Lessons Taught, Lessons Bought

By Julian DeShazier

Growing up, my mother used to always advise me, “Son, better a lesson taught than a lesson bought.” The meaning is plain: mistakes are expensive, and it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to make your own. So growing up I learned the easy way from folks that learned the hard way – thru “run-ins”, addictions – I never judged, especially when I learned that some communities are designed by Evil to make these mistakes and pass them down for a guaranteed exploitable working class. No judgment: I just didn’t want to end up like that. Mistakes avoided: Lessons taught.

And then…I went to Morehouse.

You may not know what happens at Morehouse and I won’t tell you here, but the immediate confidence boost mixed with a deep and protracted insecurity in some strange ways. Almost immediately I started making mistakes of epic proportions: my first sermon I ever preached got me banned from preaching (and saved my life!); a relationship went sour, and got me blacklisted from Spelman for a year; plenty of moments where I grew leaps and bounds and paid for it dearly. Mistakes made: Lessons bought.

Pastoring is a little bit of both. There are many mistakes I don’t make because I learned from others that did (names that, if I told them to you, you’d know there are hundreds of years of wisdom and experience I’ve had poured into me). There are some mistakes that would be outright inexcusable for me to repeat; it would be an insult to my elders. So we’ve done well together, and that’s supposed to be the case when you’ve had lessons taught.

And as we’ve moved into new terrain as a faith community, I’ve sure bought some lessons as well…

Like the time one person dragged me behind the woodshed about all this “walking with God.”

Or the time another person warned that I used a phrase that wasn’t sensitive to folks wrestling with body dysmorphia.

Or recently, when in a celebration of women I too flatly turned it into a celebration of “mothers”, which brings its pain and, quite frankly, could be seen as me participating in patriarchy. Now the person bringing it to me knows damn well that’s not my intent, and was glad to hear the cultural reasons I use “mother” so broadly (almost every woman is a mother to me), but they were right: it’s something I have to be sensitive toward in a community that asks people to show up as their authentic selves.

Many, many other lessons bought that I won’t include here. Suffice it to say: 2018 grew me up a great deal, and I’m still healing from the heavy, heavy cost of mistakes made trying to love.

That hits home, doesn’t it? Mistakes made trying to love. Lessons learned trying to do the right thing…Learning that what we have learned – as a behavior – may not be appropriate within whatever particular context. If you use it right, community can be a place that grows you up with speed and grace.

I’m talking about “growing up” now in the Howard Thurman-via-Revelations sense, where “A crown is placed above our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear.”

Or it can be a place that turns you more defensive.
Or more bitter.
Or confirms your assumptions about men, or black people, or white people, or rich/poor people, or power, or religion, or whatever thing you-know-that-you-know…

Because we don’t know anything, and a good community can show us how little we know, how inadequate our cultural upbringing was at teaching us everything (was it supposed to do that?), and how ready God is to teach us what it means to be disciples, how to live faithfully, and how to ground our being in curiosity and love.

This week, as Lent begins, think about how you can make room for God in your life to have judgment replaced with curiosity, have bitterness replaced with love, have busyness replaced with care for the self, have anxiety replaced with faithfulness.

Jesus looked at his disciples, after they could not heal in Luke 9 and said, “You faithless and perverse generation.” To his DISCIPLES he said this!!!

Indeed, Jesus. Indeed. Hopefully soon we will all be able to say…

Lesson learned.




Some time ago my uncle had a house in Gary, Indiana that needed major rehabbing. Though he tapped me — a lazy teenager — to help with these renovations, I still believe my uncle is a decent man. There is nothing on Earth lazier than I was at 13 years old: if it didn’t happen in a classroom or on the baseball field, for my taste it was totally superfluous (read: Why God are  you making me scrape tile from this floor?). In a million lifetimes I will never forget yelling at that forsaken device mislabeled a “tile scraper,” cursing its maker for being so inept.

The day I built enough courage to quit I went to my uncle in tears, hands outstretched towards him to return his infernal scraper. “This thing is no good,” I had calmed myself enough to say, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” My uncle got up from whatever important thing he was doing, walked to the bathroom, placed the scraper on the floor, and swiftly removed the remaining shards of tile. Seriously. He then turned to me, handed over the scraper and said, “There’s nothing wrong with this tool. Just have to use it the right way.”

That statement, my friends, is what you call a “homerun” (in case you were wondering). My uncle was spot-on:  there was nothing wrong with the tool but I was using it wrong. Results come when we use tools in the right way. The tool itself possesses no inherent goodness (or malevolence). It is like a gun that can start a race…or start a war.

