The Problem with Calling it “Happy Valley”

[This post is from the archives. Every once in a while I’ll be re-posting articles that have recurring interest and were well-received the first time around. I originally posted this in November 2010. Given the events that came to light in November 2011, which are still impacting our community, these words are still timely.]

In a recent sermon, I talked about how part of living “the way it’s supposed to be” includes seeing the brokenness around us. I referenced a column by Adam Smeltz from about rethinking the nickname ‘Happy Valley’ for this area surrounding Penn State.

Smeltz said, “I worry that if ‘Happy Valley’ becomes too overwhelmingly popular — too overused in general — we may become increasingly, subconsciously insulated against the troubles of our region.”

I think Adam is on to something.  Part of living missionally is seeing those who are in need, with eyes of realism and faith. Where are the poor, the brokenhearted, those stuck in darkness, the grieving, and the struggling?   All around us, of course!

But if we view our environment as a place that we TAKE from, as a place to be enjoyed, bathed in the collective nostalgia of hundreds of thousands of alumni glorying in their college days of yore, we will very quickly miss the ways we can SERVE and GIVE to the area.

Recently at our Friday night Hot Dog Giveaway, a partying girl came up to me. She had been crying. She stopped, looked me in the eye, and asked “Can you tell me why my boyfriend hit me and cursed at me?” I was surprised, and said, “Excuse me?” She said “Never mind,” started sobbing, and ran away.  She was gone before I could catch up. For many people, heartache lurks just under the surface of Happy Valley.

I was moved by that encounter. For just a moment, the window was open just a crack to see the real Happy Valley, not just the glossy #1 Party School image.  I think that girl realized that while we were “in” her world, we weren’t “of” it. We were different. We were safe. We could possibly help. While that particular window quickly shut, I’m convinced that the more time & energy we spend loving people downtown and every other dark corner of Happy Valley, the more we’ll see God’s shalom spread.  Then this will be a place that lives up to our nickname!

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