Saturday, January 12, 2008

Day One

From Ted Kooser's Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002):

"Contrary to what out-of-state tourists might tell you, Nebraska isn't flat but slightly tilted, like a long church-basement table with legs on one end not perfectly snapped in place - not quite enough of a slant for the tuna-and-potato chip casseroles to slide off into the Missouri River. The high end is closest the Rockies, and the entire state is made up of gravel, sand, and silt that ran off the front range over millions of years."

This morning our hardy group of six Rural Adventurers, one LSTC professor, and two rural immersion leaders flew to the Rocky Mountains and then drove to Kooser's "high end" of the Nebraska table. It strikes me that the word "Nebraska" is actually kind of shaped like the state - not as it looks on the map but as it might look if you turned it on its side and looked at the high plains of the "N" down to the Missouri River that ends the "a" any case, I nodded off on our way out of the city, and awoke to find us driving through wide-open plains. Adam marveled at the expansiveness, to which Dennis, the native Nebraskan accompanying us, responded, "Yeah. You know, you really gotta be at peace with yourself to live out here." As he said this I turned toward the front of the car and watched as we headed down a small hill. At the bottom of the hill the plains seemed to stretch out forever under one of the clearest, bluest, biggest skies I've ever seen. I gazed at what Nebraskan writer Lisa Knopp calls "the seam where sky and land meet." I don't know about having to be at peace - I imagine God still finds ways to wrestle modern-day Jacobs on the banks of the Platte River just as much as on the banks of the Jabbock - but there is certainly a spirit of stillness out here. This is the kind of place where Psalm 8 fits the landscape like a glove:

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars that you have established;
What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
Mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than angels,
And crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of Your hands,
You have put all things under their feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas." (vv.3-8, NRSV)

Later we stopped at Cabela's, a massive outdoor sporting goods store. You can find Cabela's all around the United States now, but Cabela's impacts few places the way it impacts Sidney, Nebraska. Cabela's is based here. I didn't fully appreciate this fact until my host family picked me up and gave me a driving tour of the town. Some of the churches were making large, beautiful additions to their buildings. I wondered aloud whether these churches were growing because the town was also growing? "Well," said my host, "Cabela's keeps bringing in more and more people - see that building over there? That's another one of their new corporate offices..."

Of course, it's not all due to Cabela's. The Spirit has been moving in wondrous ways too, and her effects are in full view in the new gathering space of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where we'll be based here in Sidney. This entryway is comfortable, spacious, and inviting; it seems to encourage you to stay awhile. It's a place to nurture old relationships at the church and a place to start new ones. It's evidence of flourishing, God-given life here, and the people of Holy Trinity are justly proud of it.

It's also evidence of the many changes at at Holy Trinity in the last several years, changes, I've learned, that have not always been easy even as they've made the place breathe with new life. Tomorrow we'll attend an annual conference on rural ministry and learn about the changing face of rural ministry from pastors and lay people who are doing God's work out on the plains.

For now, though, I need sleep. I hope I'll dream about that wide-open sky, and lose myself in that "seam where the sky and land meet."


Friday, January 11, 2008

At the Airport

Greetings! I’m Matt Keadle, and I’ll be blogging the 2008 J-term Rural Immersion Class. If you scroll below this post, you can see blog postings from last year’s class. If you scroll above, you can see future postings from me, or maybe, depending on when you’re reading this, postings from some future class that doesn’t even exist yet.

I’m writing this first post from Chicago’s Midway airport, about a 40 minute bus ride from the LSTC campus. In about 90 minutes we’ll be departing for Denver, Colorado, and then we’ll make the drive over to Sidney, Nebraska, where we’ll be staying this year. Here’s a picture of Adam, a fellow Rural Immersion adventurer, and I at Midway airport.

For the last two days we’ve heard about rural life from Rev. Ruth Boettcher, a pastor in rural Nebraska, and Dr. Dennis Gengenbach, a Nebraskan ag producer. It’s been a helpful window into what we’ll be encountering in the coming days. We’ve heard about the challenges Dennis and his fellow ag producers face as they seek to grow food and fuel for the rest of the country (and other countries, too). I have pages and pages of notes and lots of thoughts which are impossible to include here. But in short: Agriculture, we’ve learned, is a highly dynamic field that has changed dramatically in the last few decades, presenting difficult challenges as well as deep joys for its practitioners and their families. We’ve also learned a bit about how rural churches are being revitalized as they have rediscovered anew the gospel of grace for all of God’s people. And I’m sure there will be much more to come soon.

I work at an after-school program when I’m not blogging, and one of the students yesterday was giving me advice about blogging. He also has his own blog. He’s in second grade. He said, “Matt, let me give you a helpful tip. Keep your posts short.” Then he proceeded to give me another helpful tip, which amounted to Googling a fancy program that tracks the number of hits you get on your blog. Did I mention he’s in second grade? Anyway, for now I’ll stick to the first piece of advice and keep it (relatively) short.

Besides, Adam asked me to watch his bag. Hmm, I should probably make sure it’s still there…