(Photo courtesy of Brighton Galvan)
The Art of Being An ‘Optimisfit’
An Interview with Ben Courson on His Newest Book Release
By Sarah Komisky
Definition of a Misfit: “Something that fits badly.” According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, this has a negative connotation, but look up its synonym “nonconformist,” and the words individualist, free spirit, and original are all grouped and categorized with the word, “misfit.” I guess it’s not such a bad thing. Actually, it’s a positive. Take a look at history and words like “classic,” “legendary,” “iconic,” and “trendy” first came from people who didn’t want to conform to the status quo (AKA misfits). Considered a little “strange” or “out of the ordinary” for their time, they were the ones we became attracted to because of their differences, who are now a part of our history curriculum, pop culture, the starters of movements, and the people who added beauty for us to enjoy for generations. But who would you pick to be the ultimate misfit? For Ben Courson, the answer is easy – Jesus Christ.
Several months ago, I first spoke with the founder of Hope Generation, who let me in on a little surprise in our interview. It seemed to organically overflow from a place of pure excitement. He was writing a new book. He couldn’t help but gush about it speaking from a place of passion. Reflecting back, this made sense because to know Ben is to know that he is extremely passionate about proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ. For those who catch the vision, it’s also exciting. So, I bursted with the obvious, “I can’t wait to read it!”
Birthed out of the interview was a new collaboration. Both of us believed so much in each other’s dreams that partnership just happened naturally. In the months we’ve worked together, Ben has become a regular guest writer at Marked Ministry, a teammate, and friend. Through these months, I’ve observed that the message of his new book, entitled “Optimisfits”, wasn’t just a one-time mountaintop experience or happenstance, but more of a way of living in which he wholeheartedly embraced as a result of encountering the God of hope.
Hear Ben at a speaking event and you’ll get Bible exposition, humor, wit, a love for science, and amazing facts (such as the of size of arctic penguins or the wonder of anglerfish), but the driving force in it all is his deep devotion to God that overflows from a personal place. Hope is not given without talking about when he himself was hopeless. Therefore, he is willing to admit his imperfections (something I greatly admire), one being that depression is still a very real struggle if not continually combated by hopeful thoughts as shared in our most recent interview. It’s this genuine quality coupled with his sheer exuberance for life that causes everyone to want to meet him.
I’ve experienced this in person when I’ve met up with Ben. In these times, I got a sneak peek into his world and the life he leads. I’d liken it to being with the cool kid in school. As we were shooting photos for an upcoming issue, a mom with her son recognized the speaker outside and erupted with excitement, “Hi Ben!!!!” In between a pose on a ladder, he cheerfully laughed, maneuvered his way down, eager to greet the family with the little boy. I watched Ben do his thing as they told him stories of the times they’ve heard him speak and how it impacted their lives. This eight-year-old’s upward gaze at the six-foot- something speaker was priceless. Snap a selfie and then back to photos before someone on the street began filming as we walked back to the event. Yep. That’s life with Ben.
As I waited to talk to him at another event, I saw him move in and out of the barrage of people giving hellos, high fives, small encouragements, fist pumps, and photos to each one at the venue. He would stop and take in each story of how Hope Generation blessed someone or took a few minutes to catch up with others. In all the craziness, he found me, gave me a hug, and began to connect about the magazine. Soon, he put his fist on his chin and rested his elbow on his arm as if to focus in and listen intently as we conferenced. Words of affirmation for what I was doing was given before heading out to another engagement, accompanied with one final fist pump.
Being intentional is simply a part of who Ben Courson is. Although he would argue that he’s not the greatest at it, I would beg to differ.
On the flipside of his quirky, silly, fun-loving self is someone who is willing to also be open about his imperfections. Facing his own pain in life, Ben shares, “My weakness of depression is now my greatest strength because now I can help people who themselves are struggling because it’s no longer just hear my words, it’s touch my wounds; which is much more powerful.”
