Bursting the “Bubble”

BY ANNA FERGUSONDecember 19, 2013

Wheaton City Hall

For years I’ve grown up in what friends, teachers, and family collectively call the Wheaton “bubble.” Wheaton, Illinois, is perhaps the last place in the country where you can sleep with your doors unlocked, where neighbors gather for Happy Hours and Block Parties while their children run from backyard to backyard, a place where everybody knows everybody.

It’s a patchwork city of old and new houses, quaint shops and modern apartment complexes, and top-notch public and private schools. It’s home to Wheaton College and has more churches per capita than any other town in America. And, most importantly, in 2010 Money Magazine listed Wheaton as one of the top 25 highest earning towns in the United States.

Wheaton is a place where you can get comfortable…almost too comfortable. It is jokingly called a “Bubble” because those who live there seemingly live in an entirely different world from everyone else. The average person living in Wheaton lives in a nice house, sends their children top-notch schools, and is relatively untouched by the violence, poverty and injustice that rocks the rest of the world.

I used to think the Wheaton “Bubble” was more of a joke than a reality until I came home for Fall Break this year. Over this break I found out what it meant to have been “ruined” by the Jesuits. Little did I know that my Jesuit education at Creighton University would so profoundly change how I saw my hometown.

I can’t remember where I was or when it happened, but I clearly remember driving through Wheaton one day, taking in the familiar houses and shops in downtown, watching passersby on the sidewalk, and feeling an enormous sense of discomfort.

Affluence. Materialism. Excessiveness. Ignorance.

These words filled my mind as I took a closer look at Wheaton. At the same time, experiences I had at Creighton were rushing to the surface. Living and attending classes on the edge of impoverished North Omaha, directly serving immigrants and refugees in the community, working in an office that promotes simplicity, solidarity, sustainability, and social justice, and receiving an education that sought to form “Men and Women for and with others,” were the sources of my discomfort.

Being formed in these Jesuit values and encouraged to engage in social justice issues throughout my Creighton career, made me look upon my city with disgust. This year at school, more than ever, I felt a strong call to be with the poor, to be Christ’s love and compassion for them, to live in solidarity with them.

As I drove through town, I knew one thing very clearly: I could never live here and do that.

I am not saying that wealth and comfort are inherently evil things. I don’t despise my upper-middle class neighbors for working hard to provide comfortable lifestyles for their families. Although my family is not as wealthy as many who live here, we are indeed counted among the privileged residents of Wheaton.

What I do dislike is that, generally, we are a city that is more comfortable throwing a disconnected dollar in the Church basket or charity bucket than we are coming face-to-face with real suffering. Our churches spend weeks doing mission work throughout the country and the world, thinking we are really “fixing” something and doing a lot of good, but we never stop to ask ourselves why there is something to “fix” in the first place.

Overall, we are removed from the suffering that happens all around us; we are absorbed with our own personal dramas. We are entitled.

Now, I know I can’t speak for everybody in Wheaton. To the individuals and small groups of people who live simply, who work to make a difference, who share what they have with others, your examples continue to inspire me.

Wheaton’s refugee population continues to grow each year, bringing diversity and a raw look at suffering to our city. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Wheaton is no longer quite as hidden as it once was. People, I think, are beginning to notice and pay attention to the real injustices all around them. They are beginning to respond.

Although I am encouraged by this, I continue to see ways that we are ignorant to suffering, ways that we protect ourselves from it. My Jesuit education burst the Wheaton “Bubble,” and showed me how wasteful, how excessive, how sheltered life could be here, if we choose it.

It makes me wonder what it would take to burst the “bubble” for other people and how many would be open to having it burst.

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