Ryan Kemp-Pappan: Five Graphic Novels Every Pastor Should Read

I love sharing my blogging space with an occasional guest bloggers. It is my intention help share some new/different voices with a larger audience Today’s post is from my friend, Ryan Kemp-Pappan. Ryan is a “LGBTQ Advocate. Minister. Recovering Addict. Friend. Son. Spiritual Director. Social Worker. Artist. Writer. LA Dodger fan. Taco Aficionado. Runner. Aspiring Vegan. Extrovert married to an introvert.” Be sure to connect with Ryan on his BLOG, on TWITTER and on FACEBOOK. Thanks Ryan!

Being a broken, unemployed, and recently married young(er) fella I was super excited to be getting a job that paid me to do stuff I loved to do. I had to read, study scripture, and forge relationships with folks. I even got to watch movies and read comic books again. This last perk was my favorite thing to do as a kid.

I read a lot during the eleven years of undergraduate study and even more as a seminarian. In seminary, I did not once read for fun outside of menus and the occasional left behind newspaper. When I graduated from seminary and got my first call I received vacation and study time and other glorious perks, not to mention a great salary package.

The best part of this salary package was the book allowance. I was able to buy books, all kinds of books! I bought about a hundred books that first year and could not keep up with reading them. I was well purchased and decently read.

The next year I decided to not buy any more books until I had read all the books I bought the previous year. Then a friend of mine named “Funkmaster3000” gave me the challenge of challenges! He challenged me to only read graphic novels for an entire year. I loved comics as a kid and took him up on it.

I read many wonderful books. The range and depth of story that was engaged by graphic novels surprised me. I imagined I would read a lot of “hero” books or weird French books about crime and romance. There was real theology going on in these books and it renewed my faith as I explored it. This is a list of those I feel that every pastor should read.

ONE |  Irredeemable, 8 Volumes by Mark Waid and Peter Krause published by BOOM! Studios.

This is a great story. Imagine if the likes of Superman, the world’s greatest hero, seemingly turned bad over night, this is the story of the Plutonian. Here is part of the foreword by Mark Waid, “No one simply turns evil one day. Villainy isn’t a light switch. The road to darkness is filled with moments of betrayal, of loss, of disappointment, and of superhuman weakness. In the case of the Plutonian, there were sidekicks who sold his secrets. There were friends who preyed too often on his selflessness and enemies who showed him unsettling truths about himself. And those were the good days.”

This is a wonderful engagement of those moments in ones life where goodness conflicts with the nature of human sin. Tackling those “what-if” moments in the safety of a hero’s world allows for many of us to connect, relate and examine the realities within ourselves as we seek to minister for God to others.

TWO | Buddha, 8 Volumes by Osamu Tezuka, published by Vertical

I cannot remember how many times I have recommended this book to someone. This is the single greatest book that I have ever read. I savored every page, every word I read. I did not want it to end. I purposely took almost two months to finish the final volume (8) the first time I read it, as I was not willing to let the story end.

This is the story of Siddhattha Gotama and chronicles his life, as he becomes Buddha. A cast of fictionalized and real characters are developed and explored as very human characteristics are engaged and offered up to the reader to connect with. I enjoyed the direct nature of this encounter with violence, death, sex, and other traditionally taboo topics in my own faith experience. This book opened up my faith and allowed me to explore it through the lens of other wisdom navigated by the genius and daring of Tezuka.

THREE | Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm by Percy Carey and Ronald Wimberly, Published by Vertigo

This was the grittiest story that I read that took place in the United States. It is the story of MF Grimm a popular gangster rapper from the early 90’s. This book was a very real exposure to a life that is far from my own experience. The violence and angry that carried the book was not gratuitous.

I enjoyed this book because it introduced me to my “Other.” It took me out of the comfort zone of my life and offered me a counter to the early 90’s rap world I had lived in Los Angeles. It took my privilege and slapped the shit out of me with it. It forced me to see the humanity, the struggle, and hope for humanity that dwells in the depths of all our hearts. It is a wonderful examination of the dominant culture that shapes the norms used to strengthen injustice and marginalize people.

FOUR | Rex Mundi, Six Volumes by Arvid Nelson, Eric J, and Jeromy Cox published by Dark Horse Books.

I love alternative history stuff. Here is a book that supposes that the Protestant Reformation was smashed and exists only as a terrorist organization as the Catholic Church asserts it totalitarian authority upon the world. Need I say more?

It is a Steam Punkish setting with a dark mystic allure where the authors embellish the story with fake newspapers, maps, and a wonderfully detailed history available on the book website. It is extremely addictive and a fascinating look at the what if’s of the revolution that forged the foundations of my faith community. Easily one of my favorite books ever!

FIVE | The Walking Dead, 16 Volumes by Robert Kirkman Published by Image

Before there was the AMC TV show there was Kirkman’s intense apocalyptic journey through a mobile, living hell. This is one of those books that you will stay up late in to the night to finish. I read the first four volumes in one sitting. The story is very real. It explores humanity in ways we dare not as theologians. The dialogue is witty, honest and it scares the shit out of you. I found myself reading them in broad daylight or in the company of others.

