American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale.  This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale.  And as I watched, I asked how this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.

It was not always that way.  We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together.  Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”

We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us.   We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life.  We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.

The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks.  My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation.  In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community.  Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise?  What caused the demise of the democracy?  Simply this.  When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter.  But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.

Picture of Crosswicks

So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart.  And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations.  It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people.  Let me talk about three of them:

  1. Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together.  I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game.  The whole community came together to watch the teams compete.  There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community.  I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization.  But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
  2. Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun.  Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved.  We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races.  We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges.  As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group.  You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength.  I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
  3. Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library.  In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas.  It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion.  All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills.  In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.

These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks.  I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn.  Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together.  Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!

Paths: Meandering and Meaning at 2 AM

scenic view
View from the mountaintop of life
We wonder, wish and wait,
For a life full and great,
While time goes floating by,
In all our efforts and sighs,
But faith will see us through,
To a purpose winding but true,
For our path is not a clear one,
And only known by the Son.
So be thankful everyday,
For the small role you play,
In God’s ultimate design,
Where all hearts and souls shine!

 

It Takes Courage in this World

One of the most inspiring people in my life is Father Mike Schmitz.  For you that may not heard of him, he is a Catholic Priest and speaker who leads the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  He is prevalent on social media and speaks often at youth conferences and for Ascension Press.  His two podcasts (one for UMD and one for Ascension Press) have often inspired me and believe it or not have been critical to my weight loss!   During my exercise routines, I often listen to a Father Mike playlist.   His podcasts for UMD range from 20 to 25 minutes and those for Ascension Press shorter.  You can read some more on my Fr. Mike exercise practice (item 9)  and other weight loss essentials  in this blog. What’s AP? A Digital Guide to Weight Loss

If I have a good day at the gym, I report to my wife that I did 3 Father Mike’s (the UMD variety) on the treadmill.  I think people in the gym may think that I am a little crazy during Fr. Mike’s talks.  I have listened to some when he speaks about being Minnesotan and laughed so loud the guy on the treadmill nearly fell off!  Equally, I often listened with tears streaming down my face moved by his words of faith, inspiration, and love.

This latter reaction is what happened yesterday at 5 AM during my Saturday exercise routine.  I listened to Fr. Mike’s podcast “It takes Courage” and was immediately overwhelmed with his simple message that so much of life just takes courage.  He gives some simple everyday examples that at first may not leap out at you but later resonate deeply.  Parents going to work on a Monday after a hectic weekend to take care of their family.  Children in their first swim meet when they climb up in the blocks.   Parents who are getting on in life and are willing to let go and prepare to meet their next chapter. The infertile couple who desire a kid so badly but are not sure if they will ever conceive.  And those couples that do ultimately conceive.   In Fr.  Mike’s words, “It takes courage to bring a life in this world and say I am going to lay down my life for whoever this child is.”  You can hear the full podcast from Father Mike here.   Life Demands Courage – Fr. Mike Schmitz

This message –   It takes courage to face a world full of everyday unknowns – moved and inspired me to develop my next blog series which will unfold over the next few weeks.  Ideas kept popping into my head – not of the famous – but of my friends and family that everyday wake up to face the world with courage when so much of their future is unknown.  A cousin as he faces a world that he sometimes does not understand to bring God’s smile into the world.  An uncle that walks up the daunting stairs of Eisenhower Hall on two wooden legs.   A friend with the courage to be himself and not whom other thought that he should be.  These friends and family inspire me with their faith, love and courage to face everyday challenges and to bring their light and that of God into the world.

Quote - It

It’s Not Easy Being Third!

Last week when thinking about the legacy of Dr. King and thinking of other selfless people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, I was trying to find the common thread that pulled them all together.  And I realized it was because they were each Third – behind their religious beliefs and their care for others.  I then thought how hard it is to be Third in my own life and thought of that classic song – “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.  So I decided to write this song/poem to the tune of It’s Not Easy Being Green.  I hope you enjoy it and my thanks to Kermit!

Kermit_the_Frog

It’s Not Easy Being Third

It’s not easy being Third,

Putting yourself behind our human family and God’s word,

And people tend to pass you over,

cause you’re not in the latest fashion,

or have cool toys like some other guys.

 

But Third’s the purpose in your life,

And Third can help end earthly strife,

And Third can change the course of a nation,

Or build bridges to others, or define history.

 

When Third is what your meant to be,

It could make you ponder why, but why ponder?

Why ponder, I am Third, it’s written on our Souls

And it is where God wants us to be!