I shared my 2020 reading list at the end of December. My goal is to read one chapter each week in order to get through all these books by the end of the year. I’ve started with God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church.
I’m not going to walk you through these books, but I intend to share some key points. For further details I encourage you to pick up a copy or, as always, feel free to get in touch with me to chat about your specific ministry needs.
Ok, let’s get started. This comes primarily from chapter 2: Praise in Place: God Is Somewhere. How many times have you heard, or even described your own location as “the middle of no where”? When you’ve lived and served in rural places long enough, this statement can, and probably ought to, become grating. I can’t stand it when people define a place I have come to love as “no where”.
If this is no where, then our people are no body. That is NOT how God sees us! Each person and each place, no matter how few or far away from critical mass, is of great value to our Creator!
I had the great joy of teaching our first confirmation class last Sunday. We started at the beginning (a very fine place to start): Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created…” and it was good! God created your little corner of the world, and while it may not show up on most maps until you zoom in right on it, God sees and knows right where it is and thinks it is good!
As I taught the confirmation class, this is not the “it was good” they reply when their parents ask how their day was. When God looked at creation and declared it good, it was more like the kind of response you get when you take that first bite of your favorite food after a twenty-four hour fast. It is a deep in your gut, joy in your soul, kind of good!
God has declared your somewhere GOOD! God knows all there is to know about your somewhere and all the somebodies who abide there. (Yes, even more than the somebodies who’ve lived there all their lives know!) You don’t need to reach critical mass to be of value to God!
Author Brad Roth writes, “Here’s the problem: as rural places are devalued or even despised, rural pastors and lay leaders can experience burnout and despair and rural congregations can become overshadowed by a diminished sense of significance and self-worth. I’m convinced that one way we discover a cure is by coming to recognize that God delights in and is present in rural places, and that all places can offer authentic praise to God. We are somewhere because God is somewhere.” (p. 38)
We must accept this truth and live it so that we can recognize and help our neighbors recognize the presence and the goodness of the Lord in this place! Roth then retells the story of Jacob camping in an unnamed place between two cities, and in a dream recognizing that “this is more than just empty country.” (p.40) He writes, “We all too often fail to see God’s presence, and our failure is in fact a failure to value rural places. It’s a failure to love.” (p. 41)
The idea that our rural places are “in the middle of nowhere” troubles me because I love rural places and rural people. I love the culture of rural life, the neighborliness, and care for the whole community that is not quite so easily done in larger areas. I love that while most people are related by blood or marriage, new residents are warmly welcomed into the “family”, often with a basket of goodies provided by an active women’s group. I even love what most people might call the stubbornness of rural people. I call it conviction.
They have seen change, a lot of change. They’ve fought for the good of their community. They’ve loved and lost. They’ve wrestled with God, and they’ve landed in a good place. They are grounded, wise, and cautious, while willing to risk everything for the sake of loving God and loving one another.
In the eyes of God, you are somewhere, and God is right there with you. You are the someone God has chosen to proclaim the Gospel in this place. When you love this place and these people, you will do just that.