Catholics, Un-hierarchied Catholics,
Protesting Catholics, Re-Formed Catholics,
Metanoiaed Catholics, Pray, Play, DisObey Catholics,
Non-Babel Catholics, Catholics Living in the Real World
Post-medieval Catholics, Un-clericalized Catholics,
Freed Catholics, New World Catholics, Rebel Catholics,
Disenfranchised Catholics, Home-Liturgy Catholics,
True-Tradition Catholics, Non-Lay Catholics,
De-Catechized Catholics, Open-Table Catholics,
De-institutionalized Catholics,
De-programmed Catholics, De-culted Catholics,
Ecumenical Catholics, catholic Catholics,
Christian Catholics, Home-Church Catholics,
Fundamental Catholics,
(as opposed to Catholic fundamentalists)
Un-intimidated Catholics, Illuminated Catholics,
Former Catholics, Universe Catholics,
Refreshed Catholics, Progressive Catholics,
Small-Faith-Group Catholics, Happy liberal Catholics,
Discerning Catholics, Thinking Catholics,
Emmaus Catholics, John XXIII Catholics,
Global Catholics, Welcoming Catholics,
Beatitude Catholics,
Call-To-Action Catholics, Pot Luck Catholics,
People of God,
Thinking Catholics, Catholics Conflicted
The Newly Marginalized Catholics,
First-Century Catholics, Run-Away Catholics,
Body of Christ
Fallen Away?
Rohr would say Fallen Forward!
from Connie P: Although I respect your somewhat defense of the Church in your piece, I think its because you are a loving long time member
of the Basilica, which for the most part as memory serves me is the most open and inviting of all the Catholic churches of the Diocese..It’s easy to believe, isn’t it? It keeps you in the belief mode of trust and loyalty thru all the scandal…But,.when you are using such words in your piece like: mysterious, private, slow learners, leaders don’t get it..Then maybe you and most definitely the Church has failed again and again…However, your loyalty remains… Good luck with that.. the abuse cover ups and mysteries/privacy will continue too..
It’s been very hard for me to get back to the church.. and it doesn’t help to hear more stories that continue since 2002, etc. 10 years have gone.
The church my not be one or thing is..but there are and should be no excuses for this unaccepted shameful behavior of those in power in the church, from the church and from those who abuse,and those who don’t take action or account for it!!!
It’s a bit of a lost cause.. and will take many decades if ever, to change for the better..
Side note: Pope Francis..
the Pope may have a great personality..( he’s from Piemonte,after all, where we all have bigger than life personalities)..but that doesn’t mean the
Church will change in any really big way, in my opinion. Only time will tell..
from Jeff P: The problem is that the Church leadership really hasn’t learned, and now frankly they don’t have the luxury of getting away with it. Laws are in place with no statute of limitations.
I suspect there may be criminal charges possibly filed against some of the primary people in this matter, including Archbishops and former Archbishops or at least their main assistants.
That and stopping the flow of money from parishioners to the top is the only way to stop it.
from Florence S: Thanks, Dick. Excellent. I re-read Bread Rising.
from Dale L: Thanks, Dick. Good thoughts indeed. Let’s pray for the church and all of us in it as we make our messy ways along the merciful path of reconciliation again and again…to the arms of the Father of Mercies.

#479 – Dick Bernard: A chance encounter with James Quentin Young, a creator of religious art

Sunday, while doing my ’rounds’ as an usher at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis I happened to notice a piece of religious sculpture on the wall (click to enlarge photos). (Photos of all of the art on exhibit can be seen here, and are posted with the permission of the artist.)

Shatter Proof Cross by James Quentin Young, 2010

The creation was intriguing: a combination of wood, metal, plastic and foil. Artist James Quentin Young’s note at the side of the piece said “This cross can be seen as strong and sturdy, a force against the brokenness that exists in our society.
Now I paid closer attention: James Quentin Young is an unusual name, and many years ago in Anoka-Hennepin School District I knew the name of an art teacher, James Quentin Young. I wondered, “one and the same?”
If so, he likely would now be retired, as I am.
A little later, I noticed another cross design a short ways down the same wall: “James Quentin Young”. Another, another…in all there were 18 creations by this James Quentin Young on the outer walls of the Basilica, each unique. I go to church at Basilica, but normally don’t see the outer walls and had completely missed this exhibition (which, unfortunately, ended November 20).
Downstairs, where we always have coffee after Mass, there were many more attractive works of art on the walls. They are like most such exhibits: one admires the ability of the artist and the representation without necessarily noticing who did the piece. This time I looked:
James Quentin Young.
The exhibit ended the same day I saw it, so the best thing I feel I can is make others aware of this retired art teacher and his work. Likely there will be other exhibitions. His website is here. He’s in the Minneapolis phone book, if you are interested in making contact. Kathy Dhaemers, who handles art exhibitions at Basilica, notes that Mr. Young has a following in the twin cities. I can see why.
Monday, I made a special trip over to Basilica to take photos of all the works – there were, in all, 75. By good fortune, I arrived at the Church about the time the artist James Quentin Young arrived to take down his exhibit. We managed to meet briefly by yet another of the crosses in the sanctuary, this one composed of a portion of a rack of clothes hooks. As best as I can recall, James Q had rescued this rack from some garage sale or other, and the hooks-as-cross symbolized for him the assorted kinds of things on which we human beings hang our lives.
James grew up on St. Paul’s west side, and spent a year in Mexico City, and his art has a strong strain of both common roots and Hispanic influence. It is both beautiful and thought provoking.

