Is this a Fast, to keep
The Larder lean? And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?
Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
The platter high with fish?
Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d go,
A down-cast look and sour?
No: ’tis a Fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat
Unto the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife
And old debate,
To circumcise thy life.
To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
And that’s to keep thy Lent.
Robert Herrick, 1648
It is that time of year when many of you prepare for your parish UTO In-gatherings, and I thank you for that. The images to the left give you some ideas about how people have promoted UTO.
It is with gratitude and sadness that I share with you that Kathy Graham has resigned from the position of UTO Coordinator in Nebraska because of health reasons and an expected move. She has been Nebraska UTO Coordinator since 2013 and has done great work here. We will miss her, and thank her. Until she can be replaced, I will fulfill that role. I will drop a bill in my blue box in thanksgiving for Kathy’s service.
Since our meeting in North Dakota, much has happened with the Dakota Pipeline. I know some of you believe the President did the right thing to allow the pipelines (Keystone and Dakota) to go through contested land and others do not. I think we still need to pray for the people of Standing Rock Reservation, the safety of their water and grieve with them over the intrusion of their sacred sites. Likewise in Nebraska, we need to pray for the protection of our people and our land with the resumption of the work on the Keystone Pipeline.
UTO Blue Boxes–how to get one, how to use it, collecting the money, and where does the money go?
- How do I get a blue box? Ask your priest or UTO parish coordinator for a blue box. If you can’t find a blue box, let me know and we will get you one. I have many stored in my garage in Omaha.
- How do I use the blue box? Put it in a prominent place where you will see it every day. I have a tray with change right next to my box so I don’t have to dig through my purse. Add giving to your blue box during your prayer time. Something great happens, thank God and, put money in the blue box.
- Where does the money go? Take your money to church for the Ingathering Sunday. Don’t have an Ingathering Sunday? Send it directly to the diocesan office to Beth Byrne, and tell her it is for UTO.
Every penny given to UTO is given in grants. 2016 funds will be given in 2017 in grants. Likewise, everything collected in 2017 will be given away in 2018. Questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
– The Collect from the Fifth Sunday in Lent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –
I recently read a scientific explanation for the phenomena that human beings experience the passage of time as moving more and more swiftly as we age. The gist of the explanation for this had to do with the cumulative time a human spends on earth. When we’ve only lived ten years, the passage of an eleventh year comprises (nearly) 10% of the time we’ve been alive, and so feels to us like a substantially bigger deal than the passage of a year at age fifty, when 365 days is equal to only 1/50 of our lifetime. While I am surely not doing justice to the well-reasoned explanation that I read about why “time flies,” I hope you’ll take some re-assurance from the fact that virtually everybody has the shared sense of time moving at increasing speed over the course of a human life…and that there are smart people out there who can explain to us exactly why this is the case!
The season of Lent offers an invitation to disciples the world over to slow down in the midst of the “swift and varied changes of the world” and to adjust our pattern of living to help us lead lives of greater intention, deliberation and faithfulness. Too often we’re merely reactive to the highs and lows of a given moment, and so find ourselves swept along by forces that are out of our control and by events over which we have little influence. It would seem that this is particularly the case for many of the folks in our Church and in our world right now.
As followers of Jesus we need not be unsettled or undone by life’s trials. While it may be true that we are quite limited in how much we can actually control our lives, it is within our power to determine how we will respond to what life brings us. And our chief means of so doing is to constantly turn towards Christ in our lives, and to let the assurance of his graceful presence be our moment-to-moment guide. Jesus himself models this way of being in the story of his temptation in the wilderness, where rather than seek to control the dangerous situation in which he finds himself (by fighting back or running away for instance) he simply keeps his heart and mind fixed on God’s presence and companionship, feeding back to the evil one only the words that God gives him to speak.
As you work and pray your way through Lent, I hope you’ll keep the story of Christ’s wilderness temptation in mind. We don’t take on the various disciplines of this season so much to take control over our lives, but rather, to live in such a way that we are called constantly back to the reality that we are never alone. Despite our “unruly wills and affections” and despite all the “swift and varied changes of the world”, it is within our power to fix our hearts on Jesus Christ, and so by setting him as our guiding star, to find true joy no matter what trial or temptation the world might throw in our way.
Welcome to the season of Lent my brothers and sisters in Christ. May you keep it well and holy.
