Sunday, October 14, 2012

Us and Them and Safety

Does it have to be



Small Church is very small, in a very small town, in the middle of the country.

Of late, I have been the recipient of a number of remarks heralding rural life and character, remarks along the lines of "People are friendly out here" and "People really care about you out here."  I realize that folks are extolling their own way of life, and that they don't recognize that there are, in effect, telling me that people in the city are unfriendly and uncaring.

Today the topic of conversation in adult ed was church size.  Most of my congregants have only participated in small churches, and those who have been in larger churches didn't like them.  (At a social event last night, a man who recently transferred from our church to another remarked upon the differences between a small and a large (200 members?) church.)  This morning, people were stunned to hear me say (when asked!) that "I love large churches."

Much later, I realized that in the dichotomies that pervade much of their thinking, they probably also heard me say, "I don't love small churches."  Which is not the case.  I love my church.  But I don't have to dislike or be uncomfortable in larger churches to love smaller ones.

I'm afraid that earlier in the morning, I let it slip that I don't necessarily feel safe out here, as compared to the city.  There are no sidewalks, cars zoom down country roads at 60 mph, and there are hunters out and about these days.  I'm afraid to walk along the roads, and I'm afraid to walk in some of the beautiful parks I've found.  "Whereas in the city you have muggers to be afraid of!" came the retort.

We do, actually.  In my lovely inner ring suburb, bad stuff does happen.  But on the whole, most times and most places, I feel completely safe there and pretty much everywhere else in Cleveland. 

As I've contemplated these conversations, I've realized that perhaps the matter of personal safety -- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual -- is at the root of all the us-them conflicts.  People feel unsafe in unfamiliar situations with unfamiliar people.

Country people feel unsafe in crowded cities; I feel unsafe in isolated rural areas.

People who are accustomed to living in homogenous areas feel unsafe in more diverse areas; I feel at best uncomfortable when everyone looks just like me -- because I know that inaccurate presumptions based on appearance are being made.

People who are used to one line of reasoning -- political, theological, whatever -- feel threatened by challenges to their beliefs; I am as surprised as anyone else, I suppose, when  my presuppositions and assumptions are questioned but then I start wondering, and challenging myself.

Just thinkin' about these things . . . 


  1. Good things to think about. The other is almost always us, which is a challenging way to reframe our fears and our prejudices. I always think that I am so open... then I begin to remember why I am not!

    1. You are so right, Fran! I am just really realizing how "other" to one another city and country can be.

  2. It is challenging to think about these things and that is good for us - at least for me. Speaking of community size, after 37 years of being a minister's spouse and moving a lot, I would have to say that it is easier to fit in in the city because people are more accustomed to including newcomers. That doesn't mean that I didn't like the small towns and the country because I enjoyed the people no matter where we lived; however, there is a difference as many people in the country are often related to each other and mingle mainly with family.

    1. I am also realizing that the value my folks hold for church as "community" or "family" is just not one of mine. I never looked at church that way -- which possibly makes me completely crazy for being where I am now. More to ponder.