“OldStuff”, Bingo, and the Travel Game.

Monday, I took our 88 year old friend and neighbor, Don, to see the Fall leaves along the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side of the river (across from Hastings and Red Wing, Prescott to Bay City WI). It was a fun afternoon, and we ended up at an antique shop in Bay City WI. It was a beautiful day.

(click to enlarge photos)

Bay City WI Oct 16, 2017

This was a nice shop, the proprietors a retired married couple. The man had a specialty: making bat houses. Yes, bat houses.

I’d never seen a bat house; if there is a “Parade of Bat Homes”, his would have been on the tour, a unique design, a work of art. Each house, he said, was a unique design, and there was a demand for his work.

When we were there, he also was completing a hand-carved wooden horse, which was a marvelous work of art.

I’m an antique, not an antiquer, but this was a most pleasant visit.


Saturday, my spouse convinced me to go to the semi-annual Bingo in the “Undercroft” at the Basilica of St. Mary. (Undercroft is a gussied up name for Church Basement.) There seemed to be about 100 of us. A good time was had by all.

How Bingo became a Catholic “tradition”, at least in the places I grew up, is a mystery to me. Wikipedia does have a history of Bingo, which dates Bingo back to 1929 in the U.S.

In the tiny towns of my growing up, Bingo was a social affair, using corn kernels for covering the numbers; with small prizes, like a can of soup, or sometimes a pie. It seemed a Catholic thing. No $100,000 prizes then!

I got to thinking about one of the curiosity things still saved from the junk on the ND farm: a set of Bingo cards from about 1936:

Bingo cards, etc., from a bingo game kit.

Here are the instructions for the game: Bingo 1936001

What intrigued me on Saturday was the large number of young adults in attendance, all enjoying themselves. Sitting next to me was a Dad and his teenage son, autistic and deaf from birth. Dad was signing the numbers for his son, and they were having a very good time.

BONUS: when I dug out the Bingo cards, I found in the same bag 83 playing cards which were an obvious part of a board game. Here are the variety of cards: Travel Game001 The set was incomplete. There was no board and no rules, just the somewhat bedraggled cards.

You can find most anything on the Internet. Here is a history of the game. Because the set includes a 30 miles card, it appears it would date from the 1937.

Trees, “junk”, and nostalgia…not all bad!

Have a great day.

Minneapolis Oct 15, 2017

#1136 – Dick Bernard: The Man in the Background: Father's Day 2016

I continue to go through hundreds of photos left as part of the legacy of the North Dakota farm. Recently I was looking at this one:
(click to enlarge)

Memorial Park Grand Rapids ND ca late 1940s early 1950s

Memorial Park Grand Rapids ND ca late 1940s early 1950s

The initial focus was the women in the group photo. I didn’t know any of them, and I’ve sent them to a ND friend lifelong in that area to perhaps identify one or two or more of them.
But my interest turned to the guy in the background, who seems to be holding a stick, doing something.
On initial glance it looks like a stick, maybe a baseball bat. On the other hand, it may well be a croquet mallet for a lawn game popular back then. The stick may look a little fatter than in should because it is a bit blurred. If you click a second time over the man, you can almost see the croquet ball to the right, to his front….
Almost certainly the camera had caught a Sunday outing at the Memorial Park – the folks were all dressed up, as if after Church. Also, almost certainly, the women and men were farmers or engaged in agriculture in some way. Most were likely Moms or Dads, and Sunday was a day of rest.
If I’m right – that it is croquet I’m seeing. Not far away some more men were throwing “horseshoes” – real ones. And off to the left was the baseball diamond, where the town team was playing some out of town bunch, and there were kids, and people fishing, and visiting, and picnics and this and that.
As was (and is) most often the case, the old photos is not labeled as to year or people. It didn’t occur to anybody that somebody, 60 or more years later, would care who or what….
As I say, this was a farm photo, and there were hundreds of them, and I’m still going through them, and they won’t be thrown away.
Most were taken by a couple of versions of old box cameras, thence as time goes on, assorted new fangled cameras replaced them. Everytime we came to visit, Grandpa would gather us on the lawn for the traditional picture before we left for home. This was a Grandma deal as well, and their children followed suit.
The picture exists because somebody felt it important to not only record the moment, but to keep it for posterity.
The picture itself is just another moment in the life of some people out in North Dakota, among many moments in many days in many lives, filled with good times and not-so-good, crops, relationships, tragedies, children, whatever.
As we all know, some days are better than others….
Today at Basilica of St. Mary, Fr. Bauer asked all the men to stand up, and recognized every male there for whatever role they play in others lives. It was a nice touch, typical.
While this is a specific Father’s Day, yet another tradition in our society, all of us, regardless of gender, play a part in making our world a better place.
We are all fathers and mothers.
Have a great day.

#1131 – Dick Bernard: Random Acts of Inspiration

For many years, actually until quite recently, the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis had an impossible to miss work of art on its wall on Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis: “Bits and Pieces put together to present a semblance of a whole.” (You can see its former presentation at Walker here.) I would guess the phrase was seen by millions of people, day after day – it was impossible to miss.
The phrase is no longer there. I cannot tell you what is there, now, though I go past the Walker as often as in the past.
I miss “Bits and Pieces”.
Random chance, literally, brought me face to face with Bits and Pieces in the last 48 hours. I did not plan my experience. Each quietly presented itself through invitations, or simply my marking time between one event and another.
Everyone of us has had similar glimpses of our real world, far from the mess we see constantly portrayed as “reality” on television or in the media. Here are mine May 14-16 in chronological order. What would some of your similar experiences be?
Saturday afternoon, May 14:
(Click to enlarge photos)

