Kirk Cameron-ing It

Posted on February 13, 2011

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(DISCLAIMER: The title of this post is merely a reference to Kirk Cameron leaving Hollywood to pursue a higher calling.  He and I would probably agree on very little regarding religion, but I loved the show “Growing Pains”).

It has been a confusing year since my last blog post.  In early 2010, I found God on Melrose Hill in Los Angeles.  I had never been religious.  I had never even considered myself “spiritual.”

I never considered myself an atheist, though, because making a point to not believe in a higher power seemed to me exactly the same as doing the opposite.  What was the point of either?  I’ve also always wanted to believe.  (Who can honestly say they don’t?)   But no matter how much i wanted to believe, at the end of the day (or church service), I always felt like I was being dishonest with myself (or with my Grandma Alice who had brought me to church).

One of my comedy heroes Ricky Gervais articulated my feelings well in a recent Wall Street Journal column:

“Believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.”

My feelings completely changed last year when God revealed the truth to me.  I experienced something true.  I didn’t need to just believe or hope anymore.  I knew.  And honestly, my life would be much easier if I could choose to ignore it — but now that would feel dishonest.

Six months later I was on a 30 hour bus ride with 50+ high school kids who I’d never met from Edina, Minnesota.  We were headed to Weslaco, Texas for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church’s annual high school mission trip.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I had never been on a mission trip.  I had never participated in a youth group growing up.  Actually I did attend a Young Life event once in high school, but all I remember is being really uncomfortable and wondering why some super eager guy in his late 20s was playing games with teenagers in my friend Peter Stone’s basement.  Now I was going to be that guy…

At the end of each day of the trip, one of my fellow group leaders would give a brief talk about that day’s theme.  On the last night of the trip, it was my turn to speak.  The following is what I said:

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The theme for tonight is “Less Ego / More Love” — how you can live a life with less ego and more love — how our egos get in the way of us showing love to others.

The Bible story we all read this morning was about Jesus washing his disciples feet.  John 13: 1-17

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

When I first read this story, my gut reaction was that it seemed kind of gross and weird.  Washing other people’s feet?  But like many stories in this book, there’s much more there than what’s just on the surface.

It didn’t matter that it was foot-washing, specifically.  Jesus wasn’t saying we should all grab a bowl of water and dip our friends’ feet in it.  I think that when He says “you should do as I have done for you,” He meant we should all humble ourselves (and our egos) to show each other love, no matter how low or menial the task is.

I know a lot of you felt like you were getting the shaft this week when you had to do landscaping at Carmen’s mom’s house.  “This isn’t what I thought I’d be doing.”  “I have nothing to show for my work.” “I brought a hammer 2000 miles and I want to use it!”

All of this “I, I, I” is your ego talking.  When Jesus washed his disciples feet, it was without ego.  I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking, “This is stupid.  I can’t believe I”m washing a bunch of dudes’ feet.  Why can’t I be building some Mexicans’ bathroom down the street?  I wanted to be tagged on Facebook in pictures of me with cute little Mexican kids.  This will just look lame.”

But I can’t really blame you guys for feeling that way.  I was there for a few hours today, and at one point Ally and I

were assigned the task of separating small rocks from dirt and then moving them from part of the yard to another.  It was like out of some Greek parable.  It was so absurdly pointless, that it was almost fun.  Almost.

I agree that traveling all this way to do yard work is pretty dumb… especially for a house that no one actually lives in.  The thing is, that’s not the point — Jesus showed us that.  There’s probably no job LESS worthwhile than washing feet.  Especially for a bunch of guys wearing sandals, walking on sand all day in the Middle East.  These feet will get instantly dirty again.

The point is just to show love, and you will be blessed.

That being said, no one should feel bad necessarily for wanting to do something besides yardwork this week.  I was fortunate enough to get placed on the bathroom building site each day – where we ate like kings and watched the World Cup during our breaks.  Had I been at Carmen’s mom’s, I would’ve been thinking the same thing everyone else was.  My ego would’ve been disappointed.

