The legendary Christian music artist, Steve Taylor, wrote a song in the mid-eighties called Hero. You can listen to the whole thing here.
But, listening to the lyrics again today, some things struck me hard in my so-called spiritual journey. The song starts with a beautiful picture of a boy reading a comic book at night.
“When the house fell asleep/there was always a light/And it fell from the page/to the eyes/of an American boy/In a storybook land/I could dream what I read/but the practical side/said the question was still/when you grow up/what will you be?
Growing up, my favorite comic book heroes where Batman and Superman. And when I say Batman, I don’t mean “The Dark Knight” of nihilistic eighties and nineties. I mean the caped do-gooder who ran around with Robin dispensing moral instruction (mostly bad) to those he imprisions. These two heroes were everything I wanted to be in my life; good, noble and serving others. I wanted people to see me as someone good, great and powerful.
The thing is, as a kid, I was never any of those things. I got picked on. I spent a lot of time alone. My family was poor and I couldn’t do all the things rich kids did. All that bred a craving for attention, accolades and approval. I wanted people to think of me as a hero.
In the Catholic church, I learned a humility to help temper those desires through daily mass and Catholic school. It’s hard to be arrogant when you are in the midst of 2000 years of history every time you walk into church. For example, hearing that St. Peter hung upside down on a cross is about as close to being a Faith Filled Bad Ass as it gets. How can you top that? It kept my ego in check while helping me retain the desire to do good, to be a hero who served.
All that changed when I moved to St. Louis and we left the Catholic church. My parents came to Christ through the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. The Charismatic movement is a system of thought in various churches that focuses on “experiencing the Holy Spirit” which usually means having some personalized spiritual experience. We stayed in the church for a long time until the move. When we moved to St. Louis, we joined an independent charismatic church and became fully into the movement. Through the years, I’ve been to services where people laugh like hyenas or crow like roosters, all done in the name of “getting more of the Holy Spirit”, as if the Third Person of the Trinity is a cheap wine.
I didn’t really want to leave the Catholic church, but I soon drank deep from my surroundings. The independent Charismatic movement of the time was centered on individual experiences and putting yourself first in the midst of the worship experience. We were taught to have visions, speak in tongues and give prophecies. Even more, those who “progressed” in those areas where given attention, love, and an identity.
As a lonely country kid who just moved to the city, I drank in the atmosphere with deep abandon. I threw myself into being “spiritual” and getting “spiritual experiences.” Why? I liked the attention. I liked people telling me what a “spiritual” kid I was and how in tune with God I appeared to be.
Was this my parents fault? No. Was it the people around me? No. It’s just the way things were. Plus, in my own little confused and arrogant heart, it became my identity. I didn’t know anything else, and it fed my spiritual hero complex.
As I grew older, the arrogance and spiritual pride grew deep in my heart. It penetrated me so deeply that I could no longer see Jesus or what He wanted. Even my good, “hero” works were corrupted by the wrong desires and the wrong passions. I found my little boy desire to be a hero now corrupted by spiritual megalomania. To add to this toxic mix, I went to a Presbyterian college where I was exposed to an intellectual world I never knew. It was a beautiful world and I learned a lot. The problem is, I corrupted what I learned in my own heart. Now, I added intellectual arrogance to my spiritual arrogance.
So, what do I do with that? I became a Presbyterian minister with the desire to be the serious, solemn learned theologian and pastor who dazzled audiences with my rhetorical skill. Everyone told me what a great pastor I would be. Everyone told me I had talent and skill. I drank it up. I licked it up. I groveled for it.
The breaking came when my first pastorate failed in a spectacular way. Everything went wrong: my youthful arrogance; hard to work with elders; a dying congregation when I took it over. An older, wiser and more humble person could have been used by God to fix everything. I was not that person. I was not that hero.
It was the first time I started to grasp what I’d become; a spoiled hero who was doing more evil than good by running from God. The irony is, I ran from God by throwing myself into church work, keeping Him at arms length with doing what I believed to be “His work.”
Steve Taylor goes on in his song to say:
Growing older you’ll find that illusions are brought,
And the idol you thought you’d be was just another zero
In the last two years, my past has come crashing down on my head. It’s knocked me down and made me breathless. I’ve been forced to examine the works and fruits of my ministry. I’ve been horrified by what I found and the arrogance of my own broken heart. The little boy who knelt at mass, who felt the full love of God’s presence and love for others, was long gone. In it’s place came a hard, bitter, and angry person. Yet, down in the depths of my heart, hidden under the cynicism and darkness, the little boy cried out. He cried out to know God again, and to know His presence.
Two years ago, I rediscovered my boyish love for comic books, but in a much different way. Instead of being attracted to Superman or Batman, I found myself in love with Daredevil, the Catholic hero who guards Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve written about my love of the comic here. In Matt’s journey, I see a lot of myself. Someone who started out wanting to do good, got broken along the way, and is now waiting for God to fix him.
(Part Two of Sacramental Comic books in a few days.)