south Minneapolis MN, May 14, 2016

south Minneapolis MN, May 14, 2016

I was invited to stop by a neighborhood garden being planted by young people. This was no ordinary garden. Its produce will be sold to a well known restaurant in the neighborhood, Gandhi Mahal, whose owner believes in being part of the community. A group, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, is a driving force behind this initiative. All Saints Indian Mission and its First Nations Kitchen play an important role in this garden.
As I stood in that backyard, I thought back to my own old days, in the 1940s, Sykeston ND, when Mom and Dad had a big garden, and we kids had to participate in its care. I didn’t much like picking peas, or potato bugs, but somehow it now seems nostalgic and very positive.
A few hours later was a benefit concert for the Huntington’s Disease folks (the disease that got folk-singer Woody Guthrie). I stopped by the venue, left a donation, listened to a bit of the sound check by folk singer Larry Long, but passed on staying for the concert, which I’m sure was packed and outstanding.
Sunday, May 15:
Sunday morning was church as usual. I’m one of those people who like going to church; the people there infuse me with energy and optimism.
Afterwards I decided to stay downtown rather than drive home, as I was to be at another event at 3 in the afternoon.
What to do while marking the four hours? I started by proofreading part of a new book by our friend Annelee Woodstrom. This year is her 90th birthday, and her book will be her third. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. And each of her books have been profitable, as will be the third, I’m sure.
Her passion keeps her going. Her story is compelling.
I wandered back to the church to drop in on an event I knew was happening in the afternoon: the Blessing of Wheels, bicycles, motorized wheelchairs, and the like. This is an annual event. I’d never been before. It was brief, fascinating and uplifting.
I asked the lady, (photo below), if I could take her photo. Yes. She was to bring up the gifts, in this case, oil cans…. The brief ritual for perhaps 50 people, a basically non-sectarian but spiritual event, was really quite powerful – even for a non-biker like myself. Rituals have their place, an important place, in human life. In this case, even if you don’t own anything but a car with wheels.
Basilica of St. Mary Blessing of the Wheels May 15, 2016

Basilica of St. Mary Blessing of the Wheels May 15, 2016

Blessing of the Wheels, Basilica of St. Mary May 15, 2016

Blessing of the Wheels, Basilica of St. Mary May 15, 2016

Then the main event for Sunday, the reason I stayed downtown: the Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs at Orchestra Hall. I’ve long been an Minnesota Orchestra fan and have been in Orchestra Hall many times. This time was extra special. Up on that stage, amongst the several choirs for the 35th anniversary, were two of our grandkids, Kelly and Ted Flatley. The concert was two hours; they had prepared for this event for months. It takes work to get results….
Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, May 15, 2016

Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, May 15, 2016

Monday, May 16:
Finally, yesterday, I ventured out to suburban Blaine, where the Middle School I helped open as a brand-new Junior High School in 1965, recognized its 50th anniversary as a school.
You begin to feel old in such a setting: 50 years ago I was 25, a third-year geography teacher of 8th graders. That is three generations ago.
Roosevelt Middle School, teeming with adults and students, was a very vibrant place yesterday afternoon. There were kids doing Shakespeare; musicians playing jazz, walls and displays full of student projects for parents and visitors. There was lots and lots of life in that place.
It was a great late afternoon.
Roosevelt Middle School band members, Blaine MN May 16 2016

Roosevelt Middle School band members, Blaine MN May 16 2016

Student Art Project at Roosevelt Middle School, Blaine MN

Student Art Project at Roosevelt Middle School, Blaine MN

Event over, I elected to join a group of a dozen or so “old-timers” for a bite to eat down the street, and more conversation.
It was about 8:30 p.m., and I was on the road going east towards St. Paul, when one of the most brilliant sunsets I’ve ever seen showed up in my rear-view mirror.
Events of the previous 48 hours were already in context for me, but this sunset capped it. I thought back to the Saturday ritual in the backyard garden in Minneapolis, where a Native American elder helped the young people understand the significance of their efforts.
Native American Elder and dancer, Minneapolis May 14, 2016

Native American Elder and dancer, Minneapolis May 14, 2016

It was all good. Nature and Humanity in concert with each other.
Bits and Pieces has taken on a whole new life for me.
There is hope, lots of it, and it resides in every one of us, but it is the young who will have to make the difference.
The next few months will be filled with the mud-wrestling spectacle of national politics.
I can say that the last couple of days buoyed me up.
Look at the bright side. There is a bright side to this country and this world. Just look around you.
For some inspiration, check out Louie Schwartzbergs Ted Talk on Gratitude, which I first saw 5 years ago. You can access it here.

#1037 – Dick Bernard: Compassion and Flags and a call to action.

POSTNOTE: Sunday, June 21: This morning at Basilica of St. Mary, a two page handout gave q&a’s about the recent happenings in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis regarding the resignation of the Archbishop and one of the Auxiliary Bishops. The Priest, Ft. Greg Welch, gave his homily on today’s gospel, and as I told him afterward, he “hit a home run”. His message ended with spontaneous applause from the large congregation, and applause is very unusual at Church. Essentially, as I interpret the Priest’s message today, (and likely the reason for the applause), “The Church is the People in it. Each of us.” Here, in three pages, are the Gospel passage, and the flier distributed: Church Archbishop Change001 For those interested in the Pope’s encylical that is receiving so much attention these days, you can access it here.
Quite routinely, when I have a thought for a blog; I let it germinate a bit; do a draft; and if fits I complete it in my own always imperfect way.
So it was with the following three paragraphs and photo, which began June 15, 2015, with an e-mail comment from my good friend…and fellow Catholic, Jeff: “waiting for the Bernard report/comment” on the resignation of the Archbishop and one Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis; the latest chapter in alleged mishandling of sex abuse of a Priest by Archdiocesan officials. But no words came to fill the space till Thursday, and then I wrote the following, and closed the file again, till today:
June 18, 2015
A few days ago a good friend asked me if I had a comment about the latest turn in the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis where, that very day, the Archbishop and one of the Auxiliary Bishops had resigned.
Of course, I have thoughts and feelings, but not until today’s headlines did I find a peg on which to hang my feelings. It comes from neighbors on the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: a new interim Bishop arrives in Minnesota; nine people are gunned down by a lone gunman in a church in South Carolina. Those who watch the news probably know about both of these happenings.