Faithfully Yours in Christ –
+ Bishop Barker
The Eggplant: February 23, 2017 – Lend Me Your Ears
When I was in Seminary, one of the lessons repeated in many classes and contexts was that to be a good pastor is to be a good listener. As a priest, both members of your parish and others will often tell you about things going on in their lives, and your first instinct is usually to identify the problem and propose a solution. To be a good pastor, we were told, you must unlearn that instinct and simply hear people out; sometimes they do want your advice or a theological interpretation of their troubles, but often they just want you to hear them, because others in their lives or the world at large seem not to be listening.
This lesson comes back to me during this week every year; on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, we always read the story of the Transfiguration, in which God’s voice tells the disciples present to listen to Jesus. One of my mentors, a retired Methodist pastor, asserted that “listen to him” was the most important part of that reading and that any Transfiguration sermon not emphasizing it was doing the congregation a disservice.
While I am not inclined to go that far, I do agree that listening is as important a skill for every Christian as it is for clergy. In general terms, listening to our neighbors is an easy way for us to love them, requiring only our time and attention. To love those we encounter and treat them with the respect they are due as fellow children of God, we must listen to them seriously. In more particular terms, Jesus identifies himself with the poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged (Matthew 25:31-46 for example), so listening to such neighbors of ours today is one way we can follow the command to listen to Jesus here and now.
This Saturday (weather permitting), some of us Episcopalians from the Nebraska Panhandle will be engaged in such listening. Widening our Circle, a day of prayer and sharing organized by The Rev. Tar Drazdowski and led by Brother James Dowd, is an opportunity for us to listen to our neighbors on the Pine Ridge Reservation and exchange stories with them directly rather than repeating the narratives about their lives that we often hear in the media.
Exchanging stories with neighbors whose experiences are very different from ours helps us to recognize our common humanity rather than fixating on the ways in which we differ (religion, gender, race, sexuality, nationality, etc.). Exposure to more perspectives expands our appreciation of God’s creation and guides us to love our neighbors who are not ‘like us’ just as God loves them. Such listening can also illuminate ways in which we or our forebears have failed to show such love.
Probably my favorite author at present is N. K. Jemisin, who writes fantasy from a Black female perspective. Her first published novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is set in a world reshaped by an ancient war among the gods; Bright Itempas, the victor, enslaved his surviving enemies and handed their chains to his priesthood, who conquered the world using the power of their divine captives. Jemisin tells her story from the perspective of Yeine, a young woman from the ‘barbarous’ fringes of the empire who finds herself summoned to the capital and thrown into the vicious political machinations of the ruling family and fallen gods scheming for freedom.
Besides being an intriguing story engagingly written, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was an eye-opener to me as a male Christian of European descent. As the novel progresses, it’s revealed that the war of the gods was primarily between Itempas, god of the sun and proponent of order, and Nahadoth, his brother who embraced night and chaos. The empire blessed by the former resembles the colonial expansion of western Christianity insofar as, in the name of religious devotion and the bestowal of order, it believes in conquering a people and then reshaping their religion and culture into the mold of the conqueror. Yeine’s experience as a conquered person partially exposed to both her own culture and that of the empire bears disconcerting parallels to the experience of Black Americans, Native Americans, and others who are not of European descent, particularly in the ways she is not accepted by her powerful family even when she does succeed in conforming to the capital’s expectations of her.
This story, this fictional version of the attitudes and dynamics that govern race relations in reality but which I often fail to notice, proved indispensable in helping me listen to my neighbors at a time when they were describing things so far beyond my experience that, even listening, I could not comprehend. But even when we find it difficult, we must listen to Jesus by attending to our oppressed neighbors, lending our ears to their voices and our eyes to their stories. Because we are called to love our neighbors, I encourage you to take the time to listen attentively, and to seek out the stories of those who look and act and think differently from you, so that in understanding their perspectives, you may come to love them as God does.
The Rev. John Adams+
The Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic community, is offering “Five Marks of Love” as a free individual or group Lenten devotional. Below is their invitation, including a link to the materials:
This six-week series invites us to observe and reflect on the ways in which the Divine Life expresses itself in and through us; individually and in our faith communities, as well as in the world around us. Week by week we will explore each of the Anglican Communion’s five “Marks of Mission” (Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, and Treasure) through videos, questions, and exercises designed to help us speak clearly and act truthfully, motivated always by hearts marked by God’s love. We Brothers of SSJE believe that the Marks of Mission are actually “Marks of Love,” signs that God’s love is making its mark on us, and through us, on the world in which we live.
