(Yes, I'm aware that doesn't add up.)
The confession: I'm an ugly town snob.
I live in a town that many call "ugly." It's so ugly I recall a friend's wife who cried the first time she saw the place. He had taken a job at ACU and they were moving here. She had never been to ACU. And when she saw the town for the first time, saw her future home, she wept.
That's a true story. My town is that ugly. People weep when they see it for the first time.
But here's the deal. I love ugly things. I take it as a point of spiritual pride to love ugly things. Which means that I love my ugly town.
But the problem with spiritual pride is that it causes you to harshly judge and look down upon others who praise "beautiful" towns and cities. This is the price of being a snob.
A close to home example of this. Next week I'll be teaching, for the first time, classes at the Pepperdine lectureship in Malibu, CA. And from what they tell me, Malibu is "beautiful." And what's going to happen next week--watch for it--is that every preacher, teacher and attendee at the Pepperdine lectures is going to Tweet or upload to Facebook photos and updates about going to or being at this "beautiful" place. And in the face of that social media onslaught I'm going to struggle mightily not to judge these people.
First off, why do people want to inform everybody back home that they are going to a "beautiful" place like Malibu? Do they have no shame? No social skills? Do they like making people envious?
Why would you want to let a person back home know, as he or she slogs through their mid-week work commute, that you are currently sitting at the beach? What sort of sick person Tweets about sitting on the beach while others are working?
But beyond this general lack of social skills symptomatic of a catastrophically low self-esteem, I don't think anyone who thinks my town is "ugly" and that Malibu is "beautiful" can be a true Christian.
Does not a theology of the cross apply to geography as well? I think it does. No true follower of Jesus could love Malibu over the ugly town.
There's a reason Jesus came from Nazareth and hung out in Galilee rather than Jerusalem. Jesus loved ugly towns.
Now, I'm aware that all this makes me sound horribly demented. Likely because I am. But to be clear, I am looking forward--really, really looking forward--to the Pepperdine lectures and the people. But I am depressed, spiritually depressed, that I have to go to Malibu.
Am I crazy? Perhaps. But I think I'm telling you the truth. I'd rather go to your ugly town than to Malibu. I'd rather get an ice cream cone at your local ugly town Dairy Queen or eat at your ugly town greasy spoon or sit on your ugly town park bench watching the trash blow by. I prefer ugly towns. I find them interesting.
And really, aren't oceans, mountains and forests a bit overrated as being spiritual "thin places"? Give me the table in your ugly town where the old timers meet for morning coffee. Or the bridge in your ugly town under which the homeless make their bed at night. Or the place in your ugly town where the poor kids splash in city water on hot summer days. Now those are thin spaces. But few have the eyes to see them. Because any Christian can find God at the ocean. You're on vacation for crying out loud. That feeling you're feeling? It's not the Holy Spirit. It's called "not being at work."
So, yes, I'll be in Malibu--Sweet Lord, protect my heart--next week. But, sadly, you'll get no Tweets or Facebook pics from me while I'm there.1
I'm really looking forward to the lectures (more on that later this week), but I'm going to be missing my ugly town.
1. Mainly because...um...I don't actually have a Twitter or Facebook account.