Page One Minneapolis Star Tribune June 18, 2015

Page One Minneapolis Star Tribune June 18, 2015

These “twins” in an odd sort of way speak to our society at large in a way we likely don’t like to consider.
June 20, 2015
As a lifelong Catholic, and a career long representative of teachers, including during the days when allegations of sex abuse by people in power against subordinates (i.e. teacher/student, etc) became a white hot issue (ca mid 1980s forward), I have a reasonably well informed base from which to comment, thus Jeff’s query.
But that, like the scandals, is old news, still eagerly flogged back to life when opportunities present themselves. Short story: humans are imperfect beings.
But what happened in that Church in Charleston a couple of days ago, and subsequent events there, are potentially more significant in the very long term, not only for South Carolina but for our country. But only if people get actively engaged in the essential conversations, everywhere. Without those engagements, nothing will change.
What most struck me, post massacre in the Church, was the expression of compassion and forgiveness from family and friends to the perpetrator: “I forgive you”, rather than “string him up” in lynch mob parlance.
These were people walking the talk of the real message of Christianity in their moment of great grieving.
Certainly as news of Charleston goes forward there will be calls for the death penalty, and other “eye for an eye” responses, but those folks who were at the prayer service are for me the spokespeople for living lives together; to rebuild from tragedy.
There’s also the matter of that Confederate flag, unbowed even after this horrific tragedy because it is apparently against South Carolina law to lower it.
Flags through history have rarely been benign creatures, rather they symbolize unity, usually against someone else. “Battle Flags”. “Us versus them”.
I’ve learned this lesson over time, most recently in a very unexpected way over two years ago when I learned that the United Nations flag had been taken down, almost covertly, from Hennepin County Plaza, after flying there for 44 years, in quiet company with the U.S. and Minnesota flags.
There is a story* there, a very long and continuing story, which you can read here if you wish.
For certain, watch the Confederate Flag debate as it evolves in South Carolina.
And watch the narrative as it evolves about punishment, “us” v “them” and the like.
We all can learn something from Charleston.
Will we?
THE UN FLAG: The essential narrative: the flag had to come down because it violated the U.S. Flag Code. It came down. It did not violate the Code, but nonetheless it stayed down. The people who took down the flag (the County Commissioners) had a code of silence, and wouldn’t say who, why or whatever about the real circumstances of why the flag came down. At this writing, they think they have given up. Not so.

#876 – Dick Bernard: The new Saints…and the real ones.

Two recent Popes were officially declared as Saints on April 27. Here is the flier which we Catholics could pick up yesterday at Mass, probably at all churches: Sts Jn XXIII and JP II001.
They’re very different folks, these two new Saints. John XXIII would be my fave by far. He became Pope five months after I started college, and gave meaning to the word “ecumenical”. Back in those good old days of the 1940s and 1950s, being Christian didn’t mean getting along in any sense of the word. Denominations emphasized the differences, and did things to ensure that their young uns had little to do with each other. Until mobility started mixing nationalities, even Catholic Churches (and others, too) were largely ethnic: Norwegian Lutheran; French-Canadian Catholic, etc. Times have changed, thank goodness. Things aren’t perfect by any means, but better, in my opinion.
I got closest, physically at least, to John Paul II. In the fall of 1998 I was in Rome, and managed to get a place next to the Pope’s route through St. Peter’s Square and got a closeup view of this increasingly infirm man. Two years later, late in the evening of early May 2000, enroute to Krakow Poland with a group of Catholics and Jews on pilgrimage to holocaust sites, soon to include Auschwitz-Birkenau (at Oswiecim), I convinced the tour leaders to have the bus go through Wadowice, Poland, to the very near proximity of the place where John Paul II grew up.
We didn’t stop, of course, it was late at night. Later I was to learn that Oswiecim (Auschwitz) and Wadowice (John Paul II’s home) are only 20 or so road miles apart, with Auschwitz actually a few miles closer to Wadowice. Of course, the Polish Jews were essentially obliterated by WWII; Polish Catholics were also killed by the millions. And after the war, Poland became a satellite Communist state of the Soviet Union.
One can understand how JPII’s attitudes developed (and were, in my opinion, manipulated) by the anti-Communist forces. He was never viewed as a particular friend of Liberation Theology in the Global South, for instance; and his ultimate successor, Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was even less so. As I say, “Communism” was a useful word….
But that’s a debate for someone else, some other time.
There are two new official Saints in the Catholic Church, both with their fan clubs.
Another publication caught my eye at Basilica yesterday.
It was the usual weekly newsletter and the cover story, by Janice Andersen, Social Justice coordinator, bears reading. Jackie under the bridge001.
We lose something in the adulation of certain individuals who are set apart to symbolize something or other, as is the case with the two Popes who were just canonized.
In small and large ways, every day, everywhere on earth, there are endless examples of ordinary people, Christian or not, doing extraordinary things, and thinking nothing at all about it. It is just who they are.
My guess is that most all of us once in awhile are in this category of “saint”. There are no books of miracles attributed to us; that’s not the point.
We put one foot in front of the other and do our best.
That’s sainthood to me.