And I kind of hate that about myself.

I’d much rather be a person who, when someone needs my help, the thought of “what’s in it for me” doesn’t even begin to cross my mind.

Thats why my number one goal right now is figuring out how I can completely destroy my ego and show as much love as I can.  I realize this is impossible, but I’m committed to trying.

So now I’d like to share with you my recent life journey and how I came to this decision.

Last year I moved to L.A. with my friend Ross to do what people do when they move to L.A.  Working together in Minnesota, our comedy web series had attracted a cult following, and we had just been signed by a huge talent management company — the same company that manages Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, and Judd Apatow.  It was unbelievable.  Even the president of this company knew who we were.

Right away amazing things started happening.  The month I arrived I ended up moving in with someone relatively famous who also happened to be starring in a movie being released around the same time. Every time I would visit YouTube, an ad for her movie would pop up on the home page, and then I’d see her in real life across the living room.  It was surreal.  I was also attending the cast and crew premieres of movies; hanging out on movie sets with icons from my childhood; partying with more celebrities; and performing at Upright Citizens Brigade theater. Lifelong dreams were coming true almost weekly.

And my first kind-of-big-deal/actual-paying thing was “acting” on a show called “Manswers.”

If you’ve never seen “Manswers,” it’s a show on SpikeTV that answers questions (or manstions?) that men would apparently like to know, such as, “What do you do if you get caught in your zipper?”  or “How can you beat up a tiger?”  The manstions that I was manswering I don’t even feel comfortable saying in front of a church youth group.  I can tell you, though, that my job for the afternoon was to sit on the beach and stare at women running by in their bikinis over and over and over and “act”… interested.  During breaks I would play frisbee with the other actor and eat amazing, catered food.  This was the life.  And it was great for my ego.

Through all of it though, there was a tiny, little voice inside that kept asking, “Why are you doing this?”

But all the much louder voices around me kept drowning it out: “That’s awesome!”  “I’m so jealous!”  “You’re doin’ it, man!”

Whatever “it” was, I was doin’ it.

Around the same time, I started noticing something more and more.  Everywhere I went in L.A, I was constantly bombarded with homelessness and poverty.  It’s insane there.  The Hollywood life that we see on TV co-exists in the same space as some of the most depressing and hopeless things I’ve ever seen.  I would go to see a comedy show and park next to someone sleeping on the sidewalk.  I would go to meet friends at a bar, and again, have to step over people sleeping on street corners to get where I was going.  Upon arrival to The Dresden or to Public House, I would easily spend $40 or $50 on dinner and drinks – for myself – while that person was probably starving to death outside in their sleeping bag.

To, I guess, atone for this, I started volunteering at a place called Chrysalis, downtown L.A., right next to skid row.  Basically, Chrysalis teaches the homeless; those who’ve never had a job; and those recently released from prison, how to find employment.  My job was to meet one-on-one with new clients and assess their needs before passing them along to a staff member.  I remember meeting with a 22 year old guy who was almost in tears as he explained his situation to me, “I just need a job, man.  I can’t go back to jail again.  If I can’t get a job, I’ll have to go back to selling drugs to feed my kids.”  I talked to scores of people like this.  I would leave every Thursday morning, ready to cry myself.  As time went on, though, I started volunteering less and less, and finally not at all.  I would have an audition, or a shoot, or I’d have had a show that ended late the night before, and I just “didn’t have the time.”

My ego had gotten in the way.

In everything I did for my “career,” though, I was constantly haunted by the hopelessness I’d encountered.  I remember rehearsing with my improv group each week, doing scene after disposable scene, while the voice inside kept getting louder and louder.  “Why are you doing this?”  So I started asking myself, “Is this why I was put on Earth?  Is this what the world needs me to do?”  I realized that there were a lot of people that needed me more than I needed to be rich and famous.  And I had more to offer those people than pop song parodies.

