@Sea with Justin McRoberts is a bi-monthly interview show with culture makers and shakers. Each installment, host Justin McRoberts talks with artists, creatives, policymakers, and theologians that are striving and pushing for humanity to reach new heights.
A few years ago, in conversation with artist Dylan Mortimer, we identified what we called “3rd rail” topics; things that, when talked about (or sometimes even approached) overcharged conversations to the point of explosion; topics that blew things up between individuals as well as whole people groups. Dylan, then in his early 30s and staring a potentially early death in the face due to Cystic Fibrosis, flat out said, “I don’t have time to NOT talk about things that matter. I’d rather tap that 3rd rail and see what I can do with that energy."
Among the things that matter, things we identified as 3rd rail topics were
You know.. the stuff that life actually revolves around.
Since that conversation, I’ve tried to emulate Dylan’s posture and lean into these conversations. That’s part of what this podcast is about.
Then, since the 2016 election, I’ve found myself far more reticent to approach conversations folks to consider “political.” And while I’m not alone in that sentiment, the real problem is that … I really like political conversation. In fact, as I see things, to talk “politics” is really to talk about how we live with one another. Which is to say, at least on some level, there might not be a convention that isn’t "political."
Eugene Cho’s most recent book “Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk” is very thoughtful effort in the direction of leading people to reach out and touch that third rail, knowing full-well the power it holds but not letting the FEAR of that power distort the way we relate to the people near us; our neighbors.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Eugene Cho. I think you will, too.
Check it out.
Levi The Poet
Levi Macallister and I share in a sad and strange fraternity of sorts - sons who have lost their fathers tragically. We also share in the way we went about processing that particular trauma.
Which is to move toward music and poetry. It’s not just us. It’s the way a lot of us process trauma. Process things we’re not sure how to get our head around. It’s actually the gift of music, the gift of poetry. The gift of a lot of great art is that it actually forms in us the possibilities, the potential to name with new names, things we could not otherwise have named.
I’ve really enjoyed watching him do what he does. Not just in relationship to his trauma but the relationship to the culture around him, in relationship to his marriage, and his religion.
I really enjoyed this conversion with Levi, the Poet, and I expect you will as well.
Check it out.
One of the hallmarks of a good or great artist is the ability to reinvent. The capacity to, after finding success with a certain formula or expression, change things up; even essential things. Because that artist is different.
Latifah Phillips has been writing, re-writing, and reinventing for well over a decade. She is Page CXVI and Moda Spira, And, over those years, she has postured and re-postured her self to ensure that what she makes meets the moment she is in.
Her work is among the work that finds me in the moment I’m in, including her most recent project, entitled “All,” and released under the moniker Page CXVI. Songs from the project are featured through our convention and I think you’ll enjoy all of it.
Check it out.
It was 1997 in Palo Alto, CA. I remember sitting 7th row from the stage, listening to a man named Tony Campolo talk about loving people well. He talked about neighbors and kids. He told a story about Jesus I’d heard before touching and healing a leper. Then he started talking about poverty, the sacred responsibility Jesus followers have, specifically to children left behind by political and economic systems.
I was convinced. I was moved. I’d heard these stories before. I’d heard talks about global poverty before. But something about Tony’s delivery… captured me. There was no guilt in me, just a clear and resonant awakening to harder, darker realities about which I could, and therefore should, do something. Also, a clear picture of the people in those realities… not as potential objects of my generosity, but as human beings.
Years later, I found myself holding a microphone, trying to replicate what I’d seen and heard from Tony Campolo. And I couldn’t because it’s hard. Like any great art, being a convincing storyteller can look easy from a distance and feel like the most natural thing in the world. But the work that goes into becoming one and the skillset required are both rarities.
I’ve worked at that skill for well over a decade, and, in that time, I’ve seen a lot of storytellers whose job and intention was to move listeners to redemptive action. Shaun Groves is, in my opinion, the best there is.
A songwriter for many years, a faithful and loving dad and husband, Shaun Groves’ capacity to lovingly capture an audience and they call them to action is unparalleled.
I like learning from his work, and I like calling him a friend.
Check it out.
It is hard to be a pastor.
In fact, in the two decades I’ve worked as a songwriter, storyteller, author, advocate and a pastor, the weight and difficulty of the entire list before it, pales in comparison to how difficult I’ve found it to pastor wisely and lovingly. So, I find myself in sincere awe of women and men who do that job well and with joy.
Sarah Heath is a writer and a podcaster. She delves into woodworking and restoration projects. She is also pastor of First United Methodist in Costa Mesa, CA. She does these things in a way that invites viewers, listeners, and readers to enter in, celebrate, and learn. Which is to say, she does them with joy.
I enjoyed my conversation with her. I think you will as well.
Albert Camus writes about ethics, “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”
And while I think we’d be hard-pressed to find someone who denies the importance of ethics, the practice and application of ethics can get tricky when related to cultures and disciplines in which we’re not as knowledgable.
Specifically, I'm thinking of the world of science and medicine. Conversations about right actions or decisions are often clouded by conflicting analysis of data points between voices whose degrees and expertise seem well beyond or above the capacities of “average” folks like myself. How do I talk about whether or not a procedure or medication is good or bad when I don’t understand the first thing about the medicine or the science behind it?
Meanwhile, ethical decisions are made regularly in those spaces, sometimes by folks who don't recognize those decisions as ethical at all.
Jennifer Lahl is the founder and president of The Center For Bioethics and Culture Network. Her work means diving headfirst into the oftentimes murky and turbulent waters where Science, religion, and politics mix together, a place most folks quite honestly would rather avoid or even run from.
As you’ll learn in my conversation with her, Jennifer Lahl isn’t most folks.