When I personally sat at one of his speaking events hearing his story of overcoming depression and a suicide attempt, I was moved to ask Ben to write about it. When I asked him, the answer was an immediate “Yes.” Together we talked about how to best address the subject. I suggested the path of vulnerability. My heart was for readers to see his human side in order to connect. He listened. Again, he agreed, willing to write on personal depression. Together, we worked to mold what became the piece, “Own Your Oddness.” The final article I was honored to receive was a dedicated work, committed to honesty; gold from the fire. The response struck a major chord, gaining the most attention out of all his articles thus far on our website and on social media. Beauty had come from ashes.
In this partnership I’ve been privileged to hear bits and pieces of this “Optimisfits” message lived out vibrantly in color both in real time and through his written words in monthly posts. So, when August came around, I circled back with Ben regarding the status of this much anticipated book. When he told me the pre-sale launch date, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to help promote it. Hence, this interview.
After releasing several in-house books, “Optimisfits” is the catalyst to a new endeavor as his first major and global release, but also a realized dream fulfilled from his teenage years.
At seventeen when Ben began to really hone into his calling, his vocalization of this hopeful project with dreams of TV, radio, speaking, and writing was a bit misunderstood. In his words, “It sounded a bit maniacal, and maybe even egotistical, but I was like, ‘No, this is what God called me to do.’ I don’t think people understood Joseph when he said, ‘You’re going to bow down to me,’ but that was his dream. That was his dream at seventeen and in the same way, at seventeen I did have a dream that I would have an impact on people that was a national, global thing.”
Upon the occurrence of these events Ben notes, “It confirmed that God’s dreams for me are not subjected to what the system says I can or cannot do.”
For Ben, the rebellion he talks about openly in his book was a personal one away from what was somber, legalistic, and conventional saying, “The Bible is always talking about having these two systems – the world system and religious system and they’re both colluded together. There’s this amalgamation, and confederation, this conglomeration and the congregation. The Roman Empire and the Pharisees teamed up. The religious establishment teamed with the political system to kill Jesus. There comes a time in our life like corporate or the religious pecking order of the day and the hierarchy, just really doesn’t do it for us anymore. So, what we need is something more freeing and that is the ‘Rebel With a Cause,’ not the ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’ So, for me, I never fit into the church pastor box. And my whole argument is we can rebel toward something beautiful and hopeful and good rather than rebelling toward nihilism and despair and making dumb decisions that we’re going to regret for the rest of our lives.”
Defined by Ben as “a play on the words, optimistic, and misfits,’’ this trailblazer has adopted the mantra of standing out versus fitting in. Therefore, being a “professional fun-hopper” with a desire to “live for a living” is the goal. Ben isn’t okay with settling for less and wants to take hold of everything life has to offer with Christ. The mundane or mediocre is not optional. Instead, he opts to be an “Optimisfit.”
In this journey, literature has also played a role in the creation of his book. As an avid reader, Ben took a look at classic novels he dubbed, “Rebel Literature.” He explains, “Whether you’re talking about Winston Smith in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ or whether you’re talking about ‘Brave New World’ and John the Savage versus Lenina. Whether you’re talking about ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac and Sal Paradise and beat poets, the thing these characters all have in common is they really didn’t like the system and they defied the high-ranking officers of the establishment. This really reached me in the deep places. It didn’t just skim off the top, but this stuff for me, cut to the quick.”
Continuing, he connects the dots with the Bible and first century Jesus followers that created a “rebel movement,” that he believes people can sometimes lose today in current culture. On the subject he says, “People think, ‘Oh, well maybe I need to just paint by the number, color in the lines, tow the party line.’ My argument in this book is to follow Jesus is to be a misfit and a rebel just like the earlier followers of the Way.”
Unafraid to be himself, Ben marches to the beat of his own drum where skateboarding, eating Gushers, enthusiastically jumping when he speaks, and going on “adventures with God and adventures with squad” is just a part of life.
But the Ben you see in public is also very much the Ben in private. Joy isn’t a veneer but a byproduct of someone who is genuinely grateful. After being healed from a dark season of depression that spanned ten years, Ben is adamant about not hiding his enthusiasm.
