by Johnathan Storlie, PhD
A city on a ridge cannot be hid
Spring Grove is a small town with unique folks who, over the last century and a half, have exhibited the universal principle of community stewardship. For that reason, Giants of the Earth Heritage Center appeals to people all over the world who are interested in heritage, not just Norwegian-Americans from Spring Grove. We are a resource for preserving, sharing, and reflecting on a life lived in the context of a village. There are still many small villages around the world where the embers of authentic 7th generational understanding glow. These embers have already died out in thousands of small towns across America, whose citizens evidently thought to themselves, “We are so small, how can we make better decisions than those knowledgeable men in Washington or on Wall Street, who have so much knowledge and so much information?” A few years ago, a visiting Norwegian speaker, Roar Moe, asked his audiences in Spring Grove and Decorah to ponder two seminal questions asked by T.S. Elliot.
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
These questions profoundly motivated several people with a connection to Norwegian Ridge to start working to collect the wisdom of our senior citizens by videotaping their stories. As they further gathered authentic stories and evaluated recurring themes made apparent through genealogical reflection, they gained more solid ground upon which to ask questions about the sustainability of practices that take into account the goals of only a single generation. While, with media-manufactured consent, most people across America repeated the chant, “Goodness, the emperor’s new clothes are incomparable,” some of our town elders had the child-like naivety to say out loud, “the king has no clothes.”
To what can we compare the reaction of the majority of our generation of “generationalists”? Their myopic thoughts extend no further than tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and their “leaders’” foresight extends no further than to the next election…? Like children sitting in the marketplace, they call “odd” those who do not conform, saying, “Can you believe these weirdoes? We played the flute for them and they did not dance. We sang the [latest] dirge for them and they did not mourn.” With the above questions, Jesus likened the generationalists of his age to the cruel boy in Aesop’s fable who decided to torture the fish that didn’t do as the boy expected. (Matt 11:17)
If the generationalists cannot cajole conformity, they intend to coerce it through stigmatization. Were it not for the multigenerationally conscious gadflies and prophets that occasionally arise in each generation to remind the majority of the consequences of their rootless ways, the “generationalists” evidently would think everything would be perfect. For, if everyone believes in the same thing, according to the religion of social proof, then, by their logic, there would be harmony. But harmony also must exist with principles–principles like sustainability. Unlike the dogmatic children of this generation–whose wishful thinking brings a reward only to their imagination while bankrupting their existential security, “the children of wisdom justify and are justified by her.” Because our founding fathers realized that those people who understood universal principles (then referred to as natural laws) would always be in the minority, they set up a constitutional republic, precisely to prevent the generationalist dangers that are inherent in unrestrained majoritarian rule.
For two centuries in this country, when they were warned of their hubris by the children of this generation, our sages have been unconcerned: They know that their minority rights are protected by our constitution even if the majority doesn’t like it at times. Further, even if their minority rights were not legally protected by the highest law in the land, those with multigenerational consciousness still would not be the least afraid to state the obvious, since they know that what actually matters is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. They know that the straw-man caricature of the spirituality and the wisdom of their ancestors is revisionist and it can be blown away by simply exposing people to the writings of not only the sages of each age, but also to the writings of their own ancestors, who weren’t nearly as dumb as some would want us to believe (see Pastor Liptack’s talk for Sognefjordlag). Our sages know that acquainting our generation with the actual stories and writings of the past will lead to a community epiphany in which the average person realizes he has been duped by a monumental historical simplification that his ancestors were stupid.
The more people learn of the life of their ancestors, and the tested principles they once followed, the more they start to ask one another, “Do you notice how far we have come from following the sound principles that were once the greatest inheritance our ancestors received? Do you notice what is happening to our children’s future?”
Not too long ago, people right here started to ask the key questions: “Isn’t this our town? Aren’t these our children? If we don’t stand up, who will? If we don’t answer the call now, when will we? If we don’t hold the line here, where will we?” Their neighbors then began to talk amongst each other, and their crescendoing declarations in the village and across the countryside have, in the last few months, begun to sound like the footsteps of approaching Giants, marching in step. Listen. Across this land, people are saying. “This is our town. These are our children. We will answer the call. We will stand up now, and we will hold the line here.” Although we country folk might be slow to warm up to new things, once awakened from our dogmatic slumber, we can become world-historical figures, filled with paradigm-smashing resolve. When we are mobilized in the defense of our families and our hometown, we know that nothing can defeat us. We know this because we hear the same voices that our ancestors, who sacrificed so much for future generations, heard. The voices of our beloved ancestors emerge through their stories and bid us:
“Awake, fellow Giants, and take your place amongst us.”