We are eager to share with others our experience that these Marks of Love are not a list of tasks to be checked off; rather they are signs that our life is rooted and grounded in the Being of God. Therefore throughout the series, we will reflect not on what we should do, but on how we should live. We will draw on our own monastic spirituality to suggest how we all can balance action with contemplation, so that our words and deeds proceed from the deepest places of our hearts, where God dwells.
This series is designed for use by individuals and small groups. Small group facilitators are invited to download the series facilitator’s guide to help you encourage participants to discuss and learn together. For individuals, be sure to check out the workbook and online video content, which will guide your own exploration. All materials and videos are free online and as downloads at 5marksoflove.org.
By the series’ end, we hope you will feel ready to offer yourself, body and soul, to God’s Mission, and to live for God’s glory.
Yours in Christ,
David Vryhof, SSJE
Director of Formation and facilitator of “5 Marks of Love”
The Schola Cantorum of First-Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, will sing the office of Compline at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Omaha on Sunday, February 19, at 7:00 p.m.
The congregation will gather by candlelight as the 18-voice choir sings chants and ancient settings of psalms and evening prayers. Compline, sung at the end of the day, offers holy space for prayerful meditation through music.
“Compline is designed to connect us with a deep sense of peace,” explains Trinity’s Canon Precentor, Marty Wheeler Burnett. “As candles illuminate the darkened cathedral, we experience the light of Christ through scripture and song.”
At First-Plymouth, the Schola Cantorum offers Compline once each month. The service, described as “ancient worship for the modern soul,” attracts a diverse congregation, including young adults and persons seeking a contemplative worship experience. The choir typically sings from the balcony, surrounding worshippers with reverberant sound and soft candlelight.
The choir, directed by Tom Trenney, has been selected to sing for the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Minneapolis, Minnesota next month.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is located at 113 N 18th Street in Omaha, Nebraska. For more information, please visit http://trinityepiscopal.org or call 402-342-7010.
There are people who shy away from AA because they think it seems too religious. Welcome to the Episcopal Church where we seldom make the mistake of seeming too religious.
You can tell by my outfit that I’m not a cowboy, so let me introduce myself: I’m Fr. Chuck Peek and I’ve been sober since April 30, 1986. For those for whom that form of introduction doesn’t mean anything, I’m a failed drunk. Once I belonged to the Poor Me club…poor me, poor me, pour me another! I don’t have to live like that anymore thanks to a program of recovery, such as AA; AA in turn owes its thanks to Fr. Sam Shoemaker, whom we celebrate tonight. Fr. Shoemaker, in turn, owed his life and ministry to his dedicated grasp of the essence of the spiritual tradition of Christ’s Church.
When we celebrate Fr. Shoemaker, we are celebrating a priest who was not at times shy about being critical of priests—something we can all relate to. (If you’ve been standing outside, finding fault with the Church, come on in and meet some of us who not only know its faults but sometimes are its faults!)
Among the legacy Fr. Sam left us was a kind of wish list for priests. Fr. Shoemaker’s “wish list” for the priest of the church is, it seems to me, no different than the wish list for all Christians, and, taken possibly in reverse order, no different than what the 12thstep asks of those recovering:
“…I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear [God] and know [God] is there,
But not so far from men [and women] as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too” (“I stand at the door,” silkworth.net 2016)
The spiritual steps offered as the steps to recovery in AA (or any other twelve-step recovery group) include steps that should be familiar to every practicing Christian. They include taking a moral inventory, making amends for harm done (in Christian repentance, it is not enough just to tell someone you are sorry for hurting them, you need to make amends for the harm), making a daily practice of meditation and prayer, turning our wills and lives over to God, which folks in Recovery and a great many Christians call “surrender”: laying down the arms of self-destruction and hoisting the flag of surrender to a loving God who can make us whole and useful.
In a letter to Fr. Shoemaker, Bill Wilson (sometimes called the founder of AA) said that the steps summed up what had been taught “primarily by” Fr. Shoemaker. Without Shoemaker’s teaching, Bill said, “there could have been nothing—nothing at all,” and he usually listed Sam’s name among the “co-founders” of AA (along with Dr. Bob Smith).