Eventually I made the decision that I would leave L.A. when my lease ended.  I was excited to move home and start living a new life — a more meaningful life.  But I still had a couple months to go.

In the meantime I was hired by FunnyOrDie.com to work on a bunch of web videos for their client Axe Body Spray.  It was about a two-week project, and the entire time I was having second thoughts about leaving Hollywood behind.  Working at FunnyOrDie, in the same building where Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have their offices, was perfect for my ego.  The Axe marketing people were loving what I was doing, and I was sure this job could lead to more work at FOD.  The situation was so seductive.  I felt like I had earned this. More so, I felt like this is what others expected me to do.  I was a funny guy who made funny videos, so of course I should work with celebrities in Hollywood everyday at one of the the world’s hippest comedy websites.  That would prove that I’m cool; that I made it.  I could be the envy of my 10 year class reunion.

But this week I’ve been thinking a lot about what I think is cool.  The people who I think are cool now are people like Reuben’s caretaker and Reuben’s mom, who most of you met at the roof-building site.  So many of you have gone on and on this week about how impressed you are with these people and their selflessness and generosity.  So why don’t we all want to be like these people?

You can be that type of person, though — the type of person that amazes everyone you meet.   And not because of where you work or how much power you have but because of the type of person you ARE.  The only thing in the way, is your ego.

Later in our small groups we’ll be talking about “what tasks and attitudes we can adopt to show less ego and more love.”

To get you thinking, here are some examples of what I’ve been doing:

-I’m 29, and I live with my parents.  That’s a pretty tough pill for me to swallow at this stage in my life, but right now it’s allowing me a lot of freedom to figure this new life out.  I’m not bound  or distracted by my need to “succeed” in a worldly sense.

-I’m doing a year of Americorps service starting this fall.  I’ll be working with kids in south Minneapolis who are actually much worse off than a lot of the kids around here.  I’ll be making the same amount of money in a week of what I used to make in a day, but that’s not important to me anymore.

-And finally, I’m on this trip.  If I told my L.A. friends this is what I’m doing right now, they’d either think I was crazy, or they’d think this was all part of some prank video I was working on.

Again, I don’t recommend you all agree to live with your parents at age 29, but you can all do something.  And you can do it now.

For instance, today Natalie and Ben went out and bought a soccer ball for Eric, the kid at the bathroom site, because they noticed that his current soccer ball could barely still be considered a soccer ball.  That kid will probably never forget that.

There’s no reason we can’t all do stuff like this all the time.

So tonight, in your small groups, talk about some ways you can show less ego and more love when we head back to Minnesota.

And it doesn’t mean giving up what you’re good at or what you like doing most.  You can use your talents for good things.

I love making videos.  But why was I making videos to sell more AXE Body Spray?  AXE represents just about everything I think is wrong with society.  Instead, I can figure out ways to make videos that glorify truth and goodness; videos that inspire people, not make fun of Lady Gaga.

I also want to be clear that I’m not doing this stuff because The Bible tells me to or because I want to go to Heaven.  Just like we don’t do good things just to get a “Surf’s Up” in front of the group at the end of the day.

I do it because it feels right.  It feels true.  I think we can all attest to that this week.

My year in Los Angeles was super fun.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.  But this— what we did this week — transcends fun.  I can honestly say there’s no place I would rather be right now than with all of you.

By washing his disciples feet, Jesus gave us an example of how we should live.  No ego.  All love.   He even knew he was going to die soon, and that is what he chose to do with one of his last hours.   It’s stories like these that blow me away the most about the New Testament.  It’s not the miracles.  If we believe that God created the entire universe from nothing, it’s not super surprising that he could turn two fish into more fish, right?  What IS surprising is that Jesus could’ve done anything he wanted to do — and he chose to wash his friends’ feet.

Clearly through this story, God doesn’t care what you do in service.  He just cares that you do it, and you do it without ego — and that you do it big.

And if you do, you will be blessed.

Thank you.

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Posted in: God