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Faith Matters - Minnesota nice: An introduction

Being a long-time Dakotan recently moved east, I've heard of "Minnesota nice." Prior to moving to Alexandria, I didn't know if it was a fact or another Paul Bunyan legend. Two months here, I've experienced it.

Before Thanksgiving I was at a grocery store and the woman ahead of me asked the checker if they had a certain kind of squash. The response was, "I am sorry, ma'am. We are all out. But I have some in my car. We had a bumper crop this year... I will help you to your car with your groceries and get you a couple."

My next "Minnesota nice" encounter was when I went to an electronics store to purchase a wireless Internet modem. The clerk assured me I would be able to set up the system by following the directions. If I had any problems, call the store and he would be there until 8 p.m. When I explained I wouldn't be home until late, the clerk wrote out his personal cell phone number and said, "Call this if you have any problem. I'm a student at Alex Tech and technology is my area of study."

Gosh, people are friendly and helpful. They wave, chat with a stranger, help a confused newcomer. Oh sure, there are the hurried and harried, the occasional rude drivers, and the overly busy server. By and large, there is an attitude that sets well with a new resident.

As a new pastor in town, I've been trying to assimilate what I have experienced into the life of faith. Jesus never spoke of "being nice," but he did want his followers to be generous. "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none." (Luke 3:11) What Jesus requested was beyond nice. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."

Jesus explained to his followers what the epitome of friendship looked like. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15: 13)

What Jesus wants from his followers is an attitude of generosity, gentleness and sacrifice for the sake of others. In my introduction to "Minnesota nice," I have been grateful to witness these qualities.

I am living in the home of snowbirds who flew south for the winter. When they heard their new pastor's home in South Dakota had not yet sold, they said, "Come, live in our home. We won't need it until April." My response was, "Are you sure? You don't know me. How do you know you can trust me?"

I forgot. This is Minnesota. I have much to learn and an attitude of "nice" to live into.

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Kent Stillson, a pastor at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Alexandria, writes to help people connect their life and faith. He can be reached via e-mail at