A prominent evangelical megachurch pastor said a few years ago that his ambition for his church is to have Easter Sunday services at the local major league baseball team's stadium. He is not the only one with such lofty ambitions. In recent years, evangelicalism has been swept with a city-centric ethos focused on large urban hubs. And the seeker-sensitive movement that preceded it, despite very different values, harbored a similar fondness for bigness. Of course, these movements within evangelicalism roughly mirror the love affair contemporary America has with big cities.
For all these reasons, evangelicals need to read Rod Dreher's The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life (Grand Central Publishing). Little Way is Dreher's account of growing up in small-town Louisiana, leaving it behind, and then coming back home again after seeing the way tiny St. Francisville rallied around his cancer-stricken sister, Ruthie Leming.
Thankfully, Dreher's book avoids romanticizing small-town America. His account is balanced, neither neglecting the reasons for its demise nor demonizing big cities. As someone who's lived in New York, Tampa, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Philadelphia, it'd be hard for him not to recognize the benefits of big city life and chasing professional success. Indeed, that balance (which, I suspect, is simply wisdom) flavors the entire book, as Dreher looks back with a mixture of affection and sadness at his life in St. Francisville.
At times you can feel Dreher's love for the place, particularly as he recalls time spent at his great aunts' cabin as a little boy. His great aunts, who had lived in Paris in the early 20th century, ...