“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
Most people can tell you that I’m not the sermon-giving type. If asked about the transfiguration or the trinity or the ascension, I’m likely to shrug, point to my husband, and change the subject to whatever my dog rolled in this week. Every once in a while, facebook ads suggest that I consider going to seminary, which would make every bishop I know choke on his (or her) gin martini.
But something has been bugging me about how we human beings treat each other, and I need to talk about it.
It’s about our home towns.
How many times have you heard – or participated – in a conversation like this?
Person 1: “Where are you from?”
Person 2: “My hometown is Cleveland [or Tomah, or Milwaukee, or Detroit, or Waco, or Des Moines, or Augusta, or Wasilla, or somewhere in Appalachia, or Houston, or Brooklyn Park, or Trenton, or Gary, or Chernobyl].”
Person 1: “Oh, I’m sorry.” (Laughs hysterically at his/her own joke.)
Wait. What? What just happened there? I’m sorry, but what a jerky thing to say. You’ve essentially just shut down the conversation, leaving someone else feeling terrible, or maybe worse, you’ve put them on the defensive, to say something like, “Well, it wasn’t as bad when I lived there.” Or, “You might be surprised – it’s really made a comeback!”
Either way, what a hurtful thing to say.
Well, I wasn’t insulting the person, you might think. They shouldn’t take it personally. It’s just the place! Everybody knows it’s a dump. I saw some photos on the Huffington Post, and so it must be true.
If you’ve been the person on the receiving end of that conversation, though, it can sting. That type of “joke” puts up barriers between people, and I’d like to think that we should be tearing down barriers and building each other up.
Believe it or not, prejudice and insults can take a twisted reverse form as well. “Everybody knows that anyone who grew up in Lake Forest (or Grosse Pointe, or Edina, or River Oaks) is just a rich snob. I heard they summer in the Hamptons/winter at Sanibel/ski in Aspen. They can’t be authentic and real and down-to-earth.”
Believe it or not, I’ve been the subject of both ends of this place-prejudice type of conversation, and it’s not super fun. I’ve probably participated in the other end of that conversation at some point, too, unwittingly hurting someone’s feelings. Apparently it’s not a new phenomenon, given the famous quote about Nazareth above.
This isn’t to say that we can’t have a healthy sense of humor about the place we call home. My origins are in a pretty humble place, but I loved growing up there. We’ve spent some time in some pretty high-rent districts, too, and I have to admit that it’s fun (at a cost). Maybe I’m overly sensitive … thin skinned… need to take charge of my own feelings. Trust me – I’m not losing any sleep over it, and I’m comfortable with where I’ve been and where we’ve chosen to live. I am more than the places I’ve lived, and I’d bet you are, too. But slamming someone else’s hometown seems to be the new version of a “yo mamma” joke. It’s juvenile and rude, and it’s not a great way to build a relationship with someone.
Several times in the last week, we’ve been playing defense for both the home that we’re leaving, and the new place we’re about to call home. I’d like to set the record straight about a few things.
Yes, Neil served a church in Edina, which is known to many as an affluent suburb of Minneapolis. Yes, it can get cold in Minnesota! Our kids aren’t hockey players. We never lived in Edina. Our family chose other nearby suburbs to call home. But Edina is a great place to live, which is probably why it’s kind of pricey to buy a home there. God’s people live there. That thing about the rich man and the camel and the eye of the needle? Well, I guess we all need God’s grace. I’d like to think that our family isn’t snobby, even though that’s the assumption that’s already been made based solely on where my husband’s car (a 2004 Camry with scratches made by yours truly, in case you’re wondering) is parked during the workday.
Yes, we are moving to Houston. Yes, we’ve been there. We’re excited about it! Yep, it’s going to be hot. God’s people live there. We can’t wait to meet more of them!
I think that people who meet us will find us to be down-to-earth, friendly, human, broken, fallible, awkward, funny, and loving. Hopefully, they’ll find us to be smart, witty, engaging, and literary, but I won’t hold my breath. We make a ton of mistakes (just ask our kids). We probably have a lot in common with you. It’s OK if you don’t like us, but I hope you’ll give us a chance. We have a lot in common with the people in Edina, and Williamsburg, and Houston, and probably Akron, too, if we stayed there long enough to find out. In the immortal wisdom of Pete from The Muppets Take Manhattan, “Peoples is peoples.”
So, what should people say about a place, or its reputation?
“You’re from Cleveland? My college roommate was from Columbus – how far away is that?”
“Iowa? Do you still have family there? I’ve heard it’s beautiful, but I’ve never been there.”
“Edina? Wow – great schools! Do you ever get back there for holidays?”
“Nazareth, you say? That name rings a bell. Where have I heard of that town before? Did Donny Osmond grow up there?”