If you have been in meeting rooms of AA you have seen pictures of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob. You never see Sam’s picture, nor do you see the picture of Ebie who helped Bill get sober but couldn’t stay sober himself, and you certainly don’t see pictures of the long-suffering spouses, such as Lois. If I had my way, every one of their pictures would hang in the meeting halls. But, then, the program of recovery constantly reminds me that it is not all about Chuck Peek getting his way. Being a member of AA is not conditional on the member getting his or her way. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true of the Church as well.)
Not only the conception of the program of Recovery but also its very language echoes language and concepts found in the sermons and books of Fr. Sam Shoemaker. These same words and thoughts also echo the scripture once read in recovery meetings before there was a Big Book (the manual Bill Wilson wrote for AA), especially The Book of Acts, the Sermon on the Mount, the book of James, and Paul’s hymn to love at the close of Corinthians. And they all in turn mirror the standards used in the Oxford Groups that were forerunners of AA and for which Fr. Shoemaker was the American leader. Let me give one example of the close resemblance: in his preaching, Sam Shoemaker charged each listener to come to a “decision to cast my will and my life on God.” That is almost word for word the 3rd step of recovery (found in your program): “We made a decision to turn our wills and lives over to God.”
Now having mentioned the Big Book, let me say that tonight’s celebration is not necessarily a recommendation to go out and immediately read a copy of “the big book,” Alcoholics Anonymous. (Unless of course you are in Alcoholics Anonymous, and then it might be a great idea to read the manual!) But as to what good the book will do for those not addicted or committed to helping addicts: all the spiritual steps of any sound spiritual discipline are there to be sure, but they are definitely framed in the language of addiction, and possibly you are not an addict and do not operate from a personality that leans to any obsessions.
Perhaps…although for most everyone the possibility bears more thought than it is usually given. But even with the specific language to people who are addicted to substances, or behaviors, or experiences, the spiritual principles in the book come through loudly and clearly, so maybe a Christian or a church study group could benefit from a reading of the Big Book.
There you would find that the principles are simple and basic. Love and Tolerance (and the honesty, openness, and willingness necessary to become loving and tolerant) are the keys, and when it comes to being loving or tolerant, honest or open, it is my experience that we all stumble, all fall short. “All fall short of the glory of God.”
These principles we try to practice one day at a time. Scripture tells us that sufficient to the day is the evil thereof…meaning: we only get one day at a time and waste it if we try to live yesterday or tomorrow, if we take it for granted, or if we devote it to a fixation on all that is wrong with the world. We live only when we live the day we have, thankful for its blessings, and devoted to the solutions to our life’s problems. In short, your day is either run by the evil of people, places, and things, or it is run by the goodness of the grace of God! You cannot have it both ways, you cannot serve both God and what is not of God!
[During the Sunday Eucharist at St. Luke’s, Kearney, our celebrant tonight, Fr. Ness, gathers people for thanksgivings and blessings, and he always begins by asking them all to take a deep breath of the Spirit. Spirit and Breath come from the same root word, and a little thought will tell you that breathing is important to spiritual practice. Nothing better arrests a moment of panic than getting control of our breathing. Nothing eases stress better than regular, deep breathing. So I want you to take a moment right now and, with me, breathe deeply in and out: slowly breathe in God and breathe out what is not God, breathe in the spirit of God, breathe out what is not of the spirit of God, breathe in peace, breathe out discord . . . already you may feel the benefit of this, and you will find that adding this to your prayer and meditation times helps you to peace and quietness of mind.]
Now there are basically three things programs of recovery say about God:
First, Recovery tells us that there is a God and I’m not it. No matter from what religion or denomination, it is fundamental to every spiritual life to get rid of grandiosity and embrace humility. And by grandiosity I mean from both ends, the grandiosity of feeling that you are better than everyone else and the grandiosity of feeling you are worse than everyone else.
Now my good friend, retired Roman Catholic priest Fr. Jim Schmitt tells the story of parishioner who was just a horrible man—mean and abusive to his family, dishonest in his life, awful. But one day that changed and the change lasted another day and into weeks and weeks and Fr. Jim finally asked him what had happened that made the change in him. The man, now in recovery, said it was simple: he had turned in his resignation as head of the universe . . . and God had accepted his resignation!
So, first “there is a God and I’m not it”; then secondly recovery tells us that God is and has been all along in our corner. We don’t discover that God is with us now that we’ve gotten sober or clean. Drunk-a-logs (the stories we tell of our former drinking lives) prove that God was with us over and over again. And that tells us that the God who has been with us all along is not the hateful, angry God we had been taught or we had come to believe to be God. God was not missing in action, though we often missed the signs of God’s presence.
