Tag Archives: Star Wars

Stories, Themes, and Waypoints

“Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel.
I will surely save you out of a distant place.”
Jeremiah 46:27 (NIV)

We just finished our Memorial Day weekend at the lake with friends and the kids wanted to watch Star Wars’ Rogue One. As I watched I thought about the underlying story of the hero, Jyn Erso. The movie starts with Jyn as a young girl being separated from her parents (particularly her father), which is infused with all sorts of psychological weight. We quickly meet the adult Jyn, and we find her in prison (in more ways than one) and adrift in life. Through the entire movie we accompany her on her journey to be reunited with her father and reconciled to the larger purpose their own journeys play in the larger story. The last words she hears before that final, fateful moment: “Your father would be proud of you.”

Exile and being “on the run” is a common theme in stories. The Star Wars universe uses it over and over again. In the original Episode 4 we meet Luke in exile with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine along with a mysterious old wizard, Ben Kenobi, also living in his own exile. They leave the planet with Han Solo who is on the run from Jabba the Hut and the bounty on this head. In The Force Awakens we meet Rey living in exile on Jakku where she meets Finn who is… wait for it…on the run from the evil Kylo Ren, who in his own self-appointed exile, having run away from home to join the dark side.

Why do stories, novels, movies, and plays use these same themes and devices over and over again? Because they touch something deep inside us. We identify with them in our own respective journeys. When I listen to people tell the story of their life journey and/or their spiritual journey I’ll commonly hear people speaking in terms of “running,” “getting away,” “thrown out,” “straying,” “rebelling,” “distancing,” or being “far from home.” We get it. We connect with it. It’s part of our common humanity.

With today’s chapter we’re entering the final section of the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s works. This final section is a series of prophetic messages Jeremiah made against the nations that made up the socio-political horizon of his day. The messages were seemingly arranged geographically from west to east, beginning with today’s prophetic word against Egypt.

After waxing apocalyptic against Egypt, Jeremiah speaks to his own people, promising them both exile (citing punishment for their idolatrous ways) and the eventual return and reconciliation of their descendants.

Exile and return. There’s that theme again.

This morning I’m sitting at the lake watching the morning fog roll through the trees across the cove. It’s the same view my parents enjoyed for so many years before me. It’s the same view our girls enjoyed growing up. It’s the view I get to introduce to our grandson in a few weeks. There something special about the places that become waypoints in the journey of multiple generations. Generations and their respective stories of being home and being on the run, of exile and return, of separation and reconciliation. The common themes that become a different kind of waypoint, connecting us to the larger story.

Wandering and Waiting

Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Zechariah 1:3 (NIV)

Over the past few days Wendy and I have thoroughly enjoyed having our daughter, Madison visiting us. It’s become a bit of a ritual for our family to see the newest Star Wars movies together when we have the opportunity. On Sunday evening we watched The Force Awakens together on DVD, and then last night we went to the theater to see The Last Jedi.

On the way home last night we had fun discussing the themes of the story. One of the themes that stuck out for us was that of orphans, children, parents, and awaiting a return. Rey awaits the return of her parents. Han and Leia await the return of their rebellious son. The Resistance awaits the return of Luke. The wait and the return are powerful themes.

The Christmas story echoes these same things. There was 400 years between Malachi, the last of the prophets, and Gabriel’s visitation to Elizabeth and Mary. The people of Israel had been defeated and scattered by empire after empire: Assyria, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman. Their hope was in a deliverer. Simeon and Anna served in the temple awaiting a glimpse of hope. Later, Jesus pushes into this theme in His story of the prodigal son. At the end of His earthly ministry Jesus promised His return at a day and hour known only to the Father. We’ve been waiting ever since.

In today’s opening chapter of the prophet Zechariah’s visions, we once again see the theme. This time it is Father calling out to His children in a foreshadowing of the prodigal’s story: “Return to me and I will return to you.” The image is that of a parent sitting on the front porch, eyes fixed on the road, hoping desperately for a glimpse of a wayward child making his or her way home. Jesus describes so beautifully what happens when the child is spotted:

“But while he [the lost son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

This morning I’m thinking about the holidays of Christmas and New Year’s. I’m thinking about families and parents, and children and homecomings. Christmas is about that which has been long-awaited. It’s about redemption and reconciliation. It’s about new hope, and new beginnings.

There have been some stages of my life journey in which I took on the role of the prodigal. I know what it is to wander, to squander, and to wade in the hog slop of poor choices. There have been other stretches of my journey in which I have waited and hoped for a child’s return. I have felt the grace of God’s embrace. I have felt the joy of extending that grace and embrace. They are all part of the journey.

My prayers this morning are for those who wandering and wondering about the tug in their heart calling them to return. My prayers are for those whose eyes are fixed on the road, hoping for a glimpse of the child returning.