James Quentin Young, November 21, 2011

Here’s the text on the flier which accompanied the exhibition: “In reviewing his art from the past 53 years, James Young discovered that from the beginning of his study in art he sought to use Christian themes. It was a journey with Biblical references using reoccurring symbols of doves, fish, angels, and portraits of Christ. For the past eleven years the cross has been the primary symbol in his work. Young often creates his art from old wood, metal and found objects. Using discarded and broken items, Young’s art portrays Christ’s acceptance of our flawed and rejected lives and transformation through His death and resurrection.

#443 – Dick Bernard: Homeless.

This morning, as usual, we went downstairs at our church for the usual coffee and donuts. (Our place is the Basilica of St. Mary’s at the near edge of downtown Minneapolis – it is a downtown parish – a place of diverse sorts of people.)
I got my coffee and donut and saw a lady sitting at a table by herself. “Mind if we join you?” I asked. “Fine”, she said. She was well-dressed, looking to be in later middle age, with what appeared to be a nice piece of luggage on one of those portable pull carts.
Making small talk, I said, “it looks like you’re traveling“. It was a somewhat obvious observation. We’re an easy and safe walk to the convention center, and the church gets lots of visitors.
Probably she had been to some conference, and was taking in Mass before catching a cab for the airport….
She didn’t respond to me. She finished her coffee, got up abruptly, and then very angrily said “if it makes any difference, I’m retired and I’m homeless.” Apparently there had been some court case in New York which she had lost. She stormed off to wherever, with no chance for us to say anything, as if she would have wanted us to say anything. There are times when less is best.
Two other people had joined us by then. It was a puzzling happening for all of us.
There is a “profile” of homeless. We see lots of homeless in this social gathering hall after Mass. But they LOOK like homeless are “supposed” to look. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but mostly these folks, mostly men, sometimes a few women, stand out from the usual crowd. This lady didn’t look homeless, not in the least. But apparently she was.
As I write, before noon on this same day, I’m just beginning to process what I just experienced.
In a surface sense, everything in our society, at this moment, looks sort of normal. Even with high unemployment, 91% of us are making a living (85% if you throw in the people who have given up on looking for work.)
It is easy to pretend that there is no underclass, inexorably increasing.

We’re in a family that is experiencing the creeping problem of unemployment within our own family circle. Makes it much harder NOT to notice….
Beyond the rhetoric, somewhere as I type, is this attractive well-dressed older woman pulling her luggage, and carrying a back pack.
It is certain she wasn’t being facetious.
What is her story, I wonder.
Where will she be tonight, this coming week, this winter, next year?
I think I know what I’ll be thinking about on this walk I’m about to take.
What lessons can be learned, and applied to our ever meaner society?

#312 – "The first rough draft" post-Bells for Haiti, January 12, 2011

I always remember my first visit to the then-brand new Newseum in Arlington VA. It was sometime in the late 90s, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time to catch a shuttle to the new, and then free, Museum to print and visual media.
A prominent quote, there, was this (or words to this effect): “Journalism is the first rough draft of history“. It was a statement full of meaning: any breaking news is fraught with peril, possibly inaccurate, but still news nonetheless.
Wednesday of this week an ad hoc group saw the results of “Bells for Haiti”, a tribute to Haitians on the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake January 12, 2010.
Following is my ‘first rough draft’ of the event, of which I was proud to be a part:
On Wednesday, Cathy and I chose to join a group of eight people on a downtown Minneapolis MN bridge to witness the Bells ringing at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark (a block behind us in the photo) and at our own church, the Basilica of St. Mary (in the photo). (Click on photo to enlarge it.)

Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, from the bridge, 3:53 p.m. CST January 12, 2012

Adjacent to the Baslica on the left is a very busy and noisy freeway, then nearing rush hour, but when the immense primary bell began to ring, precisely at 3:53 p.m., I was overcome with not sadness, but elation.
It was about December 9, 2010, that Basilica had signed on as the first place to ring their bells in Bells for Haiti.
Our little project had actually come to pass.
A year earlier, January 10, 2010, in that same Basilica, Fr. Tom Hagan, long-time Priest in Cite Soleil, had given the homily at all Masses at Basilica. January 11, he was back in Port-au-Prince…little did he know….
Like all great things, Bells for Haiti started with an idea in conversation: in this case, Bells for Haiti began with two women in conversation at the American Refugee Committee (ARC) in Minneapolis (whose headquarters is two blocks behind and to the right of Sue, the lady with the camera).
For a month a small ad hoc committee, never exceeding 11 people, initially mostly “strangers” to the rest, came together in a conference room at ARC to make the idea happen. We elected to keep Bells for Haiti simple.
By January 12, as any of you know who visited Facebook, over 3,500 people from who-knows-where had enrolled in the remembrance via Facebook. (Our committee was largely Facebook-illiterate when this project began. No more.)
Bells were ringing all over the United States, and probably other places, all at the same time and for the same reason.
We will never know how many places, how many people, in how many ways, people remembered Haiti on Wednesday, January 12, 2011.
The project gives meaning to the famous quote of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
Thank you. Extra special thanks to the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network and the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers who co-sponsored the event.
Those who participated on the Bells for Haiti committee: Therese Gales, Jenna Myrland, Lisa Van Dyke, Lisa Rothstein, Bonnie Steele, Dale Snyder, Jacqueline Regis, Ruth Anne Olson, Sue Grundhoffer, Mike Haasl, Rebecca Cramer, Dick Bernard. Jane Peck also deserves much credit, though she could not participate directly. She initiated the idea for gathering groups together last spring to keep working for Haiti. At the moment, there are 25 groups loosely and informally affiliated in what is now known as Konbit [“cone beet”]- Haiti/MN.
For more background, click here.