Sunday, February 4, 2024

2024-02-04, "I Am WEnough", Mark 6:1-13 (February 4, 2024)

I’m not necessarily on what you’d call the “cutting edge” of popular culture, despite my apparent youth. I usually see new movies at least a year after they come out, if not more. So, I guess by those standards, the fact that I finally watched the new Barbie movie a mere six months after it was released in theaters makes me, if not cutting edge, at least temporarily edge-adjacent. The important part is that I managed to see it before the Oscar nominations came out, just in time to watch all the drama unfold.

There’s a lot of righteous indignation about Ryan Gosling receiving a best supporting actor nomination for his portrayal of Ken while Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig were “snubbed” (to be clear, it’s less straightforward than all that – both Robie and Gerwig were nominated, just not for the categories that people expected). Honestly, though, it’s not especially surprising that Ken is getting so much attention. I mean, sure, Barbie had an enormously transformative character arc, as did America Ferrera’s character, and even Will Ferrel’s character, to an extent. But were any of THEIR transformations accompanied by an elaborately choreographed theme song AND a funny-but-relatable catchphrase? I think not. You can’t really blame the Academy for getting caught up in the “Kenergy”.[1]

On the off-chance that you’re even less “edge-adjacent” than I am, I’ll attempt to summarize Ken’s journey for you. As the movie opens in “Barbieland”, a smitten Ken is presented to the audience as little more than an accessory to Barbie, who’s more concerned with girls’ night and big blow-out parties than with her nominal boyfriend. As the narrator puts it, “Barbie has a great day every day, but Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.” During a trip into the real world with Barbie, Ken accidentally discovers something wonderful: THE PATRIARCHY. For the first time ever, he feels important, like he deserves respect, just for being him.

So, Ken resolves to bring the patriarchy back to Barbieland and let his fellow Kens (yes, in the movie, there are multiple versions of both Ken and Barbie) experience that same feeling. The Kens take over Barbie’s Dreamhouse and rename it the “Mojo Dojo Casa House”, filling it with all sorts of manly things, like mini fridges and pictures of horses. But in spite of Ken’s newly found machismo and self-confidence, Barbie still rejects him. Only now, instead of feeling benign indifference towards Ken, she actively dislikes what he’s become.

I feel I should clarify before we go any further that I’m not at any point going to suggest that Ken is some sort of Messiah figure, nor do I plan to compare Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House to the kindom of heaven. Not even a little bit. But it seems to me that in this moment, Ken may have felt something similar to what Jesus is feeling in today’s scripture reading – albeit, for VERY different reasons. As a distraught Ken breaks into a cheesy power ballad, singing, “I’m just Ken/Anywhere else, I’d be a ten,” I hear echoes of Jesus’ lament that “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own households.”

Now, of course, Ken is singing about his longing for Barbie’s attention and not his inability to perform miracles in his hometown, but – strangely – the experience at the root of each of these statements is the same. Both men know that the rest of the world sees them as extraordinary – Ken for his LITERALLY sculpted body and prototypically handsome features, and Jesus for his divinity and ability to perform miracles – but (again, for different reasons) neither of them are recognized as special in the one place they “should” be.

That, of course, is where the similarities end (if you’re even willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and see them as similarities). It takes Ken the rest of the movie to figure out something that Jesus realizes immediately. Following Barbie’s rejection, Ken goes to war against the other Kens (on the beach, of course), whom he sees as rivals for Barbie’s attention, and then he has a breakdown in the Mojo Dojo Casa/Dream House before he’s able to accept the reality of Barbie’s feelings and realize that Barbieland works best when the Barbies and the Kens use their different gifts to work together, instead of either group trying to control absolutely everything (as Ken puts it, “It was hard running stuff. I didn’t love it…To be honest, when I found out the patriarchy wasn’t about horses, I lost interest, anyway.”)

