STH Student Tackles Questions of Faith, Through Comics
Gaining a better understanding of what it means to be human
07.18.2013By Jessica Ullian (GRS’09)
Andrew Tripp (STH’09,’16) says that the superheroes popularized in comic books have much to teach us about what it means to be human. Photo by Ryan Hyde
Andrew Tripp believes in the power of stories, and his favorites tackle questions about Christianity, morality, and humanity. The Book of Job is one. Spider-Man is another.
“Peter Parker is finding out what it means to be a good person and how to use your talents for the common good,” says Tripp (STH’09,’16), a doctoral candidate in the School of Theology’s Center for Practical Theology, of the teenager behind Spider-Man’s mask. “There’s a huge segment of our culture that’s not religious, but has its moral cultivation met through that story.”
Comic books aren’t the core of Tripp’s research—he’s writing his dissertation about urban congregations with strong antipoverty programs—but they’re far more than a side interest. The self-proclaimed nerd is fascinated by the pop-culture narratives that people explore when they turn away from the church—and in using those narratives to understand how people think about right and wrong.
“As America grows more secular, there’s a need for clergy to understand how the unchurched have had their moral development,” Tripp says. “When you’re pastorally caring for someone, and you’re helping them integrate into a healthier story, you need to know the stories that have shaped their lives.”
Andrew Tripp’s favorite stories, among them the Book of Job and Spider-Man, tackle questions about Christianity, morality, and humanity. Photo courtesy of the School of Theology
His interest in the issue is more than academic. Raised in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, he found himself drifting away from the church at the end of high school, after his mother died. Still wrestling with questions about spirituality, he found solace in comics, where each character seemed to be struggling with issues he found familiar: Iron Man constantly battled his personal weaknesses while trying to represent peace and justice. The Fantastic Four’s Thing appeared impenetrably strong, but mourned for the loss of his humanity.
“It gave me a place to play,” Tripp says. “The superheroes and the comeback characters spoke to something profound about what it meant to be human.”
He studied chemistry in college and took a job in information technology after graduation. But he found himself longing for the sense of community a church provided, and he joined a congregation near his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. As he became involved with the church’s committees and community service programs, he learned how the older parishioners had made service to the needy a priority throughout their lives and careers.
“Christian love can be such a nebulous term, but the Bible stories concretize what love is: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,” Tripp says. “And in a community that lives out the stories, the wisdom we have about moral discernment comes from those stories.”
His “call moment,” when it came, was inspired by the many members of his congregation who asked him which seminary he’d be attending—before he’d even applied. “The world was saying, ‘This is for you,’” he says. After hearing the stories of the church elders, he was finally ready to begin writing his own.
Tripp, who earned a master’s degree at STH before continuing on to the doctoral program, hasn’t strayed far from the path that brought him to divinity school: his dissertation focuses on three affluent Boston-area churches that run homeless shelters in their sanctuaries and invite the homeless to participate in regular worship. They’re taking Bible verses about economic responsibility very literally, he says, in a way that many affluent congregations do not.
“I want to see if the way they tell the Christian stories differs and affects how they live out the Christian story,” he says.
Throughout his studies at STH, and his work as a hospital and hospice chaplain, he’s also found a rich life beyond the page. In his conversations with parishioners and patients, he’s come to value the discussions that emerge around Scripture as much as the Scripture itself. Much as The Avengers helped him develop moral reasoning, the conversations he’s had have helped him refine it.
“When Scripture’s only read as a book of truth statements, it reduces it. What’s important isn’t one side or the other; it’s the discussion,” he says. “When people have that conversation, the many different voices and many different minds will have a greater wisdom than any one could have.”
That’s not to say he’ll ever leave comic books behind. He contributed a chapter to Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels (Continuum, 2010), edited by BU lecturer A. David Lewis (GRS’12) and Christine Hoff Kraemer (GRS’08), and remains an enthusiastic consumer—and critic—of the ongoing Marvel Comics movie franchises. True to form, he prefers the human struggle of Iron Man to the glamorous deities of The Avengers.