There is a God and I’m not it. God is and has been with us all along. And finally God expects something of you. I know we do not not seek controversy and I am sure this will be controversial, but here it is: contrary to a lot of sentimental Christianity preached today, God requires more than pious words. We are called not just to say God is in our hearts or Jesus is our savior, but to strive to actions that make those words real. The 3rd and 7th step prayers in The Big Book are essentially the prayer that God might do with me today whatever it takes to make me useful to God and other human beings. And one follow-up thought about being useful . . . we can’t be useful off by ourselves. Every addiction I know of—again to a substance, a behavior, and experience doesn’t matter—ends up isolating us from others. We may have started out going to the bar to be social; we end up alone in our rooms hoping no one will bother us. You cannot remain in isolation and recover and you cannot remain in isolation and be useful.
Making our new understanding real by putting words into action is exactly what we heard urged by St. Paul in tonight’s second reading: “Clean out the old leaven of malice and evil and eat of the bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 3)
We do not get into action once for all. We get into it daily. Sometimes we get over-confident or lazy. So the fact is that all of us some time, some of us all the time need to be reprogrammed, need to reboot the system. We celebrate Sam Shoemaker because that’s what Sam Shoemaker teaches us how to do. Let us celebrate Sam’s day by listening to what Sam teaches. My few examples all come from his book Realizing Religion—even in the title you can hear the idea of making something real. Anyone can be religious, but the challenge is to make that religion real in your life. So here is just a sample of what Sam taught.
Sam wrote, “There are laws for the production of the Christ-type of life. Without heeding them it is . . . foolish to hope for success.” 7
And with that he noted, “It is extremely hard, and in most cases frankly impossible, for anyone to secure results which are fundamentally spiritual without using any spiritual means, or fulfilling any spiritual conditions.” 6-7
Again, Sam taught, “Surrender to the Divine Life . . . takes on reality as we have in mind definite cooperation with God in definite work for one definite person.” 79
(When we first get into recovery, the definite person is ourselves; as we grow in recovery, then the definite person becomes another person in need.)
Then Fr. Shoemaker knew what all sound psychology teaches us, that one of the three things most needed in our lives is a sense that our lives have meaning and purpose. He told us that in recovery, we are:
“Armed with that fortifying [strengthening] sense that we are cooperating with God and doing the work which of all work [God] most wants done.” 78
I could hear that thought echo scripture tonight when Dottie read the reading from Isaiah, “Awake, awake, put on your strength”! (Isa 51)
And since you have all gathered here in a church tonight, here is what Fr. Shoemaker tells us about Church:
Sam taught: “We need the Church—need its irksome discipline as well as its inspiring teaching—and not less the Church needs us.” 69
How many ever stopped to think the Church might need us!
And he added: “There is no greater testing place of character, especially of the disposition which is able to work with others, than the fellowship of the Church.” 69
As I come to a close tonight, I want to say a word to those of you already in Recovery; remember this: the fellowship of the program is meant to lead us to the fellowship of the spirit. In the Fellowship of the Spirit, then, let me close with Fr. Shoemaker’s invitation to all of us…to you tonight…and invitation I repeat with fervent hope that you will take it to heart:
God will always give the regeneration we want . . . God has a great spiritual experience and destiny to which [God] calls you, if only you will rise up to receive it.
Brother James Dowd to Speak at St. Cecilia Cathedral Lecture Series, February 23rd
Throughout much of the history of Christianity, the church has often turned to monasticism when times became particularly tough either because Empires were ravaging their people or because Empires where falling apart, thus creating chaos. At other times, when the church was in need of renewal, it has often turned to its monastic sisters and brothers to lead that renewal. Thus, when either the world or the church or both were in danger, monasticism has often flourished.
Brother James Dowd, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross, a Benedictine monastic community in the Episcopal Church and the “monk in residence” for the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, will explore these themes and how they apply (or not) to a Post-Christian World and in particularly in our North American context. Consideration of the New Monasticism and the “old” Monasticism, specifically through a Benedictine lens, will highlight this talk of the Cathedral Lecture Series.
Saint Cecilia Cathedral
Cathedral Cultural Center 701 North 40th Street Omaha, Nebraska
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 7:00 P.M.