One tool in particular has, since its inception, sparked more moral debate than perhaps any other invention in human history: THE INTERNET. One day I was arguing with a friend about whether The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was an actual album or a compilation of b-sides: the internet settled this life-changing debate for us. I can rate doctors and hotels, and find cheap airline tickets: awesome and awesome. But to highlight the ambiguity: I can participate in the denigration of women by watching hours of pornography, and I can copy-and-paste an entire paper for class. Studies have shown that intellectual plagiarism is at an all-time high, while the private life — once held sacred and inalienable — has all but disappeared. The Internet didn’t do a thing: WE DID THIS.

The Internet has never been a stronger or more reliable tool than perhaps over the past couple of weeks, when it was the center of a revolution story in Egypt. The people, tired of their leader, had written revolution songs and made appeals via…the Internet. The movement became so strong that the government SHUT DOWN the Internet, but the people got it back. Then they documented their mostly-passive protest via…the Internet. Most of us were kept current of Egypt’s happenings via…the Internet. Through the web Egyptians were able to create a network of supporters so strong that, seriously everyone knew that Mubarak was going to resign. The struggle of a city on the other side of the world became a local reality, and morphed into an international philosophical debate on democracy…through the Internet. The Internet was how we were able to keep in contact with members of University Church who are living in Egypt RIGHT NOW!

I am impressed but more importantly convinced that every tool has the potential to become a gift. This is why I look at humanity and cannot dare to judge a single life. Indeed, it is why we ought to take a serious look at developing our gifts. For our knowledge and experience is a tool…what if each of us used our tools to their fullest capacity?

Part of my work as a pastor is to help our community be attuned to our spiritual gifts and how we can make better use of them. For throughout history God has taken “tools” thought of for one purpose, then endowed them with the Holy Spirit to do totally new works through them! Take David the shepherd or Jesus the carpenter for instance:  I bet David was a pretty good shepherd, but he had more to offer. The farmer cultivates crops while they are yet underground in a belief that the seed has more to offer. In the same way I believe each of us has more to offer, and I’m hoping we will take the time to cultivate dreams and gifts for the life of our community. Now is the time to prepare (that is what we’ll be doing at the church-wide retreat, March 18-20), and while it is still cold we can ask:  “What more can I be used for?”  “How have I been misused over the years?”

There are some rusty tools that need re-sharpening, and some new tools we haven’t discovered yet! Exciting times we live in!

Your “tool” (in the good way),
 Pastor Julian

Think Different: September Sermon Series

Think Different: September Sermon Series

The phrase “Think Different” was popularized by Apple, Inc., in 1997, when they used the slogan as an ad campaign to draw attention to the faster computers they were building. The campaign used the faces of famous philosophers, artists, and innovators who during their time were able to expand the paradigm of their practice. Jim Henson and The Muppets. Miles Davis and Fusion Jazz. Picasso and Surrealism. These people challenged the status quo artistically, while others were more politically overt – Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jackie Robinson. These were all part of Apple’s brilliant and absurd campaign to rejuvenate their company.

“Think Different” is a way of being that challenges what society has held as a foregone conclusion. It pokes at birthrights and conventions and asks if they remain adequate for such a time as this. I believe God calls us to think different, and I believe the archetype for such an attitude is found in Jesus the teacher, prophet, and savior. There are four instances in particular – all found in the Gospel of Mark – where Jesus presses those around him to assess (and in some cases, reject) the status quo. In this America of competing values and thoughtless critique, it is now more than ever time for each soul to steal away from the mob and “Think Different”, using the Gospel as our guide.

Join us at 10:30 AM each Sunday, and tell a friend!

Lent 2011: Contemporary Stations of the Cross

Formalized in the 15th century as a Christian spiritual devotion or practice, the roots and antecedents of the “stations of the cross” go back to the earliest Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem in the 5th century. Each of the 14 stations focuses on an event — some biblically based and others more legendary — of Jesus’ final days: from false arrest to “trial” in a kangaroo kourt to “intense interrogation” to execution — Jesus’ “passion” or suffering. While almost all Catholic churches have some version of these 14 stations along the walls of the sanctuary, other denominations — such as the Episcopalians (Anglicans) and Lutherans — occasionally participate in this form of Christian spirituality, especially during Lent.

This Lenten season various ministries of University Church will make contemporary “stations of the cross,” current renderings of the via dolorosa or “sorrowful way” of not only Christ Jesus but also of the various peoples we continue to “crucify” in our world, if not directly then indirectly through our policies of action and inaction. Each Sunday of Lent new “stations of the cross” will appear in the chancel area. Some will be accompanied by that Sunday’s Affirmation of Faith; others will not. Please feel free and take prayerful time before and after worship service to go up to the chancel, be confronted by the contemporary “crucified,” and for six weeks to travel the “sorrowful way” and our congregation’s faithful responses to it.