Wandering, waiting, hoping, returning.

They are all a part of this journey.

Foreshadowing

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:24-26 (NIV)

Foreshadowing is a literary term that refers to a device in storytelling both in print and in film.

Those who read the first book in the Harry Potter series would have completely glossed over a reference made at the very beginning of the book when the giant, Hagrid, delivers an infant Harry via flying motorcycle to Dumbledore on Privet Dr. When asked where he got the flying motorcycle Hagrid says he borrowed it from “young Sirius Black.” We don’t find out until book three just how important Sirius Black was to the entire story arc of the Harry Potter epic. That’s foreshadowing.

If you watch Star Wars epic there’s a moment when Anakin’s mother is kidnapped by the Sand People and Anakin’s hatred overtakes him. Listen carefully to the music playing underneath the scene and you’ll hear Darth Vader’s theme woven into the score. That’s foreshadowing.

I continue to run into people who want to ignore, discount, or dismiss all of the ancient books that we commonly refer to as The Old Testament. These dear individuals limit their reading and study to the Jesus’ story and the letters of Paul. Some even argue that “it’s all you need.” That’s like saying you only need to watch Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (the original 1977 film) because everything you need to know is contained therein. If all I watch is episode IV I have no idea who Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader really are!!If I ignore Jesus’ back story, laid out across the Old Testament, I lack a full understanding of who Jesus really is. In doing so, I limit my own spiritual journey.

That’s what the author of Hebrews is trying to unpack for his/her readers in today’s chapter. Just like a veiled reference to Sirius Black in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or a hint of the Darth Vader theme in Star Wars Episode III, the system of sacrifice given through Moses around 1400 years before Jesus was an earthly foreshadowing what God was going to do, and did do, on a cosmic level through Jesus. The Moses system contained a secret place where God was present that was veiled by a giant, thick curtain. Only the High Priest could enter via the sacrificial blood spilled to atone for sins. Jesus’ sacrificial death, His innocent blood spilled, made atonement “once for all” that we could have access to God’s presence. That’s why Luke (the author of Jesus’ biography, not Skywalker) is so careful to reference that when Jesus’ died the temple curtain was torn in two:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46 (NIV)

This morning I’m once again awed and appreciative of the layers of theme and narrative that God weaves into this Great Story. Last night Wendy and I sat on our back patio and marveled together at some of those layers, and how they foreshadow our very own lives and personal story! That’s the cool part. The Great Story is still unfolding, and our very lives are a part of it.

And so begins a new day in the Great Story. A story constantly unfolding in each moment of each day.

“Welcome to the Journey, Padawan”

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.
1 Corinthians 11:31 (NIV)

Discern /dəˈsərn/ verb [from Latin: discernere]
  1. Perceive or recognize (something).
  2. Distinguish (someone or something) with difficulty by sight or with the other senses.
One of the more intriguing themes I’ve enjoyed in the Star Wars epic is the spiritual journey and formation of the Jedi. In the world of Star Wars, those who are strong in the force begin their training as “younglings.” Eventually, developing Jedi become a “padawan learner” who is coupled with a mentor. The process of development never ends, as Obi Wan says to his rebellious padawan (Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader) in their final battle: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Great stories resonate with us because they echo our own human experiences and our deepest human longings. Much like a Jedi, I have found that my spiritual journey on this earth has been a journey of ever and increasing self-discovery. When I was a young man (youngling, if you will) I did many things out a sense of compulsion or ignorance. I had no idea why I felt compelled in certain ways. I did not understand why I said and did certain things. I acted out of my broken human nature without giving it a second thought.
When I became a follower (a padawan, if you will) of Jesus I experienced an acute desire to be more like Jesus and the person Jesus described in His teachings. This resulted in the awareness that many of my behaviors did not match up to Jesus’ teaching and example. A process of behavior modification began spurred by God’s prompting/power along with my willingness to change and be transformed.
Some behaviors were snap to change. Others required a wee bit of humility, patience, and determination. I was making progress and feeling good, but as time went on I recognized that there were the pesky, ugly things of my character and behavior that were of the Dark Side. They seemed hard wired and immovable. Discouragement, doubt, and frustration set in.
As much as I desired for God’s power to simply, and miraculously remove such things from my character, I came to realize that this was part of my spiritual journey. God’s power and grace (and patience) would be key ingredients, but much would be required of this padawan learner along this marathon journey of spiritual self-discovery:
  • Self study: A willingness to take the time to dig beneath my words and behaviors to excavate my past, my thoughts, my relationships, my emotions, my personality, and the desires of my heart and soul.
  • Meditation: A willingness to think honestly and transparently about the things I learned about myself, to fix the eyes of my heart steadily on Jesus, and to ingest God’s Word in my very soul.
  • Conversation: A willingness to have an on-going dialogue, not only with God, but with a select group of trusted companions who are on the journey with me. An openness to listen to and honestly embrace what they see, hear and perceive in me.
  • Professional Assistance: The assistance of professionals (in person or through their writings) who understand both spiritual truth and human psychology.
  • Perseverance: Accepting that the process of self-discovery and the spiritual transformation of becoming more like Jesus (a process theologians call sanctification) continues uninterrupted through this earthly journey’s end.
In today’s chapter Paul is writing to a young community of Jesus’ followers. They are spiritual younglings and a long way from becoming spiritual Jedi. Their behavior and conflicts, as described in Paul’s correspondence, reflect the blunt, early stages of spiritual transformation. And to this Paul says that they need discernment. They need to perceive the spiritual, emotional, social, relational drivers of their behavior and conflicts.
Welcome to the journey, my young padawan. Lace ’em up tight. It’s a long trek…. and an absolutely worthwhile journey!

Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.

The Latest 12-20-2015

Christmas is less than a week away, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The weather in Iowa has continued to be unseasonably warm for the most part. Instead of snow and ice we’ve had chilly downpours that feel more like March or October.

USP LWW Cast Party

Right after my last Sunday Summary post we hosted the cast party for Union Street Players (USP’s) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We loved having cast and crew here at the house. They did a great job. We weren’t involved in the show other than helping man the box office phone and sell tickets.

In fact, it’s been a while since Wendy or I have been on stage. Two weeks ago we auditioned for Union Street Players’ upcoming production of Almost, Maine and were cast. The show is a romantic comedy set on a moonless winter night in a mythical town in northern Maine. In a series of vignettes, a series of couples struggle with that thing called love. Wendy and I will play multiple roles in the show which will be performed April 14-17. We’re looking forward to working with our friend and neighbor, Kevin McQuade, who is directing the show.

2015 02 12 Scholte House Dinner9

While we haven’t been on stage, we have been in character. On the 11th we donned the period costumes of our town’s founders, Dominie H.P. Scholte and his wife Maria, and played host at the Scholte House Museum to a corporate Christmas dinner for the executives of a business here in town. Wendy and I have portrayed the Scholtes in numerous productions. We enjoy volunteering our time and helping share their unique story.

Later that night we joined Taylor and her friend at Peace Tree Brewery in Knoxville for their annual Christmas sweater party. The band included Taylor’s faculty advisor from Grandview and we enjoyed the evening.

I was on the road this past week. Visited client in Texas on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I flew to Denver where I visited another client, then drove down to Colorado Springs. Madison had her last college final that evening. I met her at her favorite coffee haunt and we enjoyed a Crave Burger with Brett and Evan Strait. Madison has been living with the Straits for the past couple of months as her lease was up and she’s not sure where the path will lead after graduation.

Madison headed to her test and I visited with the Straits. I then met her at BJ’s Brewhouse across from campus after her test was done and we celebrated together joined by her friend, Matt. We got to enjoy breakfast together and hang out for a few hours the following morning before I had to head for home.

Madison has been interviewing for sales jobs in the cosmetic industry. While she would love to stay in Colorado, she’s committed to moving wherever a good job opens up. She will continue to work as a flight attendant in the meantime. We’re bummed that she won’t be home for Christmas. In order to schedule her life to finish school, she’s had to work the holidays this year! 😦

On Friday I got to greet Suzanna who is home from Cedar Falls for Christmas break. She’s had a great first semester in college and it’s great to have her home. On Friday afternoon Wendy and I headed to Des Moines for the funeral of my friend and mentor, Chuck Wenger who was also founder of our company, C Wenger Group. It was a great memorial service. Chuck had committed his life to mentoring young men, and it was rather incredible to hear the testimonies from many who were in attendance. It was also great to see former group members, clients, and friends.

On Friday night we joined friends Kevin, Linda, Rob, Vandy and CD at McQuade Pub for a reading of the script Art. It was a great excuse to spend an evening of food, drink and good company. The script was great and we both enjoyed it immensely.

At Star Wars The Force Awakens

Birthday Girl!
Birthday Girl!

Wendy’s birthday is Monday, so we started celebrating on Saturday with an early matinée of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We loved it! We ran a few errands before hightailing it back home. In the evening I took Wendy to dinner at Kaldera with Kevin and Linda (where we ran into the JPs & VLs!) . After dinner we retired back to V-Dub Pub for a night-cap.

We have been talking for months with our friends Vandy and Rob about getting together to watch football. They are still relatively new to town and Vandy is a Vikings fan. So, today was the day! They arrived before noon and we watched the Vikes beat the Bears, while keeping an eye on Rob’s Giants who came back and then fell short against the undefeated Panthers.

I’m looking forward to continuing Wendy’s birthday celebration tomorrow, and to Christmas celebrations with family this week!