In the Hero’s Journey Nothing Is Wasted

I don’t understand how school teachers do it. Granted, most teachers are not being taxed by cancer in their bodies, but wow did speaking yesterday wear me out! Five to six hours of constant dialog with high schoolers about death wears a guy out! Oh, I should back up and say that yesterday I was given the opportunity by my wonderful friend (and newly famous poet) Jenney to speak to all six periods of her high school english class. They had been spending a great amount of time studying a literary device called The Hero’s Journey which, if I understand it correctly, is a commonly found pattern or way of crafting a story. It is marked by the invitation to adventure or to take part in a story, by trials along the way, it says that you receive help from friends along the way but that they cannot solve the dilema, and leads to eventual freedom where you can then help others…at least I think I’m somehow capturing it.*

So Jenney invited me to share some of my story because of how it so directly connectes to The Hero’s Journey concept. The kids were forced to read some of my blogs (I’ve got to drive traffic somehow right?), they crafted an amazing set of questions, and then invited me to dialog with them.

As a recovering homeschool nerd speaking in a high school is a pretty foreign context. Can I say naught words? Can I wear a hat? Can I talk about my catheter? Can I mention Jesus? How honest can I be? Do I need to be ready to do a song and dance to entertain the teens? So many questions–and yet, in the end, we all just talked. We talked about death. I talked a lot about my children and my wife a lot. We all cried quite a bit. The students wanted to know how my life changed, they wanted to know how I’d live differently if I survive, they wanted to know if I’m afraid to die, they wanted to know what gave me hope, they wanted to know about reincarnation, they had so many good questions. I was very impacted by their ability to be present and emotionally available for such a deep conversation.

It was strange to find myself, near the end of every period, talking about the kingdom of God. Ok, so I didn’t actually say “kingdom of God”, but it’s what we talked about. At some point in every class we talked about hell, about how we all know hell in our lives or in the lives of those around us. Whether it is through divorce, sickness, addiction, or broken relationships we’re all experiencing the reality that this world is not right. I invited them to call it what it is, to recognize that cancer sucks but that there is hope for every single story (the Hero’s Journey). There is hope that every single story can be redeemed, that beauty can come from ashes, that what God does is he turns shit into something beautiful. I told them that even a story of death can be one of love and beauty if we’re willing to enter into it fully and allow it to become so. This doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck, it doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly hard–but it does mean that nothing has to be wasted. This is all Kingdom of Heaven stuff. Essentially we, as a class, talked and dreamed about God’s ultimate reality coming to earth and eventually being fully realized post death. Kingdom.**

As I sit here knowing that literally 10’s of thousands of people are praying for God to heal my broken body I cannot help but cling to that kingdom idea: nothing is wasted. If prayer works how I think it works then I will most definitely be healed. But I’m not convinced that prayer works how I think it works (shoot, even using the word ‘works’ with regard to prayer clearly shows that my natural tendency is to use it as a tool rather than to see it as a dialog. I want to wield prayer like a magic wand more than anything else!). I’m not convinced that my theology on prayer is correct. I am convinced, however, that God is good. Everything builds off that. And speaking yesterday with those amazing students reminded me yet again that

  1. This world is broken (some of those students have tragic stories!)
  2. Things don’t always get reconciled in this world how we’d like (though we fight bravely to make it so!)
  3. That God desires to enter into every story and make it a Hero’s Journey where absolutely nothing is wasted
  4. Our hope ultimately is in a new body and restored world where everything is finally as it should be–as the Hero originally intended.

*If someone has some insight here and wants to post with more clarity I’d greatly appreciate it!

** I’m not going to lie, if you’ve heard me speak in different settings or if you’ve read my blog much…this is my spiel. I say this same thing in different formats over and over again…and yet I still feel like I’m needing to hear it myself. So my apologies if you’re wondering “haven’t I already heard Ryan say this?” ’cause the answer is a resounding YES!

Jesus the person, Jesus the Deity

A while back I asked a friend of mine to share some of his thoughts about Christianity, faith, and Jesus. I thought it was very interesting and worth posting. It was originally written for a January 2009 newsletter

I have a commitment to Jesus, the person,
just not Jesus the deity. I believe that, for the
most part, that Jesus’ teachings are spot on
for the way we should behave towards
others. I don’t believe that Jesus was the son
of God, or necessarily that there is a God. I
believe he died for our sins but only
symbolically, not actually. He believed that
by being martyred that others would find his
teachings true and avoid sin.

Nick's Hallelujah

I have only known Nick for three months, but in three months he had become a part of our family. It was normal to have him randomly stop by our house, by the cafe I might be studying in, or to call at any hour of the day to talk. Come midnight we would always kick Nick out of our house so we could go to bed, but that would always translate into an extended conversation at our front door. Those nights (and there were many) were filled with conversations about theology, about Al Gore (whom he loved), about politics, family, faith, church planting, Bagby hotsprings, and everything in between.

It was right about midnight, the day before he died, that we stood at the door and he told us about a time where he almost killed himself driving around a corner on highway 14. We laughed, as usual, at his ridiculous stories that surprisingly always turned out to be true. Earlier on that same Sunday night we grilled Nick about how fast he was driving his new bike. We told him to slow down. My friend said to him “don’t make me go to your funeral”, and he responded by saying that the saddest thing about crashing would be the thought of his bike getting beat up. That’s just how Nick was.

I loved Nick because he was so raw, so authentic, and so passionately in love with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, at times he could be a complete ass, but he was always the first to laughingly admit it in a proud fashion. It was in that spirit that he smiled as he showed us his shirt he wore that Sunday night at our churches worship gathering (it included the f* bomb) He always left us shaking our heads and smiling because he would say the most off the wall things, like when he said he thought Mother Teresa was in hell…umm…I hope he’s being proved wrong right now. He was passionate about being a missionary. As a recovering addict he saw himself as a missionary to his people, to addicts and homeless and broken people. You rarely saw Nick by himself, he was always inviting others, always bringing people along with him, he really was a missionary. In our short three months with him he went from wanting to be a missionary somewhere overseas, thinking that he had to go somewhere to make a difference, to passionately embracing the reality that God was using him here and now to change peoples lives. Because of that he was eager to plant a downtown church plant with us, a church that was focused on relationships, on loving every person because they’re loved by God. As a matter of fact, it was in our last moments with him that he kept pushing us to get moving with this church plant. He kept saying over and over again how he was ready to live in Christian community, how he wanted to start doing meals together a few times a week where we could invite neighbors and friends (ironically we talked about tonight being the first), and how we should start taking bums out for lunch together.

I love that for most of the Renovatus community the last words they heard from Nick was him yelling “Hallelujah” as he walked into our worship gathering late. It was loud and obnoxious, and genuine…it was totally Nick. The word “hallelujah” can be defined as an exclamation of “praise the Lord”, or more fully as what happens when you are so in love that you cannot help but burst in adoration toward your lover. This word might be the best description for Nick.

The best word to describe my house yesterday would be numb. We all just sat around, some of us crying on and off. We unloaded the dishwasher that was filled with the dishes from the dinner Nick made for us that Sunday night. On our house-mate’s desk sat a dvd that Nick was supposed to pick up on Monday, the day he died. The house seemed to linger with his absence.

I only knew Nick for three months, but in three months he became a dear friend. God’s people who are trying to live his kingdom within our messy world will miss Nicks presence terribly. I am not sad for Nick. I am sad for us, for the three churches he was involved in, for his friends who were in recovery with him, and for the ways God could have used him to be an agent of hope to the world.

Thank you God for giving my family three months of Nick. We feel blessed because of it.