How Batman Helped Me Get My Swagger Back

There’s a scene about a third of the way through the newest Batman film (The Dark Knight Rises), where Batman makes his return after an eight year hiatus. He joins the pursuit of the criminal force in Gotham, bad guys who have hostages on the back of their motorbikes (who also are in the process of stealing a lot of money). However, the police force, the very group Batman is coming alongside of and trying to help, turns their attentions to the Batman, wanting to take down the killer of their beloved Harvey Dent.

While this is by no means a perfect analogy, the thought I had while watching the film was “this is so much like pastoral ministry/leadership.” There are obvious dangers in drawing comparisons between Batman and pastors, and yet I couldn’t help see the connection: too often it is easier to shoot Batman (or the pastor, or the leader, or whoever is trying to do something heroic) than go after the real mission (bad guys with hostages on motorbikes, or people trying to find their way back to God, or organizations with aspirations of changing the world).

When we take hits like this it becomes easy to hold back, or stop caring, or to do what Batman does and go off by ourselves and get into all kinds of trouble. In fact, Bruce Wayne does all three of those things throughout the film.

Batman’s solo operation does not end well. He ends up in “hell”, which is the worst, most unescapable prison in the world. Only one person has ever escaped and that person was a child who was born in this hell. Wayne is informed that he is a man of privilege and therefore does not have what it takes to get out.

My favorite part of the movie was the process Bruce Wayne goes through to eventually escape this prison. As a pastor I do ask myself, fairly often actually, why I put myself through this. Pastoral ministry is unnatural to me for so many reasons: I am an introvert, I enjoy privacy, I don’t love being in front of people, I am not fond of being examined, etc. But I do it, and I do my best to throw myself completely into this work because I love Jesus and he changed my life and there’s nothing else in the world I have done or could dream of doing that makes as much sense to me.

And yet, it takes chunks out of me. It breaks me. It can be painful.

Bruce Wayne is in this prison because his nemesis, aptly named Bane, has broken him (literally). Instead of killing him he’d rather let him suffer in hell. In this broken state, Wayne, with some help, begins to rehabilitate himself. And this is where it gets really good.

When a prisoner tries to escape everyone gathers around and sings a song called “rise”. The prisoner ties a rope around his waist and tries to climb up and out of the hole. At a key stage a big leap must be made, this is the point where everyone inevitably fails.

Wayne fails several times. Despite his passion, despite his new strength, despite his desire he cannot get out.

This leads to a conversation with two old prisoners. I’m paraphrasing but the conversation essentially goes like this:

Old guy: “Are you afraid to die?”

Wayne: “No, I’m not afraid to die.”

Old guy: “That’s the problem. You need to get that fear back.”

Fascinating! Here’s my translation: fighting bad guys is hard, it requires total commitment, and even though the juices are flowing and the strength is returning, death still seems easier than throwing himself fully back into the game. Wayne’s lack of fear belies an underlying sense of fatalistic defeat. He’s lost hope. Nothing really matters, it’s just a game.

To get the fear back, Wayne attempts the escape without the help of the rope. I love this twist. You would think the guy who doesn’t fear dying would be fine going off without the safety of the rope, but, paradoxically, it is this very ropelessness state that brings the fear back. And it is that fear that allows him to successfully make the leap and escape from the prison. To rise.

All of this to say: when we take on hits, when we give of ourselves and when people don’t like it or reject it or use it against us, death (literal or, more often, metaphorical) becomes the appealing option. We grow numb and apathetic and we don’t give our best and we don’t throw ourselves fully in to our work. We hold back.

I’ve always thought that it was fear that holds us back, and there are certainly ways in which it does. But fear, the right kind of fear, actually propels us forward. It reminds that there is a lot on the line. It lets us know this is not just a game, this matters, and we have to participate in it.

Near the end of the film Batman tries to talk another key character into joining him in the fight. The character says, in so many words, “get of here while you can, you don’t owe these people any more, you’ve given them everything.”

And Batman says, “Not everything, not yet.”

On That Which is Right in Front of Us

Yesterday I shared some pictures from Sojourn’s Spring ReadRetreatServe. For the “read” part of the day, students wrestled with three different perspective on the “act justly” clause of Micah 6:8.

One of the readings was from John Perkins’ book With Justice For All where he outlines the basics of his classic 3 “R’s” for Christian Community Development. One line stood out to me and framed my preparation for the day. Perkins says:

How can we claim to be loyal to Christ’s mission when we flee the mission field at our doorstep.

A couple of thoughts about this…One, we always think the grass is greener on the other side. It’s so much easier to be missional “over there.” Sometimes “over there” is the place we go on a “missions trip.” Sometimes it is the place where we volunteer. Sometimes it is even church. Often it is a form of escapism. It’s easier to go somewhere and get loved on by kids for a day than to deal with our cranky co-worker who makes fun of us for going to church on Sundays.

So, part of this is a call to see where we are: our workplace, our neighborhood, our campus, as our mission field. This is where we are, this is where we do life…live the Kingdom there!

Second, though, is this: sometimes we avoid going because we are comfortable where we are, it’s scary “over there”, the wrong people live over there, etc. So we hide out where we are to avoid getting messy. We hide out at church, in our small groups, and in our activities instead of actually getting to know people who are far from God who live next to us, who work with us, who sit in class alongside us.

So, part of this is a call to take a risk and move outside the walls of comfort.

I needed to hear this. Living in East Boston, it can be easy to see my “mission” field as the campus and the neighborhood simply as a place to live. It can be easy to get frustrated with people who just want to hang out with other people who look like them. I make excuses. I justify myself.

But I live in two worlds, the campus and the neighborhood, and I am called to live faithfully in both places. The kingdom is present and active in both places. Do I see it and do I join it? Not as much as I would like.

Saturday was a good reminder: do not flee the mission field at my doorstep.

On the Entrepreneurial Spirit

I’m reading a fascinating book called My Korean Deli. It’s the story of a convenience store in Brooklyn (and it is quite the story). Anyone who has lived in the city has seen, and been in, one of these ubiquitous establishments at some point (if not every day).

It’s a fascinating read for a number of reasons: race and immigrant issues, inter-racial marriage dynamics, neighborhoods in transition…it’s got a little bit of everything.

In ministry, especially start-up campus ministry and church planting you have to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit at some level or else you are in trouble. Ben Howe, the author, perfectly captures the difficulty of the entrepreneur:

“The thing about business is that, like anything else, it takes a while to figure out how you’re really doing. You’re like a pilot whose dashboard instruments don’t function until the plane has reached cruising altitude–you don’t know how fast you’re going, how high you are, or how close you are to stalling and dropping out of the sky. There just isn’t enough information, and what there is you don’t know how to interpret…beginner’s errors distort the picture…ballpark guesses often turn out to be rosy-picture guesses.”

And then this:

“No matter how mixed the evidence, to a fledgling entrepreneur the future always looks shiny and bright, doesn’t it? You’re in business, you have a store, and it has customers, which might seem like modest accomplishments, but it’s the beginning and it’s hard not to succumb to the delusion that things can only get better.”

That is good stuff, especially in ministry when defining the “bottom line” can get tricky. Doing something, does not always equate with quality. A good reminder, for me, that clarity in big goals brings clarity in smaller things.