#820 – Dick Bernard: The Homeless Guy

UPDATE: This commentary has several comments. They can be found both in the Responses section of this post, as well as directly below the content of the originating post. One of the last updates, from myself, includes a few paragraph comment made in in 1982 by the then-Director of Catholic Charities of St.Paul-Minneapolis, Monsignor Jerome Boxleitner. It is an especially power commentary on the issue of the homeless and society at large. You can read it here: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001
We’re accustomed to street folks at Basilica of St. Mary, so when I saw the guy standing in the parking area this morning, it was nothing unusual. What was unusual was that he was standing in the line of traffic into the church. He had a cardboard sign that said “Homeless”. I had to pass by him going into the church, and I said “good morning”, and didn’t leave a dollar.
I rarely do.
It was cold, zero degrees at church time, but sunshiny and calm, and this man was dressed for the weather.
This was not a desperate time for him.
I walked on towards the church, and the guy caught up with me and passed by muttering something about going to jail, which seemed directed at me, but he just walked on, catching up with some other guy with a backpack and the two disappeared towards nearby downtown Minneapolis.
There was a little twinge of guilt, but, honestly, not much. Basilica has a very active social justice ministry with a broad range of programs to assist the disadvantaged in many ways, and this man was within a block, or less, of a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the rectory, or coffee and donuts in the lower level of the church, and he wouldn’t be considered a nuisance, in fact he’d be welcomed. And the downtown Minneapolis Branch of Catholic Charities, that deals pretty specifically with homeless is three short blocks away. And we contribute a lot to both the Church and Catholic Charities.
Basilica is very heavily involved in helping those “down on their luck”.
Inside the Church, it was the Feast of the Holy Family, and the celebrant, Fr. Graham, preached a most meaningful homily about Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
Most everyone, Christian or not, knows this story. Today, Fr. Graham put the scene in clearer context talking about what society was like back then: hierarchical and male dominated, women and children exceedingly vulnerable, an entire people essentially subjects of an alien government, nobody safe and secure. Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a smelly barn, as it were, surrounded by barn smells. No room in the Bethlehem “Holiday Inn”….
Fr. Graham didn’t know what I had experienced a half hour or so earlier.
The two experiences caused me to think a lot, today, about this entire issue of people and society.
At Basilica, it is recommended NOT to give money to the occasional panhandlers outside. It might seem a surprising position, but apparently is shared by other churches similarly situated: to give is to in effect enable unproductive behavior by such entrepreneurs as the man who I’d passed by. Charity is easily available, and given without question or judgement, but the movement to justice for such folks is not helped along by encouraging a career of begging, or so I remember the surprising column in our Church newsletter some months earlier. [NOTE JAN 2, 2014 see comment and link from Janice Andersen, and my comment, at end of this post]
But this day, my thoughts were also impacted by the sermon about the old days of 2000 years ago, augmented by the news of the previous day, announcing the cutoff of long term unemployment benefits by the Congressional Budget Agreement in Washington.
Was Basilica’s recommendation the same as the policy of Congress? How did these fit with the norms of the harsh society of 2000 years ago?
The man who was cadging me would have been pleased to get a buck. I don’t know if he was “homeless” – all I know is that he had a sign so announcing – an advertisement as it were. I also knew that he knew something about marketing, where to set up his temporary business for greatest likelihood of success.
How did he differ from other entrepreneurs, including those who’ll make a billion dollars this year alone?
Probably no difference at all: just a matter of number of zeroes following the $1.
Will we ever end the problem of stark inequity? Probably not.
Should we stop trying? Certainly not.
Is there a legitimate need for a social safety net broader than simply the man’s family? Of course, there is. Children and women are most often the victims of disequity; Vets, addicts, mentally Ill often fall through the cracks. And that’s where government, the private sector, and institutions like churches and ourselves come in. All are needed on the team.
Did I act appropriately, not giving the guy a buck? I don’t know. I think I pay for this guys care in other ways and I can understand and appreciate the Church’s position on the matter of discouraging panhandling.
But maybe I’m wrong.
POSTNOTE Jan. 2, 2014:
from Janice Andersen of Basilica of St. Mary: Attached (Janice Andersen Sep 16, 2012) is something that was published in September 2012. I am not sure if this is what you were referring to in your note. This basically states the guidelines that the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness agreed upon.
I would put a stress on the preamble, which invites people to follow their heart and conscience. There is no black and whit in this, for sure. Also, I put a stress on the first point, which encourages relationship.
Thanks for your thoughtful communication and dialogue!
Peace, Janice
Dick to Janice: The attachment is what I referred to. Thank you. Very helpful. This is a vexing issue, as can be noted by the additional comments. Lurking not far in the background for any Christian, of course, is the message that the divine manifests in the sick, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, etc. Then the issue becomes how best to help, when you know that some (many?) are simply masquerades?
It has been a good dialogue, and I hope it continues.
In addition to the following, there are comments made directly to this post. Click responses tab at the end of the post to see those.
I have not yet found the originating commentary from the Basilica Sunday newsletter, but did find an e-mail I wrote about a meeting I had attended at Basilica nearly five years ago which speaks for itself. You can read it here: JaniceAndersen022209 (Janice Andersen, who authored the commentary I speak of above, directs the social ministries at Basilica of St. Mary. She is a Saint, highly respected. “Families Moving Forward”, referred to in my letter, gives emergency housing to homeless families, and is a shared venture between about a dozen Minneapolis downtown churches.
from Carol T: Interesting, Dick. I understand how you felt. My son and family live in So. Minneapolis, and we take the Cedar exit. There’s almost always someone standing at the bottom of the ramp with The Sign. You don’t know my son, but honestly, he and his wife are some of the kindest people I know (and what a warm feeling to be able to say that 🙂 Both of them work in senior care, and are involved in more neighborhood helping projects than I know about. So I was as surprised as you were about your church’s position when my son lectured me long ago NOT to give to those on the ramp. He claimed that if you do, and then watch, they just head across the street to the nearest bar.
I think it was last winter when I was on my way to their house and it was below zero. There was actually a woman standing at the bottom of the ramp. Big sucker me – I stopped and gave her a little money. When I told my son and hubby, they both jumped on me…
My son knows the neighborhood, and I respect what he says. However. Once he was talking about someone they knew who they found out had fallen on the proverbial hard times, and they actually saw the guy standing on an interchange ramp… What hurts is that somewhere there may be that one deserving person.
Here’s what I did once. There was a young man (but already minus several teeth) standing on Robert Street with The Sign. I stopped and said that I was going to go eat across the street at Taco Bell, and if he walked over there and met me, I’d feed him. He did, and I did. He told me a story of how he was living in the woods with some people somewhere near Robert Street, in a shack which included an illegal heater, etc. He said he was looking for work but didn’t have a resume or any way for someone to reach him. I was teaching an ESL class near there on Robert Street at the time, and I told him if he’d show up at my next class with any info, I’d print him up a resume. Of course he never did.
Now there’s sometimes a guy in a wheelchair on the Cedar ramp. If I get caught by a red light, I busy myself digging in my purse or whatever – and of course feel really guilty. But also. If you watch how many drivers actually do “donate,” even if they are only handing over a dollar, those guys are definitely making more than minimum wage…
One other observation: Over the years I think only once have I ever seen a misspelling on one of those signs. Now, the general run of the population (I’m sorry to say) has a much worse record than that… Political protests and such – misspellings all over the place. I have this vision of them scheduling their shifts (there’s never more than one on those ramps) and then handing off those signs at the end… :\
But still it hurts – and it probably should. Maybe next time invite him to church…
PS from Carol: link here.
from Lydia H: Here are some of my thoughts re:your experience w/The Homeless Guy & its larger context from my own perspective.
