A Love Letter from a ‘Prophet’ to His ‘Native Place’

On a recent visit home, I was sitting at the piano at St. Luke’s Church in Belleville, subbing for a friend who was on vacation.  It had been a wild ride in the weeks preceding that Sunday.  I had finished year one of grad school.  I had gone to Australia to meet with musical theatre folks from all over the world.  I was back in Belleville for the premiere of Just Pretend.  And so when the Gospel rolled around at this particular mass on this particular Sunday, I was amused to hear the age-old adage in Mark:  “’A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”

This reading struck me at a curious time considering a) how much thought I’d given to leaving my “native place,” b) how far I had recently traveled from it (another continent, in fact), and c) how many times my friends and family asked the well-meaning but constant question about what I’m doing after graduation (ie-“Will you be coming back to your ‘native place?’”)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever struggled with that tug between the place where you’re a prophet and your native place.  Oh, you too?  Well good.  Of course, I have some thoughts.

The first is an exchange I shared with my classmate, Liv.  We were both commenting last spring how many offers for shows we were getting…now that we weren’t in our home towns.  As soon as casting season began in January-February, I started getting emails ranging from “Will you be in town this summer?” to “When does school end for you?” to “I’d like you to play _____ if you’ll be here in August.”  It was very flattering.  As Liv put it, “Once you move away, you’re exotic.”  Liv hails from Denmark, and so you can imagine just how exotic she must be to her fellow Danes right now as a San Diego transplant.  So in one regard, contrary to the words of JC, maybe you can be a prophet in your native place.  Maybe your native place craves you once you’re away.

The second thought deals with choosing to be away from your native place.  One of the main reasons I chose to go back to school was because I needed some personal incubation time.  Another classmate, Kikau, often uses the phrase “pulling off the road.”  I was eager for more professional training, and I wanted to change the balance of my performance life and my teaching life.  After a great deal of soul-searching (ahem, did you read my series called “Something’s Coming”?), I decided I needed to do this process “away.”  I simply didn’t think it was going to be successful otherwise.  The danger of status quo was simply too great.

Of course, what I was feeling was nothing different than what plenty of people feel:  modern society considers moving away to college to be an important part of development; restless souls with wanderlust in their hearts set off on long journeys to “find themselves”; and people of faith recount “mountaintop” experiences.  All of these transformations share a commonality.  They all take place away from normal.

Is the “away” factor a real thing or just a phenomenon of perspective?  In my situation, I argue that the “away” factor is both real and necessary.  So if you also feel that “away” is a real—and sometimes essential—component to transformation, the next question is:  Where do you go from there?  Once you’re transformed, should you even attempt to go back to your native place?  The verse in Mark* that follows Jesus’ famous quote could be a compelling argument against it:

“Jesus said to them,/ ’A prophet is not without honor except in his native place/ and among his own kin and in his own house.”/ So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there…”

So Jesus—Jesus—was not able to do any mighty deed back in Nazareth?  Any mighty deed?  Good grief.  My mother is wringing her hands right now.  She’s already concerned I’m never coming home.  Then the Gospel—the Gospel—has to go and make her worry even more?!  Thanks, Mark.

But this famously quotable line speaks to that tug between the place where you’re from and the place where you’re going.  Those who don’t feel an attachment to their native place find it hard to relate to those who do.  Conversely, those who sense the invisible cords that tie them to home need almost no description when commiserating about that feeling amongst each other.  So back to my mother, what can I say to calm her hand-wringing?

Mom, if you’re reading this, it means you navigated successfully to my blog.  On a computer!  I’M PROUD OF YOU!  Mom, I’m sure that Mary was really happy to have Jesus back in the house during Mark’s story.  She probably made him kugel.  And then she probably heard him talking about all this native place nonsense, and she was all like “Excuse me?  What do you mean you’re not without honor among your own kin and in your own house?!  Now, sit down and eat your kugel, young man!” 

But Mom, I have two things to say.  First, I don’t know if I totally agree with Jesus.  Yeah, I might be wanting to go off and attempt mighty deeds in other places, but someday, I will attempt to do mighty deeds back in my native place, too.  Like Brad Pitt rebuilding New Orleans!  Wait, is he from Springfield, MO?  Or maybe Oklahoma?  Ok, that’s a poor example.  But secondly, Mom, I think I need a little more time in my non-native place.  My scheduled time “away” in San Diego totals two years, but even Jesus had three years to make a name for himself.  And he was in the gifted program.  Like really giftedSo I might want need to go off to New York or Chicago or London or Branson for a while and see what I can do.  But Mom, I promise I’ll be back when the time is right. 

My mom has never made kugel, but her apple cake is the stuff of this prophet’s dreams.  Rest assured, I’ll be back for it.  Mighty deeds work up an appetite.

*For your information, the aforementioned passage is Mark 6:4-5.  Curiously, though, each of the four Gospel writers recounts this story in some way.  So there’s strong testimony pointing to this lesson in scripture.  Fascinating!

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