He notes, “I’m just super excited about life and super excited about this message of hope that the good news isn’t balanced out or watered down by bad news. This is really good news! Do you want the good news first? Or the good news first? This really was good news to the early real, anti-establishment rebel movement of Jesus followers.”
Looking at Jesus as the “ultimate rebel,” Ben points out some of the qualities that bring out these characteristics in the Son of God. These he believes are evident in the Bible but not realized by a of lot of people today and are therefore at the center of his book. Such examples include being tried by the state and convicted of treason while ultimately being executed by capital punishment by the Roman empire. He also talks about the early Jesus followers being “anti-establishment” giving a few examples of their rebellion.
He states, “In the book of Revelation [chapter 4] it says, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.’ The twenty-four elders and the beast, the post-apocalyptic literature of John (the type of literature we don’t use anymore, the style of writing we don’t use anymore). When he said that, it is actually a same phrase they would say to Caesar Domitian. John [the Apostle] takes that same phrase and he writes it about the Lord on his throne. So they would say, okay if that was in a rap battle; you just got owned Caesar!”
He adds, “And there’s another instance where, for example in Luke, it says that Jesus ascended up to heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. That would have struck a chord with the first century Romans because in their understanding and belief system, the emperor Caesar had ascended up to the heavens to sit at the right hand of the gods. When they’re writing things like this, it is very dangerous, dangerous content. Because, it was very much subverting the power of the Roman empire and bringing about a kingdom that was not of this world. The reason Jesus was being crucified because he was taking on the title ‘King of the Jews’ that was the indictment above his head in Latin and Greek and Hebrew. Latin was the language of the Roman empire of politics, Greek was the language of Philosophy and Metaphysics and Hebrew was the language of Judaism and Religion. That’s what the Old Testament was written in. So, it’s saying, He’s the King of Politics, He’s the King of Religion, He’s the King of Philosophy, hashtag Loki world domination vibes.”
To clarify, Ben reminds readers that Jesus followers never resorted to violence but did say it was better for them to obey God than obey the authorities of man. He shares, “Ultimately, they were taught to pray for the king and to love the people in the establishment, but to be in the world, but not of it.”
Not fitting in is something he is okay with. Feeling pressure to live out the “American Dream,” is a subject he adamantly wants to address because of it’s link to depression and anxiety. Instead, he wants others to vision cast with him by living out the dreams God placed in their hearts rather than letting society dictate them.
“You have more to you than that and you have more in you than that. You’re not a cog in the system, you’re a child of God, a different kind of cog (acronym: Child of God), your Savior. When you live that way, nobody says you have to conform.”
When asked about how he handles the haters he responds, “Jesus said, ‘I don’t receive honor from men.’ He said, ‘Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me.’ I just think, there comes a time where I’m like okay, well, people can put me down, but they can’t take me down. Winston Churchill said, ‘If you have enemies, good, it means you stood up for something sometime in your life.’”
He continues “If you’re going to fight for a cause, you got to realize, okay wait, I will have enemies, so what is my response? I’m going to love the heavens right into them. I’m not going to back down from being a person of conviction and I’m not going to result to being a person of convenience. If I am going to upset anyone, I do hope it would be the pharisees. I’m going to love them but I’m not going to cater to them.”
Coming to a close, we ended our interview just as we did our first – planning for our next chat. Previewing only two chapters, we seemed to only scratch the surface. I certainly was intrigued, saying, “I want to read more!” Jokingly he responded, “Well, now you only have to wait 6 more months,” with a laugh. For now, I was left with the encouragement of knowing I was in good company and happy to share the message with others. Banning with my fellow “Optimisfit” has proved to be an adventure and the fun part is, it’s not over.
For more on Ben Courson visit www.bencourson.com/optimisfits/ where you can find out more on his book and also purchase a pre-sale copy of “Optimisfits.” Stick around for our part two of this interview coming soon.