Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Phantom Menace

Our life is a tale divided between two cities.  We work and spend the majority of our waking hours in a small, Midwest college town. We live and sleep in our church in a tiny town of 200 people.  Bloomington, where we work, has had a difficult summer.  The summer began with the disappearance of a female college student within a few blocks of her downtown apartment.  Last week a man took a woman hostage at gunpoint for over an hour.  A sniper with the city’s police department shot and killed the man.  I was surprised by both incidents as well as by the fact that the police keep a sniper on staff since most of the city’s “crime” involves rowdy, often drunk, undergraduate students.

Stinesville, where we live, has apparently also been experiencing crime this summer.  The nature of this problem is more unclear, or at least a mystery to us.  When picking up our mail at our post office this week, an item on the agenda for our monthly town meeting caught our attention.  The meeting would include a discussion regarding the “town menace” and whether or not the town could issue a restraining order.  We were intrigued.  Who or what is this menace?  How did we not know about him/her/it?  How is the entity menacing?  Is our church, desperately in need of painting, the menace? Our barking dog?  If the town is truly menaced, wouldn’t we be aware of it? We took our lack of knowledge as further evidence of our failure at integrating ourselves in small town life – specifically small town talk and gossip

All communities both big and small must deal with their menaces real, imaginary, and exaggerated. I’m reminded of a recently released book I have wanted to read. Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns by Judy Muller looks at the tiny weekly newspapers around the country.  These small papers, which report on local news and events, continue to thrive while their larger counterparts are collapsing.  But, before I sit down to read this book, I should probably first make an effort to meet more people in my own community, and find out what’s up with our own menace.

****Read The Phantom Menace Unmasked to solve this mystery

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