In contrast, Jesus doesn’t get sidetracked for even a minute by the fact that he’s not accepted in his hometown. Sure, he grieves, but Jesus doesn’t descend into an exquisitely choregraphed existential crisis as Ken does; instead, he keeps on doing exactly what he was doing before, with one change: he recruits help. Recognizing that there are likely going to be more places where he isn’t welcome, Jesus sends out his disciples to extend the reach of his message beyond the places he could get to by himself. He assigns each of them partners and gives them instructions, the most important of which is the very same lesson he’d just learned: there will be places and people who reject you, but you don’t have to stay with them for the sake of the message – you’re not the only one who can reach them. You’re not in this alone.

This is a lesson worth internalizing. By the end of the movie, Ken realizes that he doesn’t have to be indispensable, the best, the only, in order to have worth – “Just Ken” is more than enough. He doesn’t have to do it all, to have all the answers – neither do the disciples, and neither do we. After all, even a fully divine Jesus couldn’t reach the people in his hometown; even he needed to enlist the help of his friends to spread the Good News; surely, we shouldn’t expect to be more effective than the Anointed One himself!

The American Psychological Association defines humility, in part, as having “an accurate sense of one’s accomplishments and worth.”[2] In today’s gospel reading, Jesus shows us exactly what humility looks like: being able to make peace with your limitations while at the same time continuing to follow the call on your life. Jesus didn’t let what he wasn’t able to do stop him from doing what he WAS, and neither should we.

What seems to be natural behavior for Jesus, however, isn’t necessarily natural for the rest of us. Humility isn’t something we’re born with, and it’s certainly not something that comes easily. Just like Ken, sometimes we think far too highly of ourselves; other times, we doubt our ability to do anything right at all. Most of us wind up having to embark on a long pilgrimage before we’re able to arrive anywhere near the balance of humility. We all struggle, sometimes for years, before we realize that God didn’t create us to be all things to all people at all times. That’s hubris, and it’s never been a part of the divine plan. God created us to be just us, and God gave us the gift of one another to fill in the gaps.

This, unfortunately, means that NONE of us can escape failure. There’ll be times that we each find ourselves rejected, insulted, and ridiculed, just like Jesus and just like Ken – and it will hurt. I recall a time early in my ministry when I was angrily informed, “People like you are the reason people like me don’t come to church.” There was no rock ballad, no choreography, and certainly no beach battle following this pronouncement, but there was definitely a breakdown in my office a few minutes later. There was self-doubt. There was a bitter questioning of God’s call on my life.

But you know what? I was never going to be the person to change this person’s mind. God had other plans for my life and my ministry, plans that DID draw people into Christ’s love, that DID share the gospel, that DID touch lives – and, God willing, will continue to do so. And I have faith that somewhere out there, someone else that I’ve never met is one day going to share the gospel with this person – if they haven’t already – and this time, that person will be ready to hear it. It wasn’t the particular role I was meant to play – and that’s okay.

None of us needs to be something we’re not in order to contribute and have worth. For Ken, this epiphany comes in the form of a brand-new mantra emblazoned across his chest on a tie-dyed sweatshirt for the world to see: “I am KENough.” For us, might I be humble enough to suggest a slight variation: when we’re feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be improved, fixed, or changed in the world, let’s each remind ourselves, “I am WEnough.” What I have, what I am, is enough, because when we put all of our offerings together, WE can do incredible things. We each don’t have to convince ALL the non-believers, persuade ALL the politicians, gain ALL the new members, support ALL the ministries, all by ourselves. Whenever there’s something "I" can’t do – which there always will be – then “we” will step in and take our turn.

There’s no post-credits scene at the end of the Barbie movie filling us in on how Ken is living out his new motto – I mean, don’t be ridiculous, he’s just a TOY – but scripture does give us a bit of an epilogue to this passage. In verse 30, Mark tells us, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, ‘Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.’” There’s no jealousy, no comparison, no one-upmanship, no strategizing. Just a mutual sharing of what they’d all accomplished for the sake of the gospel, a celebration of the good work they’d done, and a personal invitation from Jesus to take a well-earned break – “it’s your turn to stop, rest, and take care of yourself now. WE’ve got this.” May you each remember to do likewise in time – because you are WEnough. Amen.


[1] For an interested (and unrelated to theology) take on Ken’s character arc, you can check out this article:

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