For most of the 25 years I’ve been in Minneapolis, I’ve lived within a few blocks of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It’s a regular part of everyday life for me to be asked for money when I;m waiting for the bus or walking somewhere. Sometimes I give money, sometimes I don’t.. Sometimes I feel guilty about not giving, sometimes I feel intruded upon by those who ask for money. As with your experience, sometimes “panhandling” feels like an “enterprise” —not desperation. As a low-income person myself, I think I have some “intuition” on this. Sometimes I don’t give simply because I don’t feel safe pulling my wallet out on the street with a stranger.
Over the last 25 years what I’ve noticed most—both “on the streets” and in the upper levels of “power” in our society (government & media) is an increased MEANNESS. Those at the top demonize the poor more & more, snipping away at what;’s left of the safety net. The latest attack is cutting $40 Billion from FOOD assistance, but, Minnesota hasn’t raised the welfare grant for families on the bottom in 27 YEARS—so,, while certainly still better than my home state of Texas (which is currently REFUSING to accept federal govt money to expand Medicare for healthcare for the poor)—something has shifted. And that means it’s also shifting at “street level”, too: random violence that makes no sense reported to regularly on the 6 o’clock news or considered “fun”, like the rampage of hundreds of teens (organized through Facebook) in a NY shopping mall.
Is “inequality” the reason for these things? In significant part, yes. But, I think it’s also a fraying of SHARED social expectations–whether to care about each others well being or that some behavior is simply totally UN-acceptable–regardless of one’s economic status. The Wall Street “banksters” felt no shame at robbing the nation blind and street thugs seem equally blind to conscience.
Yes, we must reverse the widening chasm of inequality. But, we must also close the gaps in connection and compassion. Raising the minimum wage or demanding a stronger safety net and more job creation is a lot easier than deepening our connections and compassion.
from Madeline: I don’t trust the motives of panhandlers, and have often thought, if anything, one should hand them a card telling where help is available. A buck plus a few others wouldn’t solve the problem of homelessness, unless this a very successful panhandling entrepreneur, which perhaps a few are, and if it is that lucrative, it really wouldn’t be legitimate need, but rather a scam. More likely, the few dollars received in this way would go for alcohol or other drugs.
from Jeff P: I always struggle with that, but we also give to local charities that help the homeless.
The one thing the billionaires and the panhandlers have in common, the income ends up tax free, the billionaires thru loopholes in the system, the panhandler as it is Cash. That is not a value judgment, just an observation.
Response to Jeff from Dick: I have a friend, who at the time was a Priest in an impoverished area of a major city. One time he told me about the ‘circuit rider” charity folks, who did the circuit of churches for handout, say, enough money for their family to spend the night at a inexpensive hotel. The pastors who knew each other knew these folks, since they were regulars. My friend said that some of them were really good at their pitches, and could really have succeeded in regular jobs, but for whatever reason they stuck with their street trade.
The essential difference between millionaires and the rest of us is, in my opinion, that they have (and know how to use) the power to make the system work in their behalf. The rest of us – the so-called 99% – have even more power, but for assorted reasons, like failing to vote, etc., don’t exercise the great power we possess.
from Judy B: I’ve often thought about the issues you raise in this excellent commentary. For years, I would give money, because need might exist — especially if children were involved. In recent years, I’ve walked by panhandlers without guilt. But I’m starting to feel guilty again. I don’t like my callous self. The other day, when a desperate-looking woman approached me outside [a major store] and said she needed money for food, I told her we would go into the store together and she could pick out the food she needed. She refused, but I’m going to try that tactic again.
from a person who prefers name not be used: One time [then-MN] Gov. Pawlenty wanted them to register as panhandlers??? So Nick Coleman, who wrote for the St. Paul paper, went down to Hwy 55 and asked a woman about her typical day. She said they work in groups, one on the street the other 3 women under a tree. By the end of the day they hope to be able to buy one bag of pot, one bottle of wine..and if they are lucky a sandwich. [Twin Cities homeless advocate] Mary Jo Copeland says not to give money send them to her.
from Peter B: More people should read Richard Wolff and Howard Richards on economic issues. My take is that unless there is a change in the cultural norms, anything we do perpetuates the status quo.
This doesn’t mean don’t give people money, etc., but it does mean that these are conscience-soothing but futile gestures. ON the other hand, the homeless guy can’t be making much even if he is merely an “entrepreneur,” so no harm in playing into his game.
Where we need to put our energies is behind substantive change of the rules of the game, which under capitalism are: private property is sacred, contracts must be fulfilled, and investors are free to put their money wherever they like.
If you look at these, they mean the following: if a person has nothing to sell that anybody wants to buy, that person is soon to be homeless, and subject to arrest and indefinite detention. All people, communities, states and nations are at the mercy of the “law” of supply and demand, so they must cut taxes, give away infrastructure, and do whatever the corporations like, or the owners will invest their money some other place where the labor is cheap and the regulations as thin as smoke. Moreover, people are essentially enslaved by this system as life-long workers with no hope of escape.
These cultural norms are totally made-up fictions. There is no “law” of supply and demand, no “invisible hand,” and no reason why a few men in some boardroom should get to decide what to produce, and what to do with the profits. It is a complete scam.
There are many surprising examples around the world in which people have taken over the management of their factories and shops, and manage the distribution of profits in an open and democratic process. But we don’t hear much about them, as the corporate powers that be fear them more than anything, and will stop at nothing to prevent more such successes. It’s why we’re supposed to hate the South Americans and the Europeans and so on.
Meanwhile, those places also enjoy healthcare and unemployment and retirement benefits just for being alive in this world.
So, I guess my take is that the presence of the “Homeless Guy” is a shameful thing, not on him, but on all Americans who have bought this bad deal.
from Dick, Dec. 31, 2013:
It appears that the comments have run their course, as always. As always, there is something to learn from each, whether agreeing or disagreeing.
The most powerful comments, doubtless, are those unexpressed: too close to the surface, too painful, too personal. There was one such comment yesterday at the end of which were some powerful words: “don’t print”. I didn’t, and won’t….
The homeless issue, like any issue, is not simple, and the closer one gets to the day-to-day work with it, including within ones own family, the more complex it gets, though the simple part is always the business of relationship, sometimes impossible to maintain.
I had no relationship context whatsoever with Sunday’s panhandler. His was the “storefront” I didn’t enter, but he did cause me to wonder.
Neither did I relate, as an usher, with the drunk street person who showed up at Mass on Christmas morning, full of Christmas cheer, there to celebrate some long ago memory, but by all appearances likely to interfere with a thousand or more others in the church in one way or another. The gentleman had no boundaries.
What to do?
Everybody was courteous with the gentleman, but one minute I looked and he was gone, most likely ushered out. For every one like him are a large number of others, seeking some kind of personal solace in the church, some very well disguised; some like the guy who quietly sat at the very back of the church, apart from everyone, his apparent wish, standing out, but not outstanding.
In my personal end analysis, with the homeless and the like, it comes down to trying to do a decent job of helping those who need help, wherever they happen to be on their personal journey. Top of the list has to be the most truly vulnerable, the children, and their mothers, and the mentally ill. But there are more as well for whom the family has to be “society” at large (it is called “government”): the people who have no lobby.
Back in 1981, when I was on the Board of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities, I heard the need powerfully expressed by the then-Director and legendenday Fr. Jerome Boxleitner. I and likely others thought his message was so powerful that it was reprinted, and I’ve kept a copy in my file ever since. Here is what he had to say, then: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001
Have a Happy (and contributing) New Year.
from Kathy M, Jan 1:
The ramps off 35W to St. Joan’s are “staffed” regularly with a revolving group asking for money. I frequently feel conflicted…randomly though seldom give a dollar.
Good discussion with comments and your wrap up. Anyone must be fairly desperate. I always think it would be humiliating to beg.

