Lessons from Dick Grayson

It was a couple of months ago when I wrote a less than exhaustive list of the books that have influenced me in my life up until then. The list included, for the most part, conventional books, but there were a couple less than conventional entries that I considered adding to it. In this post, I am going to take a look at one of those less conventional influences.

Comic book adaptations have now been the rage for long enough that people are actively wondering how much longer people can realistically maintain an interest in them. Their predecessors in their brightly colored paper form have had an interesting influence on me, and my Christian walk as well.

You could argue, and I’m sure some people do, about whether Superman or Batman is the true flagship character of DC Comics. To me, there is another character that sticks out in my mind as a worthy representative of the brand, that character is Dick Grayson.

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Both Batman and Superman have evolved and changed over the decades that their books have been in print, but Dick Grayson has gotten to do something that neither of those characters has every really gotten an opportunity to do. He grew up.

In that simple act, something that we all naturally do, Dick Grayson is allowed to represent the history and mythology of an entire fictional universe. In a genre that populates itself with giant cataclysmic events that often fail to significantly change the status quo very much or for very long, an orphan boy was adopted by Bruce Wayne, allowed to become his impossibly young sidekick, grow into a young man who was a respected leader among other young heroes in the Teen Titans, and then become a grown man who seeks to make a mark on the world for himself, crawling out from under the shadow of his mentor as Nightwing.

How was this transformative for me?

I didn’t grow up reading comics. I watched those cartoons from the 90’s, with DC holding up way better than Marvel by the way, but I was never really immersed in that world in any meaningful way.

The lesson that picking up a stack of Nightwing comics taught me was that history and context are vitally important. In order to fully appreciate what is happening in a comic book that was released around the year 2000, you would need to be well versed on the detailed biography of a character that has been around for sixty years.

In that way, superhero comic books prepared me for reading the Scriptures. My childhood and early adult life was also fairly bereft of exposure to the things of God, so the first time that I opened the Bible I had the familiar feeling of being dropped into a world that I had little knowledge of. If you have a reference Bible handy, open it to any page and you will be confronted with dozens of contextual references that are meant to help you to flesh out your understanding of the given passage.

Reading the Bible without intimate knowledge of the historical, cultural and thematic context of the writing is like trying to read Grant Morrison’s run on Batman without Wikipedia pulled up on your phone, your understanding will be flat at best and in places you will find it to be downright incomprehensible. Seriously, look up Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

One of those common boasts that we allow ourselves when we write resumes is to point to our “attention to detail”. What I really mean when I use that phrase, is that I have an obsessive fascination with minutiae, which is a personality defect that has served me well, both in getting to know sidekicks and ultimately our savior.

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15 thoughts on “Lessons from Dick Grayson

  1. That picture totally cracked me up. I’m easily amused. Great post. I wouldn’t say I’m a total theologian/history buff, but I did a few studies with my kids on the bible. i’m sure there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the background and I could do better in this area. One thing we did was study the jewish traditions. We even celebrated the Sabbath and a few other feasts the way the Jewish people would have. It was quite memorable for me and the rest of our family. We also have a book that talks about the historical aspects of the time period, so as we read a chapter of the Bible, we’d study the culture of that time period. I think it was called “Journey through the bible”. It was interesting and helped us view the time and culture–not just read things and not know the background of it.

    • I referenced the Jewish New Testament Commentary in the post that I talk about up top, it’s a really good resource. I know that I have a bunch of gaps myself, even in my obsessive nature the Bible is a book that I will never connect all the dots in. Finding the connections and filling in the gaps is one of my real pleasures in life.

    • Oh, and being the total dork that I am I shared a similar version of that picture in the past on facebook with the following caption;

      “We all grow up, we can’t stay LittlePeople forever.”

    • Funny thing, Elle.. as we honor the Feasts of the LORD.. like Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits, we actually celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.. as they fell on those respective feast days..

      except the Church was a month off this year in celebrating Resurrection Sunday.. or “Easter” as we’ve been taught to call it..

      but that’s okay.. the Church is always late by three months in celebrating Christ’s Birthday..

      as understood through the Jewish lunar calendar we see Christ’s Birthday as falling on Tishri 1 (3759), i.e., on the Feast of Trumpets, our modern day Rosh Hashanah.. which means “Christmas” really falls this year on October 2.. on a feast of the LORD and not on December 25 (that’s historically a feast to a different god)..

      truly, Rosh Hashanah’s X’s birthday.. it’s encoded both in Scripture (Rev 12:1-2) and from there in the stars of the heavens (as we look back through time using Stellarium technology)..

      • Well that’s a mouthful! Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the feasts and celebrations, I don’t feel bound by them. They are observances–to remember God. Advent, for instance, is to remember “the coming” of the Christ. I do sometimes celebrate advent with bible readings or we do a Jesus tree in our house with ornaments that point to specific passages of the OT and NT passages that speak of Christ coming. Again, I don’t feel bound by these things but I do enjoy remembering what the gospel is all about. I just don’t feel like any of it is something “I have to do” in order to know Jesus, but it does help and set our minds on the fact that He is with us and the story that has taken place is something we get to be apart of.

        • and that’s the beautiful thing about being Christians.. we’re not bound to keep the feasts in the manner that the OT Law proscribed (as Romans Fourteen frees us from such ritual observances).. Yet those feast days do foreshadow the redemptive scheme of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ.. and if it is true that He was born on Tishri 1, as all signs point to, wouldn’t it be cool to do advent just prior to Rosh Hashanah? what a witness this would be to our Jewish friends and neighbors!

          • you know.. i find myself celebrating the seasonal equinoxes and solstices more than any of the other (non solar) holidays.. but.. nevertheless i trust i’m still in spirit and truth a faithful worshiper of Jesus Christ and our Father God..

          • most my life i’ve celebrated my new year in accordance to the Jewish calendar.. not on January 1.. cool to know now that it’s also Christ’s birthday..

  2. Good post. I’ll have to give you a pass on the DC love here …. LOL. I’m a Marvel guy. Though I did have a few Batman and Superman comics as a kid.

    The next theological level is to discuss how Superman represents Christ/Moses … but then, what does Batman represent?

    Many of the DC heroes harken to the Greek and Roman gods, while Marvel, even with Norse and Greek gods, tended to be more grounded in science (radioactive spiders, super soldier serum, gamma radiation, ion shower in space).

    I find, though, that Captain America is a great representation of the Christian – he is transformed by an act of Grace that gives him the power to fight the good fight … and he will stand for truth no matter who stands with him, or who stands against him. and he has the impenetrable shield that deflects all the darts of the enemy. Fun times.

    • If I had to look through a theological lens, I think you can ascribe salvation to the identity of Superman, but for Batman I would look more toward justice or judgement.

      If I remember correctly Michael Chabon’s book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay ties the roots behind Superman to the Jewish myth of the golem rather than the messiah… having nothing to back it up, but interesting anyway.

      I have gotten into some Marvel, chiefly Spiderman and Captain America, but I also dig the original run of Runaways too. The movies are fun as well for the most part.

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