Sunday, April 17, 2011

Holy Week

I don't usually like writing or talking about religious things but I was kind of moved and full of thoughts today so this post may be a little weird. I'll just start off by saying I've never been truly religious. I've attended the Catholic church my entire life, somewhat reluctantly. Somewhere inside of myself, I wanted to be the perfect Catholic and later the perfect Christian, and have tried for the majority of 22 years to "fake it till I make it." However, something is missing. Perhaps it's my unwillingness to surrender to the unknown. Or my disgust with hypocrites and the actions of so-called Christians, of which I am one. Don't get me wrong, I believe in a higher power, just not wholeheartedly at all times.I would say that I'm certainly more spiritual rather than religious. However, with my grandfather's passing in January I felt the need to find God and my faith. He was the most devout Catholic and set an example for his children and grandchildren. However, in the past 4 months I have only been to church a total of 5 times. Every time I went I would find myself sitting alone thinking of how much I missed my grandfather and how much I desired to have that relationship with God and be moved the way my grandfather was, and then I would cry. In church. Surrounded by strangers. Talk about embarassing.

Anyway...all this brings me to the point that today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week. As I sat in church today, memories of Lenten seasons and Holy Weeks past came to mind. I recalled the Wednesday night Stations of the Cross, repeating words that at the time were just words and now hold meaning beyond belief. I recalled discussing Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ with a woman who has since passed, who tried her hardest to bring my doubting heart to Jesus. I recalled the Easter Sunday services with unfiltered light shining as the back door of my little country church swung wide open, the light symbolic of new life. I recalled being surrounded by family and good food and enjoying Easter egg hunts in the backyard. My grandfather would fill eggs with quarters not candy, which is symbolic of struggles that are occurring now. I recalled the awkwardness of my youth on Good Friday as I was told to venerate the cross with a kiss, containing a splinter of the true cross found by St. Helen. Why would I want to kiss an inanimate object?  Through all these strange thoughts and memories somehow, for once, as I sat in church, I was moved. The unselfishness and love showed to all of us by Jesus, which is really brought to light during Holy Week, is something I want to show to others. His fear as he prayed in the garden at Gethesmene showed just how human and divine he was all in one. While I may not be the best Catholic or Christian, I always strive to love everyone as Jesus loved us. And I'm really looking forward to Holy Week because while the story is always the same, the memories and meaning change from year to year.

Words of Wisdom: "This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you." John 15:12

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Education is the Key to Rural Community Survival

This excerpt from the book, Survival of Rural America: Small Victories and Bitter Harvests by Richard Wood really spoke to me and I wanted to share some thoughts with you.  Jackson refers to Wes Jackson of the Land Institute outside of Salina.

"The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility. Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home and contribute to their communities. There is no such thing as a 'homecoming' major," by which Jackson means "home" in at least two contexts: the rural communities from which many people come - and to which most never return, and home as a "coherent community that is in turn embedded in the ecological realities of its surrounding landscape." "We educate kids to take tests," Jackson says, but "teachers don't even know how to talk about community responsibility.."

As many of you know this has been the plight of small towns for decades and something as a sophomore in high school I set out to reverse. There has been this mindset that educated people don't return to small towns, and my question is why the hell not? As I near the end of my education at the University of Kansas, and I'm not bashing my beloved almost alma mater at all, but I've recognized the lack of promotion there is for the rural lifestyle. Yes, a majority of the students are from and will return to the big city after graduation, but as Jackson says, it seems there is nothing much being done to promote returning to rural America. I've been a believer that this idea of returning home needs to start at home in the community, in your family when the person is younger, however, why not educate more students on the importance of the rural way of life. I'm utterly disappointed that the University of Kansas, to my knowledge does not offer a rural socialogy class or major. And for that fact, I'm not even sure that KSU does either. Luckily in the past year, I've been able to share my rural insights and passions with a few of my professors and they clearly see the benefits of helping rural communities. They've begun working on projects and encouraging any other students from rural communities to consider returning there. However, these are just two people that are working on this...there needs to be a much bigger focus than that.

I'm thankful that my "return home education" started years ago and is now coming full circle. It frustrates me that those "city kids" I've had in classes and as friends do not understand why I want to return to a small town. I've tried many times to explain and demonstrate the numerous benefits to rural America's way of life, while understanding it may not be for everyone. True, I will not be returning home to Atwood, but I will be returning home to Western Kansas. After 7 years of working with people in Rawlins County, we have seen an increase in former AHS graduates returning home and it delights me. It's often of their own accord, but changing the mindsets of people both in universities and communities to encourage rural returns I believe will increase this trend. One of things I'm most excited to try and implement in my new position in Wichita County is to work to bring young people home. Get the young people involved while in high school and educate them on the opportunities that are theirs, if they want to return home.

I hope that if you call a rural community home you will seriously consider returning there someday and bringing your talents and knowledge you gain from the rest of the world home with you. And my dear city friends, please come visit me and I'll do my best to demonstrate the beautiful and sacred way of life that rural communities offer. I promise you just because the way of life is slower does not mean that we are any less educated than any of you.