This week, Jake Meador of Christianity Today wrote a book review entitled “The Beauty of Life in Small Places.” He was reviewing Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, which follows one person’s journey growing up in a small town, moving away, and returning.
Meador’s review questioned whether evangelical Christians have too quickly embraced an urban-centered culture with its focus on numbers and growth. By contrast, he notes, Jesus came from the small village of Nazareth, and spent most of his time in small towns or the countryside.
That article got me thinking about life in our very own small town. Prior to moving here about three years ago, I had spent almost my entire life in major metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Vancouver. Therefore, the contrasts between the two lifestyles were immediately obvious.
However, I was surprised at how many of the supposed weaknesses of small town life were also strengths. While there are far fewer conveniences at our fingertips here, the culture also seems far less materialistic and shallow. While opportunities to spectate and consume are fewer, opportunities to help and give are greater. While the “outside world” is far less likely to know about us, we are far more likely to know each other.
From a spiritual perspective, there are even more advantages to life in “small places.” We often lack the anonymity of blending into the crowd that marks urban and suburban life. As a result, each of us is far more accountable for what we say and do.
For example, let’s say my order was wrong at a Vancouver fast-food place. I could throw a screaming, expletive-laden tantrum in the restaurant, walk out of the place and probably never have any consequences for my actions. If I were to do the same in a Nakusp deli, word would be across town within minutes: that pastor guy may seem nice on the surface, but watch out if you put onions on his sandwich! This kind of accountability encourages all of us to exercise our better judgment and be all-around better people.
Spiritual communities are also far different here. In an urban area, many churches try to offer the best possible “spiritual services” to potential “Christian consumers.” It’s a competition to see which church has the best music, the best coffee bar, or the nicest building. In fact, churches have adopted so many business and marketing tactics that the essence of Christian community can get muddled.
In a small village, personal connections with individuals (usually outside of church) are far more important. How faith is lived out in everyday life and in the community speak far more than how well-orchestrated a Sunday service might be. That sounds far more like the life of a certain Jewish carpenter who preached, taught, healed the sick, and fed the hungry in the villages of Galilee.