#808 – Dick Bernard: Some thoughts on "Black Friday"

Yesterday, Thanksgiving, was an especially good day. It included “An Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving” at Basilica of St. Mary co-officiated by Ministers of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, the Imam of Masjid Al-Imam, the Rabbi of Temple Israel and, of course, Pastor of Basilica of St. Mary.
It was an inspirational hour. One of the officiating clergy read, early on, a brief but highly inspirational poem, Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon.
“Otherwise” is a very powerful reminder not to take what we have for granted…and not to expect it to be permanent. In particular, note the final sentence of the poem.
(click to enlarge photos)

Pastors at the Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving at Basiiica of St. Mary Nov. 28 2013

Pastors at the Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving at Basiiica of St. Mary Nov. 28 2013

At the Interfaith celebration.  500 programs were printed, and they ran out long before the service began.

At the Interfaith celebration. 500 programs were printed, and they ran out long before the service began.

Of course, shortly before this years American Thanksgiving, there were two other happenings of great significance:
1) a breakthrough in the years-long stalemate between the U.S. and Iran signals a chance for progress. Of course, those whose power depends on enemies and potential war are not pleased, but I think the beginnings of an agreement is very good news indeed.
2) and Pope Francis I issued his highly publicized teaching, putting ‘meat on the bones’ of changing the tone of power in the Catholic Church. I haven’t read the entire document as yet; a friend who has, recommends it highly. You can access it here.
Then there’s “Black Friday” that uniquely American Exhortation to Shop to Achieve Business Success (“Profit”) during the “Christmas Season”.
Many have answered the call….
In my corner of the universe, the business Christmas Season began at my local coffee shop about November 1, when Holiday napkins first appeared, and the background muzak began to include a sprinkling of Christmas songs.
Today begins all-Christmas all-the-time, I suppose.
We’ll put up the tree next weekend, Cathy tells me, and it will be, as usual, nice, though it forces me to relocate my favorite chair. Oh well.
But for me the best “Christmas presents” of all have already been received, as noted above.

