I wasn’t surprised when my mother called to tell me about the new creationism museum opening on the west edge of town.
“Who?” I said.
“Sommers, your old youth minister, the E-Free guy. Worked at Computers Plus.”
I remembered Sommers. I liked him, but I hadn’t thought about him in years. I remembered his soft voice, his gut, the way he walked with his arms held out from his sides. I remembered him taking me aside after youth group, softly chiding that Jesus died for my sins, that I should pray for forgiveness and let the creator into my heart. I remembered him selling my mom printer ink.
“The sign says, ‘If evolution is true, the cross doesn’t matter,’” she said. “There’s a T-Rex outside.”
I wanted to be dismayed, rankled a bit, but 18 years in Broken Bow was enough to know better. At some point rural Nebraska bartered independence for tradition. It was a poor transaction, but tradition is easy. Tradition avoids controversy. Tradition avoids struggle, and too often, tradition avoids responsibility. If evolution is true, the cross doesn’t matter. If you’re not a Christian, you’re damned. If it doesn’t affect me, why change it?
A creationism museum itself is not what troubles me, but the lack of a counterpart. It seems to me unlikely the people of Broken Bow unanimously believe in a world just several thousand years old. But if that’s the case, where are the dissenters? If no one asks questions, does the truth even matter?
It’s strange that a land so open would cultivate a people so closed, so hostile to new ideas. I worry that those who worry are like me, living 1,500 miles away, writing for an audience that already agrees. I worry that most don’t. I worry that small towns in Nebraska may no longer incubate the Willa Cathers and Wright Morrises and other independent thinkers they once did. I worry that Broken Bow is dying for the sake of convenience.
Sometimes I picture Sommers changing the sign, eye-level with a T-Rex, and wonder who, if anyone, will take him aside.