The Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School.
Welcome to the second installment of "RevRecs," an occasional feature where I make some recommendations about things I'm reading, watching, listening to, etc. This week I've got some music recommendations, a TV show, and a book (technically 2) if you're a reader.
1. What I'm Watching: Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso is in its third season on Apple TV, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's based on what began as a comedy sketch with Jason Sudeikis used to promote NBC's coverage of England's Premiere League soccer. The character, Ted Lasso, who's a southerner from America, becomes a soccer coach in England and has no clue about "football." The sketches were funny enough that it became a TV series--and it's excellent. In the first season alone it was nominated for 20 Emmy awards.
It's the kind of show that will make you laugh out loud, cry tears of sadness and joy, and leave you feeling completely uplifted. What strikes me is that while it's uplifting, it does not shy away from difficult themes involving mental health, grief, racism, relationships (romantic and familial), human sexuality, and self-esteem. It also features what may be the best Christmas episode of any TV show I've ever seen. The show is not for kids as the language is course (sometimes to hilarious effect), and sexual innuendos abound. But, dang it, if Ted Lasso doesn't leave one feeling inspired.
Here's a scene that's a pretty good example. There's some R-rated language in this clip, so fair warning. For a little setup, the character Rupert is the villain of the show, and he's the ex-husband of Ted's team owner. What you see here is typical of Ted's character, and a good encapsulation of the feel of the show.
2. What I'm Listening To: The Entire Bruce Springsteen Catalog
I was a huge fan of "The Boss" growing up. I owned a copy of Born in the U.S.A. when I was a kid, and enjoyed it, but it was a passing thing. I have always loved his version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," though, and that is the song that always puts me in the Christmas spirit when it comes on the radio. Otherwise, though, when it came to people's undying devotion to Springsteen . . . I just didn't get it. As a lifelong rock n' roll fan I always felt like I should like Springsteen. I even bought a copy of his first album Greetings from Asbury Park based on a friend's recommendation. Eh. I'd break it out every 6 months or so and try it again but . . . just never really got into it.
During the last couple of years, though, I've started to get into some other artists whom I discovered are all heavily influenced by Springsteen. In interviews they sang his praises. I decided to give him another look, but did so in a different way this time. Something drew me to listen to the audiobook version of his autobiography Born to Run. Once I started listening I could not stop. The man is a poet, and I could not get enough of his writing and storytelling style.
As I listened through the book, I would stop as he detailed the making of each of his albums and listen to those records on Spotify. (Incidentally, how cool is it that now when you're interested in an artist you can access their entire catalog at the push of a button on your phone!) Some albums are better than others, as with any artist, but I finally "got it." Now, I can officially say, I'm a Springsteen fan. The earlier albums are among my favorites: Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Born to Run, but there's genius throughout the catalog.
I think what finally helped me get it is that I'm a person who values relationships, and by hearing Springsteen's story we began a relationship. Relationships change everything. I believe that's true with people, and I believe it's true with God. Not everyone "gets it" at first in the life of faith. It takes time, and relationship building.
When I went on retreat a couple of weeks ago at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY, I drove there from Baltimore where I have some friends, then back again. On my way back I decided to make a short pilgrimage to Freehold, NJ to find the home Springsteen grew up in. Google maps links directly to it! The house is gone, and the property is now the parking lot for St. Rosa Lima Catholic Church, Springsteen's childhood spiritual home. The church was locked, but I at least got to say a little prayer before the wooden doors of the church in thanksgiving for all the music I've enjoyed over the years.
One thing I discovered about Springsteen and his music is there's a deep spirituality pulsing through all of his albums. Sometimes on the surface, sometimes beneath. He's not exactly a traditional Christian, but he hasn't lost the spirit of his faith. I'm pasting a rather lengthy quotation from his book below to give you a sense of this, as well as a sense of the place (corner of Randolph & McLean) where I stopped on my mini-pilgrimage. This is glimpse of what makes "The Boss" interesting to me now:
"[The Church] was the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger, and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment, and infinite reward. It was a glorious and pathetic place I was either shaped for or fit right into. It has walked alongside me as a waking dream my whole life. So, as a young adult I tried to make sense of it. I tried to meet its challenge for the very reasons that there are souls to lose, and a kingdom of love to be gained. I laid what I’d absorbed across the hard-scrabble lives of my family, friends, and neighbors. I turned it into something I could grapple with, understand; something I could even find faith in.
"As funny as it sounds, I have a personal relationship with Jesus. He remains one of my fathers. Though as with my own father, I no longer believe in his godly power. I believe deeply in his love, his ability to save, but not to damn. Enough of that. The way I see it, we ate the apple, and Adam, Eve, the rebel Jesus, in all his glory, and Satan, are all a part of God’s plan to make men and women out of us. To give us the precious gifts of earth, dirt, sweat, blood, sex, sin, goodness, freedom, captivity, love, fear, life, and death. Our humanity, and a world of our own.
"The church bells ring. My clan pours out of our houses and hustles up the street. Someone is getting married, getting dead, or being born. We line the church’s front walkway. Waiting, my sister and I pick up fallen flowers, or thrown rice, to be packed away in paper bags for another day to shower upon complete strangers. My mother is thrilled, her face alight. Organ music. The wooden doors of our church swing open upon a bride and groom exiting their wedding ceremony. I hear my mother sigh, “Oh, the dress, the beautiful dress!” The bouquet is tossed, the future is told. The bride and her hero are whisked away in their long, black limousine, the one that drops you off at the beginning of your life. The other one is just around the corner waiting for another day to bring the tears, and take you on that short drive straight out Throckmorton St. to St. Rosa Cemetery on the edge of town. There, on spring Sundays, visiting bones, boxes, and piles of dirt, my sister and I run playing happily amongst the headstones.
"Back at church, the wedding is over. I take my sister’s hand. By 9 or 10 years old, we’ve seen it all plenty of times. Rice or flowers, coming or going, heaven or hell, here on the corner of Randolph and McLean, it’s just all in a day’s work."
3. What I'm Reading: Dangerous Jesus by Kevin "KB" Burgess
Kevin "KB" Burgess is the host of the Southside Rabbi podcast, and he's also a Christian hip-hop artist. I learned about this book because I follow @southsiderabbi on Instagram. Burgess's music is listed on Spotify simply as KB. I've enjoyed listening to his podcast and seeing the clips on Instagram, so I was curious to pick up his book when he began promoting it a few months ago. Dangerous Jesus: Why the Only Thing More Risky Than Getting Jesus Right is Getting Jesus Wrong did not disappoint.
This book may ruffle your feathers--I mean, it is called Dangerous Jesus for a reason. It ruffled mine in a few places, but much of it also resonated with me. Personally, I enjoy books that challenge my ways of thinking, that push me to reexamine my beliefs, that help me learn from people whose experiences are different from mine. I like reading books by authors who I don't always agree with--I believe that's how we learn and grow. I believe KB is a faithful person of God, that he has something important to say, and that it's worth hearing and considering. If you like getting your feathers ruffled, and want to consider our Savior in some new ways, I recommend checking it out.
Whether you like or not--maybe especially if you don't like it--one cannot deny that Jesus was, in fact, dangerous. Religious institutions and governments do not kill people for being warm and fuzzy. It's hubris for us to believe that if Jesus' incarnation had happened today we would have easily climbed on board as we tend to think. "Oh, those poor, misguided 1st century people. They're not enlightened like we are." People are people, then and now. It's why we all still need to hear Jesus' simple message of love over and over. We still don't get it.
How about you?
What are reading, listening to, watching, etc., that you'd recommend? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.