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It’s Lent, and like everyone else, I’m wondering how much I should worry about COVID-19, aka the novel coronavirus. More than that, though, this season there is a slow, dark, and persistent understanding that I live in a ghetto, and this is a sobering thought.
Yes, that statement is an exaggeration, and it may be the worst kind of white privilege and cultural appropriation, but it is also true. We are isolated, and isolation is one indicator of living in a ghetto. In a material sense, we are isolated from basic goods and services. There is no grocery store in town, although the county seat is only six miles away. Folks living in other small towns in the county must travel much farther. My father-in-law requires specialized medical care, which means that they must travel over an hour to Sioux City or Fort Dodge or cross into South Dakota. For people who are no longer able to drive long distances, they prevail upon friends or family. Some people have no such connections.
People here work hard for low wages, and they struggle to get by. Median household income in our county is the second lowest among counties in our quadrant of the state. We comprise a share of flyover country, and this makes us easy targets for put-downs.
Folks who live here are largely descended from Scandinavian and German immigrants. They carry long prairie memory of hardship and loss. Their ancestors tended to gut it out by sheer force of will, and their descendants wear a stubborn pride that looks upon government help with envy and suspicion.
I want to say that Jesus is here, especially when my husband drives his aging parents and a widow-friend to their many medical appointments. But there are lots of times when Christ seems to have lit out for the city, and I want to follow Him.
This is not a town that pulls together well. Town celebrations haven’t been held in years because no one wants to organize the events. Why bother? People criticize too much and help too little. Instead of banding together, we’re more like the proverbial bucket of crabs—dragging down anyone who wants to rise a little higher than the rest.
For years, I slogged off to one of the churches in town. It was a beautiful building, but that seemed the chief focus of their mission. When asked to host the Women, Infant, Children (WIC) clinic, the church agreed. After some sloppy winter months, however, the women complained when “those people” tracked mud on the basement carpet. When asked to open the church to a budding Latino ministry on Sunday afternoons, the congregation voted a resounding no, with comments that “those people” would bring nothing except wear-and-tear on said carpet, the pew cushions, and the building in general. No way, they said. No one helped us. We had to start our own church; they had better do the same.
Here is the prairie memory, stirring to life in yet another generation, but it’s also more than that. Jesus must have surely wept on both occasions, because this is the worst kind of ghetto isolation: spiritual isolation from each other. The inability to see Christ in each other. Even the mini-mega-church in town doesn’t allow divorced men to hold positions of leadership, so they don’t always practice a comprehensive theology of love and welcome, either.
Churches fail. I fail. You fail. We fail each other daily. In an existential sense, no matter where we live, we’re all in a ghetto.
It’s Lent, and the poverty of my charity is clear. The poverty of my spirit is greater than the fact that I live in a place that often depresses me. Forgive my unbelief and my doubt. If the ghetto is a tomb, roll the stone of my hard heart away, and let Jesus rise again in me.