Comedy Sex God and me: A review of Pete Holmes’ book

My journey to Comedy Sex God began with Rob Bell, which is fitting because he’s the author of Sex God.

Similar themes, but less funny.

Rob is the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI (not to be confused with Mars Hill Church in Seattle). I used to religiously download his weekly sermons, and was feeling a Bell-shaped void after he decided to take off for Los Angeles to pursue other ventures.

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It was 2013 and were planning a trip to Ottawa at the time, so I did a search for Rob Bell in my podcast app to help keep me entertained on the long drive. I came across his name listed beside this funny little logo and was interested to see how the author of Love Wins could make it even weirder. As it turned out, that book was the impetus for this podcast host to reach out to Rob, and I quickly learned that I actually had a lot in common with Pete Holmes.

We were both raised in the church. We both went to small Christian universities (I even knew people who went to his). We both liked to make jokes, although he’s admittedly a million times better at comedy than I could ever dream to me. We were both clearly fans of Bell’s, and welcomed his work as opposed to bidding him farewell like so many others still caught in the throes of evangelicalism.

I ended up listening to that episode more than once, and You Made It Weird has been part of my weekly routine ever since. I love the silly episodes, the spiritual elements of it, the Friends of Rob Bell series, the comedy guests, the inside baseball tales from the worlds of stand up and show business. I rarely take a week off.

On top of that, I devoured clips from Pete’s foray into late night television, his HBO specials, and especially the recently-cancelled Crashing, which I loved for all the same reasons I keep downloading the podcast.

So when Pete first announced he was working on a book, I knew it would be right up my alley.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy from Harper Collins and made my way through it over the course of a few days. Here’s a few thoughts on this delightful piece of work.

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I was already pretty familiar with Pete’s story from all of the above, but I really resonated with his early struggles with the church, particularly as it pertains to purity culture, the sins that tend to befall teenage boys, dealing with that guilt and shame, responding to countless altar calls and repeating the process over and over again.

Like I said, I too went to a Christian college, began to explore new/old ideas, and eventually left the church I grew up in.

Our stories aren’t quite the same (my wife didn’t leave me for a small Italian man, thank God), but I weave in and out of phases of deconstruction and reconstruction as a result of life circumstances, having my eyes opened to new ways of thinking while shelving old, harmful beliefs about faith and God’s role in the world in which we live.

I can’t say I’ve gone so far as to have my mind opened by psychedelics, and likely never will. Pete’s deep dive into Ram Dass is kind of where our paths veer most obviously. I’m interested in him and will check out his teachings, but I won’t be humping on a plane to Hawaii anytime soon. At the same time, I’ve kind of found a guru in absentia in Richard Rohr – another previous YMIW guest and a fave of Pete’s – and often think about planning a retreat to New Mexico to meet him.

That’s kind of the point of Comedy Sex God, really. We’re all on different paths, but we all come from the same Oneness, and the more in tune we become with it and each other, the better off we all will be.

Pete referenced Bell in this book, and I know he has a relationship with others I admire, namely The Liturgists, David Bazan, and Rohr himself. Again, different streams, but all flowing from the same grand river.

The sections on meditation and breathing and Awareness were particularly meaningful for me, and I know these are practices I need incorporate into my life. Thanks for another kick in the ass, Pete.

I should add Pete is a really great writer, and both his comedy and his warmth come off the pages in droves. This book is hilarious, and I laughed out loud on several occasions; it’s also deeply moving, and I teared up more than once. It’s above all incredibly honest and vulnerable, and Pete’s authenticity is what draws so many to his work, myself very much included.

Right off the top, Pete writes “My mom always wanted me to be a youth pastor. When I become a comedian, she said, ‘Close enough.'” I’m a grown man with a wife and 3 sons, and Pete’s inner youth pastor speaks to me on a regular basis. It will come as no surprise that I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I hope you all read it, love it, and come to admire Pete as much as I do.

Book review: Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor

After years of serving as an Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor began teaching Religions of the World at a small liberal arts college in Georgia. She guided her students through Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, discovering more about herself and her faith along the way.Image result for holy envy

She recounts stories about this in her new book, Holy Envy. The title speaks volumes; only does she allude to be very much attracted to elements of religions other than her own, she sees holiness in all of them. We are all created in the image of God, and religion – at its best – is humanity’s attempt to figure out what means.

