Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sacrifice and Support in Rural America

Recently, our family took another road trip to visit relatives out of state. We had occasion to see some really beautiful parts of this amazing country. Traveling in Arizona, Utah and Colorado, we gazed at countless breath-taking geologic wonders. We also passed through a number of small towns to reach our final destination. Our family has relatives who live in similar small towns in other parts of the country. At holidays and on vacations, we spend a fair amount of time in such towns. Being a person who has always lived in large urban centers, several things always strike me about small towns.

First, in rural communities, economic opportunities are not abundant and educational resources are often scarce. To get an education, one typically must move far from home. Once one has a degree, there are usually not many suitable jobs in rural communities beyond teaching grade school. My husband is from a small town. Most of the kids from his high school who go to college don’t return; they end up going to large urban centers where they have better prospects. The kids who do stay in town after high school generally do not have a lot of economic options, and the ones they have are not terribly promising. There aren’t many employers in my husband’s hometown. Additionally, there is just not a lot of local money; starting one’s own business is tough due to the small potential client base. Whenever I spend time in small towns, I feel awe and respect for the challenging lives that many folks have in rural communities. And despite the fact that I enjoy the pace and friendliness of small town life, I always feel grateful that I grew up in an urban community because I have had many more options with respect to earning a living.

The other thing that always strikes me when I visit small towns is the much more visible expression of pride in our nation’s military. I’ve seen such expressions numerous times even in small towns where there is no military base anywhere in the region. On our family’s recent trip through Arizona, Utah and Colorado, we saw numerous banners, homemade posters and other displays to express publicly love and support for our nation’s troops. In urban areas, such expressions are somewhat apparent, but never to the level that I see when I am in more sparsely populated communities.

This pattern used to puzzle me greatly, especially since Christian faith also tends to be a core value (at least in the small towns I’ve visited). It was difficult for me to reconcile those two sets of values. I used to wonder whether rural folks were just more patriotic or more hawkish than those in urban centers. But the more I spent in my husband’s hometown and came to understand the local culture, I became aware that so many young people in small town communities join the military—typically more so than in suburban or wealthier urban areas. I only knew of one person from my high school class who joined the military; my husband couldn’t begin to count how many of his classmates did. Young people from rural areas clearly join the military out of pride and love for their country. But frankly they often also do it because there aren’t a lot of other options.

Ultimately, I don’t think people in rural communities are any more patriotic or hawkish than in other parts of the United States. Instead, I think that their support of the military is often just more personal. When they put a “Support the Troops” bumper sticker on their car, it is not an abstract statement. It has a very real significance because they are often supporting their loved ones and their neighbors’ loved ones.

Matthew 5:1-4 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn,
because they will be comforted.

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