Sustaining Your Inner Superhero,
delivered to First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, April 15, 2012.
glad you're here. I'm glad we're here
together. Thank you.
invite you to think back to when you were just starting out in this world. Now that we've got our three year old son
Henry in our life, so often the things he does and says remind me of when I was
you were like me, the rocketship in your hand was a real rocketship, as were
the dinosaurs, the Hotwheels cars, the Tonka trucks and the dolls.
my adult mind now, those toys held an astonishing allure, and I see a serious amount of
imaginative play at work in Henry's life as well.
recall back when imagination ran full-tilt.
My bicycle was the batcycle. When
I laid down on the top of the sofa with my arms out, I was flying.
then, something’s changed. I got
educated into the world, I became more and more aware of the world, and adult
reality set in.
still want to cling to the idea that there are good guys and bad guys,
superheroines and supervillainesses. I
know that’s no longer true. Actually
it’s my understanding that’s changed, not the world. I know that the good-slash-bad binary has
never been true. As Alexandr
Solzhenitsyn tells us in The Gulag Archipelago, “If only it were all so
simple! If only there were evil people
somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to
separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts
through the heart of every human being.”
have a tendency to lose track of our superpowers, or our plain old power even,
and just settle in to what we've been assigned, or what's expected of us, and
this is what divides our hearts. But to
really connect with our superpowers doesn't take superhuman effort.
takes imagination, and it takes the will to bring that which you
imagine into real being. That's it.
we can sustain our inner superhero, we need first to imagine it, to find
it, to discover it. What is the self
within us that—as our first reading tells us—wants to do the right thing: to
act for justice and peace, and at times, kick serious ass? I believe we each have this potential within
us. We just need a good process to help
our inner superhero come out into the light of our awareness.
First, we need to recall that
justice and injustice are not monoliths.
If we treat them as such, they are gigantic inseparable abstractions
that we can't get any grasp upon. We
must find specific justice targets which really match our individual
passions. There are plenty of areas in
the world that need justice, and when the good people of the world are working
as a team, there will be plenty of people to address those areas. Otherwise, to try and take on “injustice” as
a category is simply overwhelming. As
Howard Thurman says, “Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go and do
that. Because what the world needs is
people who have come alive.”
month, myself and three other members of this congregation attended the
Gamaliel community organizing training.
One of the key learnings for me was that every person has experiences in
their history that guide their vision.
Figuring out those formative experiences can clarify and unlock your
self-interest is a healthy habit. It's
not selfish where you just try to get others to do for you. And it's not selfLESS where you put on a
martyr's altruism and help others fulfill their dreams, and put your own on the
backburner or even take them off the stove.
When you know your self-interest, you've got your foundation under you,
and are one important step closer to being strong for what you believe in. You have the river of truth at your side, and
are ready to say “No, YOU move,” or are ready to interrupt the situation when
you witness an injustice you've prepared yourself to face.
A second element of this
discovery process is to be gentle with yourself. You're not magical, and the world does
not rest on your shoulders. At
least it shouldn't. Wolverine made an
important point about superheroes and superheroines—that they're made, not
born, and it's their guts that make them super.
Here's a little aside: Back when this sermon was hatching almost twenty
years ago, I heard some song lyrics by an English band named Black Grape:
Don’t talk to me about heroes
Most of these men sing like serfs
Jesus was a black man
No Jesus was Batman
No, no, no,
That was Bruce Wayne.
That curveball about Bruce Wayne
kind of cracked me up, and I figured Jesus probably wasn't a black man—I bet he
looked kind of like the people of the Eastern Mediterranean, though the part
that really stuck with me was “Jesus was Batman.”
didn't really make my own real meaning of it until after finding Unitarian
Universalism. See, many Christians
understand Jesus as some type of otherworldly being begotten outside of time
and space, more akin to Superman from another planet with powers that none of
us could ever hope to accomplish.
a Unitarian, I came to appreciate Jesus as being closer to the style of
Batman--of being one of us, working smarter, doing pushups, and developing
skills. Wonderwoman, while working
tirelessly for justice—originally fighting against the Nazis during world war
two—like Superman, also has superhuman abilities, descended from a mythic
Amazon warrior culture. It's good that
she's on the side of justice, but no amount of pushups is going to help bridge
that gap between where we are and her super-humanity. I could go through the Marvel and DC comic
superhero inventories trying to determine whose powers were innate and whose
were developed, but the inclusion of these three makes my point without going
past my depth and into an area which would only entertain the most hardcore
comics fans here today. The superheroes and superheroines within each of us—which
need not match our birth gender—require our work and intentionality to come
into being. We start with what we
are—what we really are, not what we're told we are (in so many
categories)—and find a way to become more ourselves. We don't have to have superhuman strength or
speed, or be able to turn back time by flying backwards around the Earth until
Lois Lane comes back to life. Our
superpower can be as straightforward as preparing ourselves, then having the
courage to show up and speak our truth when it matters.
Now that we've identified the
superhero within us, we're ready for the third element of this discovery
process. Here, we get to the part about
actually sustaining our inner superhero.
Sustaining is the key, and is what will really serve our momentum. An example from the world of music may shed
some light. Each instrument has its own
style of making notes. A guitar is
strummed and then the strings slowly die down.
A drum or percussive instrument gets hit for a very short sharp
transient note. And a violin or a
synthesizer (or a wine glass) can hold a note steadily for a long time. This ability to draw out a note is called
“sustain.” In the quote at the top of
your order of service, from Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, he notes
that by playing the music loud, his guitar has extra long sustain. That sustain comes from a mild form of
feedback. The oscillations in air
pressure caused by the loud amplifiers are actually strong enough that they're
like wind blowing on the guitar strings, which allows them to keep ringing on
for a long time. Feedback is what we
need to sustain us.
Feedback in community. When we're
loud enough in words or action such that others hear us and some
resonate—though certainly not all will resonate, (and that's okay)—when
some resonate with us, we find a momentum that sustains. Through conversation you may find that your
imagination matches theirs, or your imagination may inspire others, or their
imaginations may inspire your own.
good conversation may include agitation and clarification as
well. We tend to shy away or give
complimentary feedback, perhaps so that we'll be liked by the listener, or
because we want them to feel liked. But
that's not genuine. I invite you to be
both kind and clear when reflecting your feedback, whether it be critique or
praise. Critique, not to be confused
with it's negative cousin criticism, spurs people to go deeper and find their
genuine selves. Conversations of this
sort—deep, connected interactions beyond small talk and the events of the
day—are a path to spiritual growth in community. In this congregation's behavioral covenant,
we're seeking to acknowledge each other's value and treat each other
accordingly. To me, this means that we
will level with each other, and do our level best to stay in relationship with
each other. When we know that we can offer
genuine feedback and not fear rejection, that to me indicates that we value
each others' authentic selves.
all of this serves to help vivify our imagination, so that we may become more
adept at fostering it into becoming real.
After all, almost everything that comes into existence in the human
world begins as a thought in someone's imagination. From there, if voiced, it turns into a
conversation, and if worthy of action, may even turn into an institution.
Now this feedback, this conversation, happens within each of us as
well. From Howard Thurman's advice, we must
seek community within our own spirit, searching in our experiences with the
literal facts of the external world, to bring order out of chaos from this
collective life, and we will be sustained and supported by life. In other words, as our inner sense of
community is in conversation, we become harmonious to our own self.
work within ourselves and beyond ourselves in accountable community is crucial
for sustaining a steadfast spirit. I
will close with this question: Against all the messages which may make you feel
separate from your inner superhero, can you imagine yourself developing a
pattern of responding with a steadfast spirit?
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