Sponsored by: Trinity Cathedral, Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Cathedral Arts Project
The Eggplant: January 26, 2017
Eastern Nerd and Western Priest
by The Rev. John Adams
Greetings, Nebraska Episcopalians! At the request of our illustrious editor, I am inaugurating a new monthly (or something close thereto) column for The Nebraska Episcopalian. Depending on the season, this may entail me addressing questions from our readers, sharing thoughts from my ministry, finding the spiritual in books or movies, or pontificating on subjects heretofore not contemplated. Given such unexplored possibilities, I am dubbing this column “The Eggplant,” in homage to the short poem “Pentecost” by David Craig: “What is this Holy Spirit? / And what is it doing in the eggplant?” Whatever you read here, it will on some level reflect the fact that God’s Spirit moves mysteriously, often in the things we least expect.
Being a priest in Chadron, Nebraska (and quite enjoying both the parish and the town) was something I never expected. After growing up in Northern Virginia, I thought I was going to the wild west when the Spirit called me to Omaha as a Resurrection House intern. I never imagined that I would like the city so much that I would want to stay, or that the welcome I received there would open me to the possibility of living and working elsewhere in the state. So now, as the Bishop’s Society Curate serving as priest-in-charge at Grace Church, I find myself living and working in a place very different from the suburbs of Washington.
There are many things I like about living in Chadron (being able to walk everywhere, the low cost of living, the beauty of the hills and forests, and the general niceness of the people among them), but I do find myself missing the presence of a bookstore. I’ve enjoyed fantasy and science fiction novels since middle school, with the consequence that it didn’t take me long to exhaust the small library’s supply of books on my to-read list. But a happier consequence of being a nerd for that long is a willingness to listen to the Spirit speaking even through things that, on the surface, have absolutely nothing to do with God.
Take, for example, the X-Men movie series, to which I was first introduced in college. The series is driven by the fictional relationship between ‘normal’ humans and ‘mutants,’ where the former are afraid of the superpowers awakened in the latter during adolescence. With the exception of one minor character who prays as a Christian, God goes unmentioned across six movies, even though one might expect some folks who develop unusual powers to wrestle with those powers as divine blessing or curse, or anticipate theological and Biblical arguments in the mouths of normal human politicians and preachers condemning mutants as unnatural offshoots to be controlled or eradicated.
But over the course of the series, as some normal humans have tried to deal with mutants by making them register with the government, suppressing their powers with a medicinal cure, using them for involuntary scientific experiments, and killing them all, and mutants in turn have responded in a variety of ways, including hiding their powers, using those powers to help humans, attempting to rule the world through fear, and trying to kill all the humans, a theme that I find very Christian has emerged. The movies’ happy endings, such as they are, occur when the mutants and normal humans who are committed to living and working together thwart the designs of those who would rather dominate or destroy the other.
Setting aside the superpower element, it’s not hard to see parallels between this fictional series and the real world, where certain groups of people fear other groups who differ from them and seek to dominate or destroy them through laws, threats, and violence. We see it today in the conflicts around differences of sexuality and gender, race and language, religion and nationality, and in the efforts of those who, like the films’ heroes, strive to maintain peaceable and equitable coexistence despite the fear and mistrust.
But for us who follow Jesus Christ, we are called not to fear those who differ from us but to love them as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). This requires from each of us a commitment to see those who differ from us as human just as we are, a willingness to turn the other cheek rather than pursue revenge when we are wronged (Luke 6:29), and the will to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). And fictional and secular as they are, the X-Men movies offer us some ideas of how we might do that in a modern world where those who differ from us might possess weapons of mass destruction, or might be willing to harm literally anyone, or might just be changing the neighborhoods around us by their mere presence. Or to consider another angle, at baptism God awakens in us the superpower of loving even those who differ from us; just as the mutants wrestle with questions of whether to exercise their superpowers only to the benefit of other mutants or in service of all humankind, sometimes to the point of sacrificing themselves, we too must ask ourselves whether we love only those who are ‘like us’ or share God’s love with all.
So that long tangent serves to a) offer an example of finding the Spirit moving in something we might not expect, b) serve as a recommendation of the X-Men movies to those who have not seen them but are not turned off by the idea of superhero movies (just as films, all six are entertaining, with two being excellent and only one being a bit of a trainwreck), and c) provide an idea of one direction “The Eggplant” might take. So please do leave comments and questions on Facebook and let us know what you’d like out of this column. Thanks for reading!