Fifty years ago today it was a Sunday. That’s appropriate. I guess I was destined to labor on Sundays, since I am a pastor. Well, my mother did the labor that day. I was the third of my parents’ boys. Thanks, Mom, for laboring to bring me into this world.
Yes, today is my birthday. I turn 50 today. Huh. It’s pretty weird.
I did what lot of people do on their birthday in our age of Google. I looked up what happened on this day in 1968. I was born in Detroit, MI, so I Googled “October 20 1968 Detroit.” I was mildly disappointed when the first several pages of hits were all about the Detroit Tigers winning the world series just ten days before my birth.
I’m not a baseball fan. Sorry.
I scrolled through the headlines and found an article that touched me, even in the midst of sportswriting (miracles do happen). The article was titled “Healing a Broken City” It talked about the race riots of 1967. The author wrote,
The zenith of the tensions plaguing Detroit were met that night, July 23, 1967, on the corner of 12th and Clairmont — but they had been building for quite some time. Historically Detroit had been a place of booming industry, yet cursed by segregation. With a government and police department that was predominately white, tensions among authorities and citizens were mounting. When the visitors to the blind pig were piled into the back of the police wagons, the last straw had come.
In the end the city of Detroit would see a riot that was the largest urban uprising in American history until the death of Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 — four days before the team of destiny began its pursuit of healing. The ’67 riots saw 43 people killed (33 African-Americans, 10 caucasians), 1,189 injured, and over 7,200 people arrested.
The author went on to talk about how winning the Series brought healing to a city that needed hope. It is strange how winning a silly game can inspire so many people.
I think people are inspired by sports for the same reason I am so inspired by art and animation. When I watch an animated film I know how much effort went into it. I know that it takes a large group of highly skilled people who have dedicated much of their life to honing their craft to come together to work in harmony. It is an interdisciplinary task that combines story tellers with visual artists with technical geniuses with musicians with accountants and managers. All of these people contribute their best to create something bigger than any one of them.
This combination of talents and passions brings beauty into the world.
Beauty inspires hope.
We need hope in our world.
I guess that means we need more beauty and less ugliness.
Turning 50 tends to make you pause and look back on your life. What have I done? What have I become? Is the 50-year old version of me anything close to the person my 20-year old self thought I would become?
I have had two passions throughout my life. The first is art. The second is learning and teaching about God and the Bible.
My 20-year-old self had a plan to combine those two things. First, I would get hired at Disney Animation and become a top-notch animator. Second, I would start my own animation studio in the inner city where I would help young, urban artists have a chance to make it in the world.
That plan didn’t happen.
Instead, I became a pastor.
At first I didn’t think a pastor could also be an artist, so I tried to deny my artistic self. I worked hard at getting a Master’s of Divinity and making babies with my wife.
My 30-year-old self had a traumatic professional experience that made me wonder if being a pastor was truly the correct path for me. Do you know what my first impulse was? I pulled out my brushes and started painting. In the midst of ugliness, I sought to create beauty.
I thank God for that painful event, because it re-ignited my artist self and showed me how important it is for my artist self and my pastor/teacher self to walk side-by-side.
These two professional selves officially set up shop next to each other in 2002. That was the year we started a House Church and I opened my freelance illustration/animation studio (Spot Productions).
I tried to be bi-vocational for 5 years. It didn’t work. The church died and my artist self was the only one left standing.
That artist self picked up the pieces and moved my family to Minnesota, terrified of the pastor/teacher, vowing to never let that dude back on the scene. I tried to be a freelance artist.
It didnt’ work.
I found that I was more interested in using my artistic abilities to create Bible Studies, interactive Bible experiences online, and writing novels.
My 40-year-old self tried to create Vibblespace.com. I wrote a novel called Pleroma. It is the first book in The Nectar Trilogy. I learned how to self-publish and released my novel and published a series of Bible Studies.
Here’s the problem. No one asked me to do that and no one paid for it.
I did it because I love to create. Period.
I also love to eat.
Eating requires money, so my inability to generate enough money to feed myself and the other five mouths in family opened up the door to the slight possibility that I might be willing to consult on a part time basis—with no commitment—with an ELCA church down the street.
I didn’t see it coming.
God sucked me in to a whole new world. I felt drawn to the ELCA, because, for the first time in my experience, I was in a theological environment where all my questions were not taboo, but actually encouraged. Yes, the liturgy was foreign and weird to me, but the theological imagination was beautiful.
Then an amazing thing happened. I was given a full scholarship to get a PhD at Luther Seminary. I shut down my freelance art business completely, but I threw my artistic self into the scholarship. I literally illustrated and animated my way through the PhD. I have visual notes for every class lecture, animated book reviews, and a digital, visual record of the four-year journey archived as deepintheburbs.com.
Now I’m 50. I’m a pastor at a large suburban church in the South Metro of the Twin Cities. I’m an adjunct instructor at Luther Seminary. And, I’m an artist.
The world has come a long way since the riots in Detroit. Yet, in many ways it seems like we haven’t advanced much. There is a lot of ugliness in the air today. In some ways it seems we may have taken a couple steps backward into an older version of our hatred and ugliness.
We need beauty.
We need hope.
My first boss and mentor, Steve Fasen, used to tell us this. “The most important piece of art you will ever do is the one you are doing right now. The best piece of art you will ever do is the next one.”
The first 50 years of experiences and people have shaped me into the artist, teacher and pastor that I am today. My prayer is that this combination of experience, skills and passion will bring beauty and hope to our world.
Let the next decade begin. Let’s see where the cloud leads.
Thanks be to God.