Yesterday I started reading Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I only read the first chapter, mulling and reflecting over her words, thinking about my call and whether it is different in any way from when I started, through the last five years in Northeastern BC, to now at a big city church on the edge of the urban reserve.
“In 1992, when I started hanging out with the “rowing team,” as I began to call them, I was working at a downtown club as a standup comic. I was broken and trying to become fixed and only a few months sober. I couldn’t afford therapy, so being paid to be caustic and cynical on stage seemed the next best thing. Plus, I’m funny when I’m miserable.”
“It isn’t exactly uncommon. If you were to gather up all the world’s comics and then remove all the alcoholics, cocaine addicts, and manic depressives you’d have left … well … Carrot Top, basically. There’s something about courting the darkness that makes people see the truth in raw, twisted ways, as though they were shining a black light on life to illuminate the absurdity of it all. Comics tell a truth you can see only from the underside of the psyche. At its best, comedy is prophesy and societal dream interpretation. At its worst it’s just dick jokes.”
“I am not the only one who sees the underside and God at the same time. There are lots of us, and we are at home in the biblical stories of antiheros and people who don’t get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen. How different from that cast of characters could a manic-depressive alcoholic comic be? It was here in the midst of my own community of underside dwellers that I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. … “
The words lay heavy in my head. I reflected on mental illness, at least a couple within the family, even more in my congregations, countless in the community beyond the doors of this city church. I thought back to the time I glanced over the edge of it almost a year ago. I questioned how I, as a minister who pastors, could be the instrument of God’s light and peace in those moments of encountering those in despair. Bolz-Weber’s book/words hold the promise of hope and help for me as servant to others labouring along life’s paths.
25 Did I not weep for those whose day was hard?
Was not my soul grieved for the poor?
26 But when I looked for good, evil came;
and when I waited for light, darkness came. Job 30:25-26
PS – Coincidences can be a blessing and a curse. Not an hour after closing the pages of Pastrix on the first chapter, sitting down to a meal with family, comes the heartbreaking news of the suicide of Robin Williams. Heartbreakingly weird, I just read about comics, and addicts, and depression in a search to be a better servant to the people I am called to serve. It was a punctuation mark that drenched me in sadness. Robin Williams, no less and none greater – A genius dwelling in darkness who brought light and laughter to millions. A father who read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to his children. An actor who could be chaos and compassion in a shining super nova of brilliance.
“You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.” – August Rush, 2007
“You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” – Good Will Hunting
“Death is nature’s way of say ‘Your table is ready.'”
What an eschatological thing to say Mr. Williams, welcome to the banquet. God’s love and peace bless and keep you now forever.