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Publisher’s Pondering: Micro-Alternatives, Global and Local


November 10, 2011 by Steve Winkler

From Steve Winkler

There are over 15 individuals whose words regularly appear from time to time on the pages of the Observer. Other than a small stipend for some news and sports reporters, the columnists, feature writers, and commentators selflessly contribute to this community project. Sometimes the editors will suggest a topic or a story idea may come from readers but more often than not, the topics for articles and columns originate with the writers.

The writer’s product arrives in a digital format then weaves its way through a maze of emailing, collaborative reviewing (I know, we need better proofing) and finally printing and distributing. It’s not unusual for me to have read every piece before late Wednesday afternoon when I sit down, prop my feet up and read the final paper product. It is what it is. But last week, a couple of articles seemed to jump off the page as shining examples of what makes a good weekly newspaper. One was a columnist’s insightful commentary, the other an account of collective problem solving.

In his bimonthly column, “Fire on the Mountain,” Steven Worden addresses the interplay of religion and society. Last week he described a little known international social movement known as Focolare. “[They] exist as brightly shining micro-alternatives to the social and economic model associated with the global business culture.” 

The movement fosters an ideal of mutual respect and love for each other. It’s a perspective that runs counter to our current social and economic plight involving “widespread fraud, financial dice-rolling, real estate bubble-puffing, rapacious environmental destruction and police and demonstrators fighting in the streets [that] might not be so rampant in a culture that possessed even a minimal ethical grounding.”

The Focolare community adheres to the extreme position that “our lives should take place in the context similar to a companionable family gathered around the warmth of a hearth or a fireplace” and the “inspiring spark” for the desired transformation from our current woes to a “culture of giving” is a belief in the love of God.

Focolare, Worden tells us, has an explanation for our woes associated with the “callous corporation or clumsy bureaucracies.” It is simply a failure of imagination.

A companion article, unplanned and coincidental to Warden’s column appeared as our Front Page Feature: “Feeding the Body, Nurturing the Soul.” Here, Observer columnist and feature writer Terry Ropp took the reader to Prairie Grove for a look at what some local people are doing to nurture a “culture of giving.” The story is about an organization called Life Ministries, “a premier ​​example of what an idea, a few people and belief can do,” writes Ropp.

It’s an inspiring look at an instance where local ministers formed a Ministerial Alliance and guided their churches in a city wide enterprise to help people in need. The organization operates a well-run thrift store that generates funds, which are then used to help people “in a variety of forms such as food, clothing, partial payment of utilities, a little gas money to look or job or get to the doctor … ”

Prairie Grove’s Live Ministries may not appear as unconventional as the Focolare movement’s close-knit centers and model towns scattered around the world but none-the-less it is operating outside a culture consumed with greed, selfishness and strife. 

Because Life Ministries exists, because Focolare exists, we will have to consider asking ourselves different questions. It doesn’t always need to be, “How can I be rich? How can I be famous? How can I be happy? Instead, we can ask, “How can I serve?”

Steve Winkler

Steve Winkler is the publisher and editor of the Observer. Email him at

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