Burnet, Texas is a small, hill country town about an hour northwest of Texas. It is pronounced, “Burn-it,” with the local quip being, “Burnet, durnit! Learn it!” First Baptist Church of Burnet, since 1993, has been performing the “Main Street Bethlehem” on the first two weekends in December. They have build from the ground up, a 3-D, full-size mock up of the town of Bethlehem, with a synagogue, jail, family home, shops with crafts going on inside, a tavern, tax-collector station, Roman soldiers, stables, (with real livestock, from chickens to camels) and of course an inn and cave manger. The members of the church are the cast in period costumes. Think Colonial Williamsburg on a small 1-acre scale. This is popular enough that the line to enter got to at least 5-6 blocks long, and that is normal.
In the candlemaker’s shop, I made the mistake, upon seeing the straw bed in the corner, of asking the ladies making candles if they got to go home afterwards or were staying there. Without looking up, they said, “This is our home.” Duh. I forgot that everyone was in character.
The entire thing has been carefully researched to be as authentic as possible. At the end, they have free cookies and cocoa. Everyone with whom I interacted was as amazingly nice and gracious as they could be (or their characters would let them), and the members working outside the ‘city’ were genuinely glad and grateful for every person that attended. They seemed to be humbly honored that folks would come.
This brings me to my point. We in the academy are surrounded by highly educated, intelligent people, who know they are among the top in their field. There is this air of sophistication, and often elitism, among the university community. Often, we are so submerged in the culture of the ivory tower, we forget what just plain folks are like. We can easily view them as uneducated hics that need to be saved from their ignorance and small-mindedness. We forget that some of our colleagues are small-minded, too, just in a different way.
We need to get out of the ivory tower often, to interact with people more grounded in daily life than we are, people who are ‘closer to the earth’ and understanding that the real world doesn’t really care about theories about the way it ‘should’ operate, people who realize that our ‘control’ over our environment is largely in appearance only. We need to submerge ourselves among people of good cheer, hospitality, common sense, and yes, intelligence. Main Street Bethlehem is not run by redneck hics, but brothers and sisters in Christ who care about their faith, sharing it with others and doing so accurately and dramatically.
While Main Street Bethlehem is unique, the people behind it are in every small town and even in many big cities in this country. They are the folks the media refer to as “flyover country”—the ‘boring’ part of our nation that is just taking up space between the centers of power. The joke is on them, however. When I read my Bible, I see that these are the very people and places God uses to shame the elite and to demonstrate His power.
Even though I have been blessed to be in a center of worldly power, I refuse to lose touch with the places and people with whom God tends to associate Himself. It seems like the wise thing to do.