“I’m never going to be Thor,” admits Tripp, referring to the superhuman strength and powers over nature possessed by Marvel’s thunder god character. “But some days, I can be Iron Man.”
Glenn has published his 7th book, Remember My Name in Sheboygan: Sheboygan Revisited.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung announced today his intention to appoint Rev. Grace Cajiuat, at the request of the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), to the General Commission on Religion and Race as Training and Development Specialist, beginning August 1, 2013. Rev. Cajiuat has been serving the Wisconsin Conference UMC as Coordinator of Multicultural Ministries. She and husband Chris Herigstad will be moving to the Washington, D.C. area where GCORR is based.
Rev. Cajiuat will be filling a new position for the agency and the denomination. In her new role, she will be seeking to respond to the needs and issues of The United Methodist Church to ensure racial equity, diversity and intercultural competency at every level of the Church. As the Training and Development Specialist, she will develop and implement a comprehensive training program that will effectively increase knowledge within the Church of intercultural differences and competencies. Rev. Cajiuat will be responsible for leading the efforts of the agency in partnership with Annual Conferences, local churches, and denominational entities to function in multicultural environments, and developing action plans for implementing knowledge, awareness and skills at the individual and denominational level.
By creating the Coordinator of Multicultural Ministries position, Wisconsin has been at the forefront of this movement toward equity through cultural competency. Rev. Cajiuat’s new appointment continues the ministry she started in the Wisconsin Conference, only now including all U.S. Annual Conferences and all Central Conferences in the Philippines, Europe, and Africa.
Recent Alum, Alex Froom (STH ’12, SSW ’12) was featured in the Navajo Times for his work as Executive Director of the Rio Puerco Community Center in Fort Defiance! Keep up the good work, Alex, we are proud of you! You can view the article here!
Rev. Dr. Jung Sun Oh, pastor of the Bethany First United Methodist Church in Roslindale, Massachusetts received The Wilbur C. Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching “Preaching the whole Gospel” on Saturday June 15th during the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Rev. Oh said, “I receive this award with our church members who not only loved me and my family but also reshaped my being, my becoming, and my theology.” His sermon title was “You did it to Me” and scriptures were Matthew 25: 31-46 and John 12:1-8. Rev. Oh finished his sermon by singing a Korean song, ” With Love: Love Shines a Light in the darkest places.” Rev. Oh is a member of the School of Theology Dean’s Advisory Board and is active in the STH community.
EVANSTON, Illinois, May 2013 – Today, the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Board of Trustees unanimously elected Dr. Lallene J. Rector to be the next president of Garrett-Evangelical. Currently serving as the seminary’s vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, Rector will succeed Dr. Philip A. Amerson, who will retire on December 31 after nearly eight years as president. Rector, an extraordinary scholar and practitioner, shares a deep love for the church and possesses the perfect mix of skills, education, experience, and faith to further Garrett-Evangelical’s mission to prepare bold, spiritual leaders for the church, academy, and world.
For the full article click here.
Our alum, Judge Martha E. Bellinger joins IVAMS, one of Southern California’s’ leading Alternative Dispute Resolution firms.
Read more about her involvement here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/3/prweb10543591.htm
Our Alum, Larisa Waya is doing a new and wonderful thing in the community. In addition to being a fine chaplain she is the owner of a company that designs and makes robes for clergy women and women justices. Her company is called Clergy Couture and is located right here in Brockton, Mass.
Here is her website: www.clergycouture.com
An article written by our own Gil Caldwell!
Reverend Dr. Jung Sun Oh, pastor of the Bethany First UMC Church and BU alumnus, recently published an article, “Debating is Over: Time to Act Boldly.” It has been posted in his conference website and websites of National MFSA (Methodist Federation of Social Action) and New England Chapter MFSA. It is also available here: Debate is Over.
In other news, Rev. Dr. Jung Sun Oh has started a website in honor of his wife and children: http://koreanonearth.com/
He is celebrating 28 years of marriage, 23 years of ministry in the US and
16 years of theological education (MTS in Seoul Korea and Emory and Boston University)
and 26 years of my theological works. He thanks God for his family and God’s grace.