What Preachers Tell Us… Intro

On Podcast episode 660 of NPR’s This American Life, author Shalom Auslander shared a true story called “The Blessing Bee.” As Auslander mentioned peculiar points of reference concerning his rabbinical training, he repeated a refrain that went something like this,

“Rabbi _______ told us,

That the Sages tell us,

That the Torah tells us…”

Auslander repeated this refrain effortlessly each time he retrieved a piece of information from his religious knowledge bank. It was like a stand-in disclaimer to any claim that he sought to make. And I thought it was compelling because it illustrated how a Rabbi is responsible for a vast ecosystem of religious thought and practice. Not only are they asked to be familiar with the Scripture text (Torah), but also with a panorama of thought and commentary about that text (Sages). This is a hyperawareness of religious thought and conversation. And it amazed me to consider it.

Perhaps my infatuation with Auslander’s story is shaped by my own. I’m a minister at a Christian church and am given the task to preach weekly sermons from the Scripture text and I often retrieve ideas from the Sages who have taught on it before me. I’ve been amazed, over the years, at the response from my sermons. I have Auslander’s story in mind when I am called someone’s “preacher.” Sometimes, I get to hear a response to my sermons and find that, on occasion, some folks thank me for some piece of information “in the sermon” that I did not say. I’ve also had people sleep through my sermons and tell me how much they loved it on the way out the door. Whereas Auslander’s rabbinical training required hyperawareness, it seems that the sermon can engender a type of hyperunawareness.

Having been a Christian for 20 years now and a minister for 15 years, I guess I am having one of those moments when I ask, “What is it all worth?” For there will be occasions when a church member of mine will be in a religious discussion, and they might say,

“My Preacher told us,

That the Sages tell us,

That the Bible tells us…”

I guess I’m eager to be more clear on what I’d want my people to say in those moments.

So, for a few blog posts, I want to talk about what each preacher from my life has taught me and then do a series of posts about what I’d like to be clear about for those who might call me their “preacher.”

Especially for Avery and Ezra who will have to juggle twin ideas about me for the rest of their lives: “dad” and “my preacher.”

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Spider-man: Into the spider-verse, part 2

spider-gang

I put up a post last week with some initial thoughts from the latest Spider-man film. Feel free to catch up, here.

This film set me ablaze with reflection. It was so well-made and thought-provoking. Spider-man has it all, in my opinion. It’s brimming with so much goodness. I fear that I may be overselling the film a bit. If you end up watching it and not enjoying it, I’m sorry. I’m an Enneagram 7… I can be thrilled for about anything that’s new.

The enduring theme of the movie is that “anyone can wear the mask.” And the film illustrates it, but putting several “Spider heroes” from different parallel universes in the same space. But, each of them are not the beloved Peter Parker. But, as the picture above shows, the spider-gene can summon an array of people.

Which is the strength of the writing, in my mind. We are in a pivotal, cultural moment, where old assumptions about who can/cannot, should/should not lead is being reworked. The writers of Spider-man made the most of this moment.

  • Miles- the main protagonist, is a young, person of color
  • Gwen- a young, talented woman more capable that most male figures in the film in the face of the #metoo movement
  • Peni Parker- a young, Asian girl with her robot side-kick (perhaps a gentle reminder that not all tech is evil… but helps broker relationships, too)
  • Spider-Man Noir- a black and white comic book character who is surprisingly helpful, wise, and teachable for an old guy
  • Peter Parker- not one from Miles’ universe, but a neighboring universe, who is working through inner guilt as he helps to save NYC. He finds his own inner peace by helping Miles find his. Quite a lesson to learn.
  • Spider-ham- a bizarre character that I’m still scratching my head about.

It’s not a perfect group of superheroes… but it certainly is lovely to see the variety of identities.

Early in the New Testament, the apostle Paul envisioned a church that looked different than the world around them, where the categories of “Jew/Non-Jew; Male or Female; Slave/Free” did not sort out the crowd into inside and outside.

The church has always tried to be the great expression of humanity where “anyone can wear the mask.” My prayer is that my own ministry helps to further that idea and vision.

 

Places Teach Us

This past weekend, I completed a 3:00:00 training run for a 50-mile ultramarathon that I will attempt in mid-March.

