Ira Glass is pretty much amazing, in my book. There are certain people who inspire me to preach better, even though their work has nothing to do with preaching. Glass is one of them. Sarah Vowell. David Sedaris.
Wait there’s a running theme here…. Hhmmm… is it great story-tellers with nasally voices? Maybe… oh no. It’s that they’re all on This American Life.
Anyways, this week, Ira outdid himself. He hit a nerve with this episode on power. A really weird nerve. It’s just in the first four-minute prologue. (How did he do that in four minutes?)
It’s worth a listen, but I’ll try to sum it up. Glass meets with a couple of friends, missionaries who work in Chicago, with at-risk kids. They had just seen Schindler’s List and wanted to talk to Ira because they felt they understood Jews better. They knew about the Holocaust, but movie somehow made the horror and devastation sink in.
The part of the movie that struck them the most was at the end, when Schindler was so distraught that he didn’t save more Jews. And so the couple says, “That’s us. That’s our lives.” They explain how at the end of their lives, they’re going to regret all of the time that they did paperwork when they could have been saving kids. Or, they watched a football game, when they could have been bringing people to God.
What’s interesting about the four minutes, is that Glass holds their story very gingerly at this point. I was cringing, waiting for him to point out the latent anti-Semitism, or for him to talk about when they tried to convert him. The point where Glass mocks them and says that they have an over-inflated sense of their work. But he doesn’t. He says that he understands them for the first time. He says that they have the power to bring people to God, and with great power comes great responsibility.
I easily related to this couple. In my fundamentalist past, I could have met them. I could understand their sense of responsibility, and the idea that it was up to them to save those lives. That was one of the heaviest burdens I gave up when I became Reformed–I finally realized that it wasn’t up to me to do the saving. God would draw people. I could help, but it would be God. It wasn’t up to me to make a church survive. Pastors came before me. Pastors would come after me.
But I do wonder if there’s a bit of this idea left in me. Perhaps it lurks about in all of us… Is that why pastors often work too much? You know, when people are upset and call late at night, and I (of course) answer the phone. Or when I work on my days off because there’s been a tragedy.
I tell myself it’s because I want them to know that the church will be there when they’re distraught. I want to do what I can to help. I don’t want to abandon people when they need the church the most. I do it because I care. But, I also wonder if it’s an over-inflated sense of my own power. Or is it just what Glass says (and of course, Jesus says it too)–that with great power comes great responsibility?
Oh, and I’d love to know. Who’s the story-teller, writer, fictional character who inspires your preaching? The person who’s not necessarily religious, but motivates your art the most?