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!