It is one harrowing tale of depravity after another. You are bombarded with all evidence that God has forgotten the fearfully, wonderfully part of creation and has unleashed unimaginable carnage and judgment upon us.

Say good bye to Romero’s slow walking, dim-whit zombies and hello to Kirkman’s honest reflection of humanity in a pivotal era that demands we answer for the corporate sin of capitalism, greed, and the inhumanity we afflict each other with.

SIX-TEN | In case 5 is not enough . . .

The Importance of Being Spiritual AND Religious

[Photo: giesenbauer]

Last year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a survey that created a huge buzz in religious circles about a group that could now be categorized as “Spiritual but not Religious.” The one of the findings that piqued the interest of many was that the decline in traditional church membership was not leading to people rejecting faith at the magnitude that many had expected. In fact, “faith,” in its many manifestations, was still a significant element in many people’s understanding of self.

When the report came out, many of us involved in the church were not all that surprised. Any church leader who listens to the whispers and shouts of life around them knows that spirituality is alive and well in American culture. Of course, being able to place those spiritualities into clean and neat boxes is impossible, so for a society that has traditionally needed to have very clear delineations around faith communities, this vague spirituality that many claim creates an interesting dilema to those who see the need for faith to be BOTH spiritual and religious.

For many traditions, the spiritual and religious lives of a person are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are dependent on one another. In my case, being a Christian means that my understanding of a spiritual life cannot be fully understood unless I am connected in some way to a community of people who profess similar beliefs and engage in common disciplines. As many put it, “one cannot be a Christian in isolation.” While it is difficult to live in community, we need one another to discover and grow fully into who God has created and called us to be. In community our spirituality and our religiosity converge.

Now that’s the flowery way to put it and it’s how we experience community at its best. But really, being in community and committing to a religious life, for a Christian or anyone else is hard. Diverse personalities mixed with a variety of life perspectives can lead to interactions that run the gamut from simply not liking one another very much to engaging in emotionally or physically destructive behavior. We see it all the time. History has shown that religious people have done some crappy stuff. Speaking only for “my people” Christians have massacred thousands in the name of God, we have remained silent in times when our collective voices have needed to speak out for others and many of us still hold views about race, class, gender and sexuality that I believe lead to emotional and physical pain every day around the world. And on top of all of these things we add on a layer of bickering and pettiness that does not exactly scream, “You who are spiritual, come on in and be religious with us, it’s great!”

Now I of course am being hard on my own family. I suspect that most folks who explore the Christian faith for the first time or look at revisiting it in their life might even give a local church the benefit of the doubt and visit. I think folks who are truly exploring know that the church has also been about the business of feeding the poor, standing against that which is unjust and generally trying to live differently and better. But I tell ya, the first time that church argues about something that is petty — no matter how you frame it and, justified or not, that visitor is out of there.

Basically, understanding that we have a natural need to control our surroundings, protect that which we possess and avoid conflict, combined with knowing what I know about many churches, it is no wonder at all that the “Spiritual, but not Religious” set is on the rise.

This has all become important for me because for the past three months “Spiritual, but not Religious” has been my own category of choice. After being a pastor for the past 15 years and ending my time as the founding pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, my family and I find ourselves in a unique time in our spiritual lives. Now, we don’t HAVE to go to church . . . and we haven’t. Now before my detractors scream, “See I knew it, that Bruce is a Godless liberal!” in our defense we travelled quite a bit over the summer and we have attended some services when we have had the chance. But we have also chosen to stay home and do other stuff; and by stuff, I mean we have chosen pretty much anything else to do besides getting our butts to church: work, sleep, play, eat, twitter, etc. Yes, these choices can certainly be acts of a religious discipline – I can probably justify anything as Sabbath – but believe me, they have not been. We have simply chosen not to feed and nurture the religious part of our life.

Again, I get why people would create the dichotomy between spirituality and religiosity. Engaging in a religious life that demands being part of a community is often difficult and frustrating. But, as a Christian, it is by living with both the beauty and the brokenness of humanity that we discover who we are and who we are becoming. In my tradition, Christ calls us to be the Body of Christ made up of different parts, no one better than the other, and calling us to be community in a way that the world would not want us to be. And while Christians interpret and express this calling in different ways, most would agree that to be part of the Body of Christ, you actually have to gather with a body of people to engage in the calling to which we have been called.

While there are certainly some short term benefits to not being part of a church, I also know that it’s important for our family to find and commit to a community that will help each of us to grow in our spirituality. For this reason we have recommitted to the search for a church home, a place where our call to be spiritual AND religious can be nurtured and formed. We will do a little “church shopping” looking for a place where we are genuinely welcomed, that has programming in which we can take part and has an approach to theological exploration that both nurtures and challenges. We’re not really tied up on size, worship style or the right answers to a theological litmus test, we just want a place that is faithfully being church in the world.

In a day and age when ideological, political and theological clustering is far too prevalent and accessible, our short stay, as refreshing as it as been at times, in the land of the “Spiritual but not Religious” must come to an end. It’s time to leave and find a new home; a community where we can work on the difficult but meaningful call to be spiritual AND religious.

We’ll let you know how it goes.