Weird things happen to me while on a long run. I fantasize about food, usually Kroger fried rice. I think back over my childhood. I remember different highlights from sports events I’ve experienced. I think about getting a tattoo. I constantly think that there might be a rock in my sock and the gnarly blister that could develop if I don’t do something about it. I think about TV shows and films at deeper levels, trying to unearth the philosophies that govern their writing.

All of this by a kid who got a 21 on the ACT… after taking it 4 times. Test-taking anxiety… the struggle is real.

On this past run, however, I thought about all of the places where I have lived in my life and how those different places teach us different things. Some people get to stay in the same places their entire lives while the rest of us get the chance to pick up and move and “make something from nothing” or as the theologian would say ex nihilo. Which is a cool term to say with a British accent.

So, here is a brief list of what the different places where I’ve lived have taught me:

Rural Kansas

How to smile! Rural Kansans have tooth-filled smiles that are genuine. And they smile with their eyes. You know what I’m talking about.

Suburban Columbus, Ohio

How to compete! The reason The Ohio State Buckeyes are the Buckeyes is because the buckeye tree is the state tree. Supposedly, as Ohio was being developed, settlers could not kill buckeye trees when trying to remove them from farm ground. O-H!!!!

West Wichita, KS

How to engage! I feel that West-Wichitans look at you in the eyes when speaking. And they strike up conversations with people in public, eager to make a new friend.

Sterling, KS (Sterling College)

How to pray! How to laugh! How to study!

Atlanta, GA

How to drive! The traffic makes for “sink or swim” moments. How to preach! Sharing at Peachtree Presbyterian was a delightful tightrope, so thrilling. How to delight! I enjoyed every get together in Atlanta… it was a suspended space of acceptance and love. Especially weddings.

Memphis, TN (current)

How to dance (even if you can’t)! The music city teaches you how to shoulder- shimmy and nod your head to the beat on the radio. How to doubt (an imperative for a happy-go-lucky kid, like myself). Because… it’s good to have some balance, friends.

Hip Hop artist Lupe Fiasco once said, “That’s how Chi-town made me!”

A place makes us. How has your hometown(s) raised you?

 

A Prayer for 2019

I crafted a prayer that I tried to pray daily in 2018. Here is my crack at one for 2019 as well:

 

God of heaven and earth, I ask that you’d help me to be quick to listen and to forgive. May friends, family, and enemies be less likely to walk on eggshells around me this year than in previous years. Help me to breath from the belly instead of from the chest. Help me give generously, even lavishly. Help me to not to have to have the last word. Give me the curiosity of daughter Avery and joy of son Ezra. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, part 1

My son Ezra and I recently watched the latest Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. We both were blown away. I left with my mind on fire about it. So I thought I’d put a few posts together about the film and why a film like this matters.

I’ll try to keep the posts short. And I will try not to give any significant spoilers.

This film has it all, to be honest. It certainly follows the “coming of age” trope that we see in my films. Main character, Miles Morales, is deeply challenged after changing schools, feeling like an outsider.

And he is. His mom is Latino and his father Black in a mostly all-White world. He attends a prep school with heavy textbooks and rigorous academic life while he seems to be most alive when creating art, especially spray-painting murals on NYC walls. Oh yeah, his dad is a NYPD police officer so the graffiti thing may not be a wise choice, long-term.

Early in the film, he spray paints a beautiful cityscape with a hollow figure in the forefront. This seems to be a moment of confession for Miles: he feels empty, like he has no substance or shape.

Spiderman mural

Miles has his spidey senses activated early in the movie and struggles to figure out how to use them effectively. Until he reaches a point when he knows he’s needed. In a stunning scene, Miles free falls from the highest height in the city. If he cannot summon his identity, he will be doomed. But, in the climax of the moment, he’s able to live into his fullest self.

Spiderman

Whereas his mural in the early part of the film is hollow, he is “filled in” at this moment.

As he falls, he actually comes alive.

One of the essential traits that I see in the life of Christian discipleship is a term James Joyce dubbed, “chaosmos.” It is a compound word: chaos (pulling apart) and cosmos (putting together). A pattern that we see in the DNA of any inspiring Christ follower is that it seems that their life is being pulled apart and put back together, at the same time.

It certainly is the case for Miles’ coming of age moment in this film.

How about you? Do you feel both the thrill of progress, development, and growth alongside of setbacks, deconstruction, and pruning?

If so, maybe you are not far from the kingdom.