It’s cold as hell.

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 30, 2008

giottos_satan_in_the_last_judgment.jpgIt’s fifteen degrees below zero. -15. They say with wind chill it feels like -35. That’s cold. Even for a Minnesotan.

But I remember the winter of 1995.  That winter it got to -40 (without wind chill). I was 19 years old, working for $5.25/hour at the local grocery store. I was driving a red circa 1981 Dodge Diplomat. It got so cold that the plastic on the steering column constricted and set off the horn. Thankfully, one of my co-workers knew how to disconnect the horn. I’m not making this up.

Incidentally, many medieval artists painted Satan blue. Blue, not red. Why? Because they figured that the middle of hell was cold.  The absence of God equaled the absence of warmth. Many in Minnesota would resonate with that. They’d cuss against the cold and call Minnesota a “God forsaken” place.

But not me. I love the winter. Even still. It is my second favorite season (after autumn). I’d still rather have a day like today, -15 and all, then an 85 degree summer day.

Most of my fellow Minnesotans don’t share my enthusiasm. But some do. Minnesotans are a hardy lot. They have to endure extremes in weather. They are influenced by the Scandinavian (the descendants of vikings) culture of the dominant European settlers in this state.  The people can sometimes be as frigid as the cold. Minnesotan men in particular have often embraced a sort of stoicism, a tendency towards introversion, a hard-working, non-complaining ethic towards life. But Minnesotans also embrace the social progressivism and compassion of modern Scandinavians.

Weather can shape a culture. When it is cold for much of the year, you tend to stay indoors a lot. That causes you to, I think, value interior design and technology. Perhaps that is why Popular Science named Minneapolis the #1 tech city in America a year or two ago. The extremes in weather have also made Minnesotans resourceful. We can’t plan on good weather for our day to day activities. So we have to improvise. And the often drab-yet-harsh weather causes us to embrace aesthetics so that we can bring color and flavor to our lives.

Minnesotans, generally, are hardy people, resourceful people, sometimes emotionally distant, hard-working, creative, a bit introverted, and technologically savvy.  That is how we can still thrive when it is -15 below zero outside, without missing a beat.

And these cultural values shape our church life.  It is no accident that the Twin Cities is a sort of capital (at least one of the capitals) for all-things-Emergent.  Sure, the undercurrent of Lutheranism helped pave the way for a progressive strain of evangelicalism, but Minnesota tends to embrace the sorts of things Emergent is about: creativity, resourcefulness, technological savviness, introversion (yes, I’d wager that Emergent is primarily introverted…for all the talk, the movement tends towards intellectual pursuits rather than activism).

So, I’m glad that it is as cold as hell here. The cold air forces us to pursue other things. We’re not distracted with nice weather for half the year. And that helps get the creativity flowing.

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9 Responses to “It’s cold as hell.”

  1. Michael Cline on January 30th, 2008 2:42 pm

    Could you elaborate on the Lutheranism as being a help to progressive thinking? I didn’t know those two words went together?

  2. Mark Van Steenwyk on January 30th, 2008 3:25 pm

    The ELCA is a politically and socially progressive group of people, and they are the dominant form of Lutheranism in these parts. The Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod are not, in any way, progressive.

  3. mountainguy on January 30th, 2008 3:39 pm

    Off course weather can shape a culture. But at the same time any individual may shape its own culture-ethics-likes-dislikes-whatever through a more “introspective” approach. There is a nice equlibrium between being influenced by the environment, and being influenced by “introspectiveness”.

    Maybe this was a little weird, but it makes sense to me (or maybe i’m not so good at english).

  4. Jordan Peacock on January 30th, 2008 4:08 pm

    I am no longer acclimated to these climes. The temperature drop is killing me.

  5. Ben Sternke on January 30th, 2008 4:53 pm

    I grew up in Minnesota (now living in Fort Wayne, Indiana), and remember the 1995 winter. I was also 19, and a student at the University of Minnesota, walking the mile to class in that crazy weather, from my Centennial Hall dorm room on Delaware St. across the river to the West Bank. It’s true you just got used to it and it made you into a certain type of person.

    Anyway, thanks. Your post, like Garrison Keillor broadcasts, reminded me of everything I love about Minnesota.

  6. Richard Daley on January 30th, 2008 9:32 pm

    And when we are distracted by warm weather, boy are we ever distracted. btw, I owe you brownies.

  7. mattk on January 30th, 2008 10:57 pm

    Let’s not forget that they didn’t just paint him blue–when we meet Satan in the closing cantos of the Inferno, he’s deep in the lowest circle, frozen tears on his cheeks (he’s not so frozen that he can’t be eternally gnawing on Judas, however).

  8. JoshuaEllens on January 31st, 2008 2:33 am

    Yeah it’s been frigid. Actually this whole winter has been very cold. And my car has been breaking down constantly. i’ve been biking all week. Mark’s right, you have to become “hardy” to survive here, and i really like it. The cold makes you truely feel and value life, it’s invigorating. Also, the extreme weather changes give rhythm to life. Come to Minnesota, you will love it ;)

  9. Steve Treichler on February 2nd, 2008 12:57 am

    What a great post! I simply loved it, and now, I will have a great reason to live here in this frozen tundra. Blessings on you, my friend!


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