#792 – Dick Bernard: The Gospel of the Soprano

Friday evening my 88 year old Uncle and I went down the hall to visit his sister and my aunt in the Memory Care unit at the Nursing Home/Assisted Living facility in a small rural North Dakota community. It was a short trip, under a single roof. My Aunt, at 93, is most likely not suffering from severe dimentia, but nonetheless the placement is appropriate. She’s been in the unit for about a year.
My Uncle and I just went to visit. My Aunt was working on a puzzle. (photo at end.)
It was supper time, and two other ladies were at the same table, one familiar to me, the other not, perhaps a recent resident.
“Emma” was attempting to engage, but not succeeding. The second lady was easily understood but not allowing for much visiting.
We may have looked or sounded annoyed: at some point you don’t know what to do. Those knowing someone with any variation of dimentia understand.
The man assigned to evening duty came around. I’d talked with him during an earlier visit. He’s a retired teacher in the town, and as I recall, he willingly took his job more as a service than as a job. He had a relative – perhaps his Mom? – who was or had been a patient in this very facility. Maybe, it has since occurred to me, she was Emma….
For whatever reason, he entered the conversation: “Emma stood in front of me for 20 years in our Church choir”, he said. “She had a wonderful Soprano voice.” He mentioned one particular piece which required a phrase one octave higher than the usual, and it was Emma who would sing it, beautifully.
As I recall, Emma had nodded off.
Off he went to other duties, and our visit continued, helping my Aunt finish a puzzle (she’s good with puzzles) and then we left.
And all the next day, driving 300 miles back home, I kept thinking of that brief but powerful encounter in the Memory Care section of the Nursing Home.
This morning Cathy and I went to 9:30 Mass at Minneapolis’ Basilica of St. Mary as usual.
Fr. Greg Welch was celebrant and homilist, and today’s Gospel was Luke 18:9-14, the well known passage about the righteous Rich Man and the repentant Tax Collector (I knew is as the Pharissee and the Publican story).
Fr. Welch, in his own comments, chose to focus on the Pharisee, and drew us into the Pharisee’s circle, as it were, with a simple parable of his own.
He opened with a simple comment: when he was young, he grew up in a family that assumed the kids would go to college. There was no need to discuss this reality. For many other families, college is not even a dream, he said. It is not part of their reality for financial or other reasons.
Those of us in those pews are mostly pretty privileged, and Fr. Greg wondered aloud about the wisdom of a country criticizing “Obamacare” while 32 million people are without health care, and no alternative being offered; about cutting food stamps while considering military expenses to be essential; about people, including the homeless holding those cardboard signs on street corners, needing a job not being able to find one in which they can earn a living.
The open question, not directly addressed, was to each one of us: “where do YOU fit into this picture?”
It was an applause worthy homily; we in the pews were very, very quiet.
I’ll let the Memory Care attendant know about this blog post, and perhaps he will tell me what motivated him, on Friday night, to tell us about Emma, the lady whose grasp of what we take for granted is very limited.
At any rate, he sang a magnificent Soprano for us on Friday afternoon. It is a message that will stick with me.
(click to enlarge)

My Aunt and Uncle with the completed Puzzle, October 25, 2013

My Aunt and Uncle with the completed Puzzle, October 25, 2013

UPDATE Nov. 3, 2013:
Today’s Gospel was the story of “Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man” (Luke 19:1-10). Our Pastor, Father Bauer, gave an excellent homily interpreting the Bible story.
As with the previous Sundays text and interpretation, this Gospel fit into todays news, which included, this past week, the mandatory cut in “snap” funds at the federal level – I think they’re called food stamps.
There is a lot to talk about….
Also, this past week, came a review of what is likely a very forgettable book, by Bill O’Reilly, which essentially attaches the crucifixion of Jesus to taxes, and another “Christian” who labored mightily to prove that “government” is not “people”, when that is all that government ever is or has been….
It takes all manners of tortured interpretation. But the reality is, there are those of us who have, and we have an obligation those who have less.
Some day we may find ourselves in the same position of needing help.

#705 – Dick Bernard: The Beginning of the Pontificate of Pope Francis. One Catholics View at Easter 2013.

Being an active Catholic, I was interested in who the new Pope would be after the resignation of Benedict XVI.
By happenstance, the day of the Pope’s election, March 13, I was in Florida. I was on a tour bus with Grandson Ryan and his friend Caleb, at the Kennedy Space Center. The cell phone rang and Cathy, my wife, said a Pope had been elected. The phone connection was bad, so I got little information.
As such elections go, this papal election was rather rapid. I didn’t pay much attention to who’s in the running: apparently, at least to my knowledge, the elected Pope was not on the prognosticators short list. He turned out to be of Italian lineage, and an Argentinian, and the first Pope from the western Hemisphere.
Three days later, visiting a friend in Clearwater FL area, I said I’d like to go to the Cathedral in Tampa to see what they had to say about the new Pope. My friend isn’t Catholic, and he selected an ordinary parish church; it turned out the Tampa Bay area Cathedral is in St. Petersburg. But by happy accident I ended up in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a Franciscan parish in downtown Tampa, on March 17, and Pastor Fr. George gave a wonderful homily about this new Pope who took the name of Francis of Assisi. The bulletin included a column Fr. George had written the day prior to the Pope’s election. It too is interesting: Fr. George Col Mar 12 13001
(click to enlarge photos)

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, downtown Tampa, FL

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, downtown Tampa, FL

Fr. George, March 17, 2013

Fr. George, March 17, 2013

The Church Bulletin for that Sunday had a full-page article on “Francis of Assisi: A Sacramental View of Nature”. (That column, and many other columns about Saint Francis, can be found here. Anyone interested in getting a sense of the new Pope’s inclinations would benefit from reading these essays.
As for the collective “Catholic” attitude towards the new Pope, I felt Fr. George “hit the nail on the head” early on in his homily. He recalled two bumper stickers from the time Benedict XVI was elected as Pope a few years ago. One simply said: “God’s Rottweiler”; the other, as simple, said “The Cafeteria is Closed”.
Of course the first comes from the left-wing of Catholicism: those who felt that Benedict would be the authoritarian enforcer; the other comes from the right-wing, who despise what some call “cafeteria Catholics”, who allegedly pick and choose what teachings to obey.
Then, of course, there’s everyone in between.
Anyone who attempts to typecast the “typical” Catholic is on a fools errand.
As for Pope Francis, my guess is that the “Rottweiler” faction is worried, and the “Cafeteria” faction more hopeful.
No Pope can truly be said to be in control of anything any more. There is no papal enforcement mechanism. To my knowledge, Church and State are nowhere conjoined as a single entity these days. Catholicism is a significant but still small minority of the World population; and however bulked up the numbers, the American Catholic Church is less than one-fourth of the population. And as I’ll see at Basilica of St. Mary today, at Easter Mass, the Catholics who enter the door are a motley crew, including many who will leave after Mass, not to return again until the Christmas Mass nine months from now.
The Pope does set the tone for we Catholics. And he is at minimum the official figurehead.
From early indications, and from my own personal perspective, Pope Francis is a good choice, and the Church will be the better for his becoming the Pontiff.
There could be far worse models for the Catholic Church than St. Francis of Assisi.

