Jefferson is this little city in Colorado that I have oftentimes driven through on my way to Denver. There’s a small grocery/diner/bar/bathroom surrounded by a few houses. Located in the South Park Valley where it’s cold and windy, as an outsider I always want to move through it as quickly as I can. I don’t want to stop, I don’t want to look at anything, I don’t want to be seen there.
We all know those back-water towns – the ones with one stoplight on the main thoroughfare. It’s tiny, dingy, a little messy, and if you blink you’d miss it. Google maps doesn’t offer any suggestions on where to stop and eat lunch. The city government has no website. No money is being spent there, no money is being made there, nothing is happening in this dot on the map. These are little towns, little places. The backwoods, the boonies, the outskirts, the sticks, the shitholes.
There are cities which have gathered the same status, not because they’re pass-through towns, but because they’ve been neglected and abandoned, mismanaged for years by local governments. Cities like East Saint Louis, Detroit, Birmingham, or El Paso. Cities with aging populations, little to no job growth, crumbling infrastructure, and declining local coffers, these cities are dropping to shithole status.
Recently, my country’s president labeled entire continents as shitholes. Why? It might be because they’re poorer than the U.S., or because they’re not as developed as the U.S. It might be because they’re in need of assistance, or because they’re not known for anything. It might be because no one ‘America Famous’ has come from there. It might even be because he has all kinds of pre-conceived notions of what those countries are (or are not). Whatever the reasoning, I can assume that he wasn’t the first to do so, and he won’t be the last.
A tiny village off in the hills of Galilee with no more than 500 people living there, eking out an existence, it’s just another pass-through village with nothing to see, nothing to do, no where to spend any money. No one of distinction has come from there – no one would claim to be from there. Just another shithole on the map that people avoid if they can. This is probably why Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” In my recently acquired Texas vocabulary, I might translate it with a fake smile on my face as: “He’s from Nazareth? Bless his heart”.
Something – someone – good came from Nazareth. Out of this little backwoods town, this shithole, Jesus Christ came into the world to bring love and reconciliation to the world. Just like my country’s president, I believe we’re all a little guilty of assuming that these small towns, these crumbling cities, these poor countries are nothing but a blip on the map. Places where, if they get anything from us they’ll get our pity and nothing more.
When we assume places are less-than-desirous for our standards, when we label them boonies, or outskirts, or shitholes, we take away the good that those places have. We not only lower the place, but we lower the people who live in that place. We are inevitably tied to where we come from – our identity is linked to our location. I’m from Colorado, so people assume I ski, hike, and smoke pot. I know people from Iowa, and I assume they look off into the never-ending horizon and eat corn. And before moving to Texas, I assumed they all ate BBQ, shot guns, and drove fast. But when I maintain these perceptions I miss out on the good that I don’t know about. I’ve learned that Texans also like to listen to loud music, have great Tex-Mex, are passionate, very friendly, and yes, they do eat BBQ (which is delicious). By labeling places as shitholes, we in turn label the people there as shitholes. Nathanael assumed because Nazareth was a bad place, that anyone coming out of there would be bad as well.
We label places and people as shitholes because we know nothing about them. We label things and people and places because they’re below our “high” standards. When we attach these labels to people and places, we lose the potential to see them as they really are. We lose the opportunity to get to know and explore and fall in love with them. I am as guilty as my country’s president of labeling people and things and places because I don’t know or understand them. And it makes me just as terrible a person as him.
But it’s where I choose to go from this point that will make the difference. As I move forward in my life, I’ll ask myself: What can I do to change my pre-conceived notions of places, and people, and things? What can I do to change my perceptions? How can I allow God to work in my life to change my vision and allow me to see these people and places as His dearly beloved creation? My friends, places are not shitholes. People are not shitholes. Finding the good and working to lift up people and places is more important than labeling them. Join me in moving beyond our thoughts and into the vision that God has of all of creation: beautiful, wonderful, and dearly loved.
much love. sheth.