Bags of Bran


Small towns
December 17, 2014, 3:26 pm
Filed under: Biography

While I was serving a six-year sentence at Central Seminary in the Twin Cities, I lived in a rather ghetto-ish part of Minneapolis. I’m glad we’re done with that season of life, but I’m also thankful for the opportunity it afforded me to learn a little bit about the culture of the ghetto, both in its strengths and its weaknesses. It’s perhaps better in some ways and worse in others than you’d suspect.

But nowadays, I and my family live in a sleepy farm community of about a thousand. There is not much industry, very little crime, and a genuine sense of belonging after you’ve served your probation; which, in essence, means that people have seen you around enough to realize that you actually live here. In the spring months, a procession of a bewildering variety of agricultural machinery alternately rumbles or zips past our house: we thought about taking pictures of them and making up Bingo cards, but we’re Baptists, and that would be too much like gambling.

It is, in most ways, a charming place to live.

One striking difference between the two places is that, as hinted above, you actually run the risk of seeing the same faces over and over in a place like this. In Minneapolis, it was rare to see familiar faces in the wild. I could go to the Mall of America (under extreme duress, naturally) and in the entire time I was there, maybe see one face that reminded me of an Etruscan bas relief sculpture depicted in my TIME/LIFE books. People in the city are enshrouded in a thick blanket of anonymity, and they are often happiest in that arrangement.

In this small town, however, I end up seeing the same people over and over. Just by observation and conversation, I am beginning to piece together family trees, relationships, and even my own place in society. At every community event, be it tractor pull, horse parade, wrestling meet, or barn fire, the same faces make up the crowds.

What makes life in a small town perhaps more vulnerable than in a big city is that you can soon get attached to people. I’ve only been here since June, and in that scant season, I’ve gotten to know the chief of police pretty well. We’ve had some excellent conversations, mostly about community affairs, but many times about living our respective lives as Christians. How do you Chief of Police as a Christian? What is it like to be a pastor? How can we learn from each other? He has also been an excellent resource as my family has tried to become part of the community in a richer sense than merely having a local address. Well, seasons change. He retired on 12/1/2014, and now he’s moving into the next chapter of his life. This will involve caring for his mother, whose advanced Alzheimer’s has made full-time care the only option.

I never knew who the chief of police was in Minneapolis. I never saw the same cops twice (that I know of) in our neighborhood. But now, one of the load-bearing pillars of this comparatively insular community is stepping away for good.

In the starkest of contrast in a nation wringing its collective hands about how the police are out to get us, when our small-town chief had his retirement party, long lines of well-wishers tearfully embraced him, thanking him for his blood-and-sweat investment in their kids and their town.

I’ve got a few things to learn from these people.

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On New Jersey, I have lived in “almost” urban relatively small towns for all of my life. I have yet to get to really experience this type of community feel that you’ve written about. Even in my church that has grown over the years, it is as if we lost the family feel of the small church we once were.

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Comment by Lotus




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