And a brief PS:
I did search out the real Cathedral of Tampa, which was St. Jude in St. Petersburg. I arrived there after the last Mass, and had coffee and a donut. The Church is under reconstruction, and I didn’t hear any message, including nothing in the Church bulletin, about the new Pope.

St. Jude's, St. Petersburg Fl. under reconstruction

St. Jude’s, St. Petersburg Fl. under reconstruction

At St. Jude's Mar 17, 2013

At St. Jude’s Mar 17, 2013

UPDATE: After 9:30 Mass Easter Sunday.
The above content is as written last evening.
As usual, I ushered this morning at Basilica. Large crowds are expected at the Christmas and Easter Masses, but this mornings crowd was exceptional, above expectations. The Church was near full a half hour before Mass time, and the large overflow area also ended up very crowded. Both the sanctuary and undercroft were standing room only to the limit.

Undercroft at Basilica Easter, March 31, 2013

Undercroft at Basilica Easter, March 31, 2013

Unbeknownst to me, the local Archbishop said the Mass and gave the homily (sermon). In authoritative mode, our Abp. is not a very friendly appearing type. His hope message included a usual complaint from him, about government interference with his notion of religious freedom (a complaint, I am guessing, most Catholics don’t share.) In my opinion, our Archbishop is more on the Rottweiler fringe…. Recently a friend sent a commentary about Abps style that I found most interesting. It is here.

Abp Nienstedt March 31, 2013

Abp Nienstedt March 31, 2013

As the transition period continues (for some years, I would guess), there will be a sorting out of roles and authority between the local diocesan heads (Bishops et al) and the new Pope. Changes will be gradual, and more likely imperceptible unless considered from a long term view. In a sense, the Papal transition is somewhat similar to the election of a new President of the United States: incorrect assumptions are made about dramatic and instant sea-changes at time of change in power at the top. Rarely if ever is this so, unless precipitated by some calamitous event, such as President Kennedy’s assassination. The change, whatever it will be (and I think there will be change), will be gradual, but very noticeable.
After Easter Mass, while I was distributing church bulletins (we call them newsletters), a young woman came up to me and asked “who was the man who gave the sermon?” I said, “Archbishop Nienstedt”. “Oh”, she said, and off she went.
Except in his closer circles, the Archbishop is not part of the ordinary household vocabulary.
At one point a long-time friend and I, also active in the parish, speculated about the extraordinary attendance this particular Easter day. She thought it might be the attendance of the Archbishop. I speculated it might have something to do with the newly installed Pope in Rome. “I hope so”, she responded. I share her notion of hope.
Such is how the conversations within our Church begin in this first month in the reign of Pope Francis.
From early indications, Pope Francis will not be timid, and a cookie-cutter imitation of his immediate predecessors.
For me, that is a good thing.
Directly related, here.

#547 – Dick Bernard: Part One. Palm Sunday, the Passion, Haiti and the Mega-Millions Lottery

UPDATE April 4: An excellent commentary on the economics of the lottery can be found here. And on another angle, here.
A followup post on this topic is here.
This morning started, as usual, with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The entirety of page A4 – no ads – was devoted to two topics: the top two-thirds was headlined “U.N muddies Haiti’s cholera war”; the bottom third was headlined “3 Mega Millions winners, more than 100 million losers.”
The two articles speak clearly for themselves.
Then we went to Basilica of St. Mary, picked up up our palms, and settled in for the long Gospel, the Passion, this years version according to St. Mark, Chapter 14:1 – 15:47. (There are three versions of the Passion, and they rotate each year.)
This year, probably because of the juxtaposition of Haiti’s most recent uninvited and undeserved catastrophe with the frenzy to hopefully win the treasures of the Lottery, one section of the Passion particularly caught my attention.
Here it is as recorded in my Grandma Bernard’s 1912 edition of the Douay-Rheims (Catholic) Bible:
“And when he was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, and was at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard: and breaking the alabaster box she poured it out upon his head.
Now there were some that had indignation with themselves, and said: Why was this waste of the ointment made?
For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
But Jesus said: Let her alone, why do you molest her? She hath wrought a good work upon me.
For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but me you have not always.
She hath done what she could : she is come beforehand to anoint my body for the burial.”
(Mark 14:3-8)
Every Catholic who darkened a church door today heard this Gospel, and likely some in other denominations as well.
Last week, some of us were having a little debate about the relative merits/demerits of the Lottery, and the ‘feeding frenzy’ for tickets as the Jackpot went up into the stratosphere.
The conversation got around to the evil of taxes (the winnings are taxed), and giving contributions after winning, etc. There were many points of view, even among the few of us in the little conversation.
Then comes this piece of text which can, doubtless, be ‘spun’ in many different ways, depending on what one wishes to believe.
Personally, I think the Christian Scripture (aka New Testament), including this particular text, is not a comfortable collection of thoughts for the wealthy Christian…and by any measure of this or any other time, Americans are a very wealthy society. That’s probably why the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) are much more comfortable to the set that gives deference to wars and kings and such….
But, what does the text from this morning mean?
Or, rather, what did Jesus mean?
Happy Easter.
UPDATE April 4:
John Borgen:
I am rereading one of my favorite books, The Hebrew Bible, A Socio-Literary Introduction by Norman Gottwald. In it he continues to observe that the admonitions of the prophets to the Jews and Israelites, for over a thousand years, PRIOR to the time of Jesus, was to remind the well-off that they are not to exploit the poor, the peasants and those less fortunate than they are and to provide economic and social justice for all. The author suggests the book of Psalms upbraids wealthy Judeans and Isrealites for “pauperization of the populace through the manipulation of debt and confiscation procedures…”
The suggestion is that “Yahweh” punished the leaders in ancient times for the lack of economic and social justice which didn’t exist. Gottwald says these kinds of things throughout this interesting and challenging book.