Nathanael said to Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." - John 1:46
From the gothic stone pulpit of Duke University Chapel, in North Carolina, I introduced myself to the large cathedral-sized congregation: "Greetings from Dubuque, Iowa."
And they laughed, hundreds of chuckles and titters bouncing off the stone walls.
It caught me off guard. I went on to make a few jokes, which is what I do when I get nervous, and then we all laughed together.
I've lived in Iowa for three years but I'm still surprised when people react to my home like it's the punchline to a joke. At a hotel in Mexico, a Boston doctor I had been eating breakfast with all week suddenly confessed: "I'm sorry, but I just can't believe that you're from Iowa, and yet, you're here." She meant it as a compliment—my quiet island vacation measured up to her own good taste—but what did she think most people from Iowa did on vacation? I do not have a poker face.
"I can't believe I just did that to you," she apologized, catching herself. "When I moved out East from Ohio, I felt like everyone looked down their nose at me. But I just did that to you!" We ended up speaking deeply about the places we call home, the stereotypes people attach to them, and the unexpected joys those people miss. There's no such thing as a "fly over" state, just places we have yet to land.
Jesus experienced all of that too. He was underestimated, pigeon-holed, even dismissed, all because he was from Nazareth.
So what exactly did people have against Nazareth? Today, I couldn't tell you.
I guess it's the people who make the place and not the other way around.
Dear God, thank you for special and sacred places, especially the ones we don't see coming. Amen.
Lillian Daniel's new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.