There’s a million different ways to go about it, and certainly a fair amount of diversity within Christianity itself. Regardless of what you believe about God and Jesus, few object to the notion of a divine spark within us, and the call to love. As the author writes:

Yet this, in a nutshell, is the monuymental spiritual challenge of living with religious difference – and more centrally than that – of living with anyone that does not happen to be me. “Love God in the person standing right in front of you,” the Jesus of my understanding says, “or forget the whole thing, because if you cannot do that, then you are just going to keep making shit up.”

Amen.

We don’t need to be afraid of the differences between us; a lot of it comes down to using different languages and symbols to try and articulate the same things.

We are all made in God’s image, called to love each other and take care of this world. It’s OK to open our eyes and look around at what others are doing, and we don’t have to be afraid of otherness.

All that matters in the end is how we loved each other.

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for hooking me up with a review copy of this book.

The time hockey made me cry

There’s nothing wrong with crying.

I don’t tear up as much as I used to, having said that. My first memory of crying comes from kindergarten, when I slipped on some ice outside the school, busted up my chin and had to get stitches. In Grade 3 or 4, someone tossed a pencil at me and it landed in my glasses, poking me in the eye. I cried then, and was so embarrassed when the teacher helped wipe my nose that I yelled “HONK” into the tissue.

I absolutely wept when Lauren decided to work at a different camp during the summer we were first dating, which is quite embarrassing in retrospect. I cried on our wedding day, when each of our sons was born, when our youngest was undergoing a procedure at 4 months to have a heart issue repaired, when Lauren was diagnosed with breast cancer and many times during her treatment.

These days, I mostly get emotional watching an episode of This Is Us and when one of our boys tells us a story from school about kids not including them.

Hockey has only made me cry once, as far as I can recall. It was back in 2011, and the Bruins had just won a Game 7. They did that three times that year, and the one that got me emotional might not be the one you’d expect.

I had been a Boston hockey fan for over two decades by that point, really coming to love them in the early 90s thanks to Cam Neely, Adam Oates and Ray Bourque. In fact, one of the big pushes to cheer for this team was the fact my older sister was mad about Edmonton, and I took it upon myself to passionately cheer for the enemy during 1990 Stanley Cup Final. That didn’t go well for me, but the black and gold stuck.

The team hadn’t attained much success in the intervening years, and the previous year had featured the infamous collapse against Philadelphia.

Their run in 2011 almost didn’t happen, seeing as Montreal had gone up 2-0 in the opening round courtesy of two road win. The Bruins fought back and pushed the series to seven games, winning in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton.

No tears to that point, though.

Those would come in Round 3, actually. The Bruins were once again faced with a Game 7 on home ice, this time against Tampa Bay. Vancouver had already won out West, and as the Presidents’ Trophy winners, were sitting pretty as the Cup favourites awaiting their next combatants. Be that as it may (or mayn’t, as it happened), all I wanted was for the Bruins to have a shot at winning it all.

The game remained painstakingly scoreless until late in the third period, when Horton once again clinched it off a sweet feed from David Krejci. The Bruins held on, and as the celebrations began, I started crying.

 

 

We had a 9-month old baby, and he and Lauren were both sleeping at the time, so I went out into the backyard, raised my hands in the air, and let out whispery, teary, celebratory cries into the atmosphere. If my neighbours had looked out the window right then, they would have thought I was nuts.

It seems silly, looking back. Crying over a game played by people I’ve never met. I was certainly overtired at the time (see note about baby), and I had never really seen my favourite team advance to the Final with years of disappointment behind me. The fact it was up in the air until the very end set it apart from Game 7 of the next round, which was won with far less dramatics and was enjoyed my yours truly with smiles and beers.

I’m not sure it will ever happen again, either. Even if the Bruins were to go all the way this year or in the future, I’m not in that space anymore. My head and heart don’t have as much emotional real estate for fandom as they used to, and my time writing full time about hockey helped me learn to appreciate good stories all over the NHL and therefore become less invested in one particular outcome.

Still, I’ll never forget that moment.

Horton from Krejci forever.