Thursday, May 19, 2005

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming.

With apologies to Tony Campolo, who coined that phrase, this is the matra to say to yourself when searching for God in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. This remarkable third film can truly be called the "Good Friday" of the Star Wars saga.

(Spoiler alert! If you don't want to know what happens, go ahead and skip the next three paragraphs)

Beginning with a frantic space battle in the orbit above Coruscant, Revenge starts the action on a hyperdrive-level intensity which never seems to let up until the closing credits. Through the
course of this roller coaster, we see the horrors of a Star Wars universe:
  • The horror of Jedi Knights being killed in cold blood by the very clones they have fought alongside in the Clone Wars.
  • The horror of democracy thrown away by the members of the Galatic Senate for the supposed security of imperial control.
  • The horror of innocent Jedi children being massacred by Anakin Skywalker because of the potential they represent.
  • The horror of seeing the face of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine being horribly deformed by his own Sith lightning.
  • The horror of seeing the great and powerful Yoda crawl away in shame and fear (!) from his battle with Darth Sidious, sadly saying, "I have failed."
  • The horror of Padme dying in childbirth.
  • The horror of Anakin Skywalker, the chosen one who Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan placed all their hopes on, turning to the Dark Side to become Darth Vader because it's simply the easiest, most seductive answer to his fears and ambitions.
  • The horror of the armless, legless Darth Vader burning to cinders on the hardened lava islands on Mustafar, left to die in pain by his former master and friend Obi-Wan.
These are the horrors of the Galatic Republic's Good Friday. That is what George Lucas has given us in Revenge: a series of horrible, Good Friday events strung together in a nearly two and a half-hour movie ...but Sunday's coming.

(the spoilers end here...)

In the final moments of Revenge, there lies a promise. In those final moments, there lies an echo of what the prophet Isaiah said in the midst of the horror of exile: "Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors" (Isiaiah 37:31-32).

Lucas has given us a remnant, a band of survivors, on which we can redirect our hope after this Good Friday: Yoda, Obi-Wan, Luke, and Leia, who will together give us that exciting Easter Sunday experience on the Forest Moon of Endor.

We have all had our Good Fridays. We have all had those days when it all falls apart. We have all had those days when we feel like we are misunderstood by our bosses, our teachers, our parents, our superiors, the Jedi masters of our life. We have all had those days when we are face-to-face (lightsaber to lightsaber) with a friend or colleague. We have all had those days when we feel ashamed, defeated, saying, "I have failed."

If we let the saga end there, and often times in our own lives we do, we are left without God. Unless we put our hope in the remnant, the silver lining of our Good Fridays, we are left without God. In the midst of our worst days, we are always given a remnant, a silver lining on which to hang our newfound hope.

Between Episodes III and IV, George Lucas gave the Star Wars universe the hope of Yoda, Obi-Wan, Luke, and Leia. In your worst days, ask yourself... What does God give you?

May the force be with you.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

"What does the Kingdom of Heaven resemble? To what shall I liken it? It is the mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and because the largest shrub..." (Luke 13:18-19)

Near the end of the movie Kingdom of Heaven, Saladin tells Orlando Bloom's character Balian that Jerusalem is both "nothing" and "everything." Poor Jerusalem.

It is "everything" for so many people: For Balian it means a chance at atonement for his sins. For Saladin and the Crusaders, it is defending or reclaiming the holy sites. For King Baldwin (the leper king, played by Edward Norton) and Godfrey (Balian's father, played by Liam Neeson), it is a hope for a "New Jerusalem," a Kingdom of Heaven.

How sad, though, that after battles and battles, it becomes a heap of stones signifying "nothing." No one really won Jerusalem then. No one really wins Jerusalem now, as seen on CNN.

The "New Jerusalem" dream of Godfrey and the King is something we can still dream of today. The Kingdom of Heaven is a reference to the many passages of Scripture where Jesus teaches about the "Reign of God." Many parables illustrate the beauty of this once and future kingdom. And this kingdom is not set by our rules, but by God's rules. There is one line in the movie where two people dialogue about the execution of a Muslim; one person reminds the other that it is our rules that demand his death for being an infidel; the other person wonders aloud if these are really the rules that Christ forsaw for the Kingdom of Heaven.

There is much in this film about Muslim-Christian relations that would do us some real good at this moment in our history. Perhaps this is a necessary, cinematic wake-up call for greater interreligious dialogue between our two great Abrahamic faiths instead of all this constant fighting and crusading.

"Let peace begin with me," says St. Francis of Assisi. So if our governments and leaders cannot do it, then it is our own duty to begin the peace process.

In our communities, let us pray for and pray alongside with our Muslim neighbors. Let us sit down and begin an honest dialogue on faith. Let us work side by side in social justice projects and serving the poor.

In our own way, let us build a Kingdom of Heaven here. Let us be that mustard seed of which Jesus spoke.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So, too, you must also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (Matt. 24:43-44)

After watching the wild ride that is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the thought crossed my mind: what if the world really ends like that?

More questions followed: Do I have any alien friends who might save me from the earth's eventual destruction? Am I prepared for such an event? Would I be comfortable wearing just my bathrobe and a towel as I catch a ride on a passing spaceship? Should I be more compassionate next time I'm watching dolphins at the zoo?

What Hitchhiker's Guide does is pose a lot of questions. I've never read the book, and perhaps if I did, I might not have had so many questions like those above. Martin Freeman (as the main character of the story, Arthur Dent) is truly a great "everyman," more so than most actors because no matter how hard Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, or Kevin Costner tries to be an "everyman," they are still the ultra-famous Tom, Harrison, or Kevin up on the screen. This "everyman," however, plays it perfectly.

Arthur is just like us, caught up in the everyday issues of life - relationship worries, morning breakfast, and zoning regulations.

How often do we, like Arthur Dent, get caught up in that everyday routine? How often have we taken a look at our life and asked, "what's the meaning?" (and "what have I done with mine?"). Jesus tells us, in true Boy Scout fashion, to always "be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (or in this movie's case, when the Vogon ship comes).

But do we really take Jesus seriously? Scientists say the end of the world could be millions of years in the future, and prophets of doom say it's coming any day now. Either way, the question remains: are we prepared and ready?

Beyond this question, Hitchhiker's Guide is full of theological pretzels dealing with creation, the meaning of life, life beyond our planet, the value of human reason and thought, artificial intelligence, the nature of religion and of religious institutions and churches, and the role that God plays in this giant universe. But what the movie ends on, what it seems to be all about, is that the one truth of the universe is "love."

Above and beyond the wild adventures of space travel, the focus of Arthur (and of love interest Tricia McMillan played wonderfully by Zooey Deschanel) is the search for love. This is quite a statement about love because Arthur is shown some amazing things about the ends of the galaxy and creation, but it all seems subpar compared to the search for true love.

This puts it in line with the passage from the first letter of John: "Let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8).

Perhaps as we take stock of our life in light of Jesus' "be prepared" message to us, we should take stock of how much we really see love of all God's people, our friends as well as those we do not like or those we do not know, as a part of our life. If this were the last moment and the Vogons were about to demolish earth, would I be able to say that I truly loved this world?

What a great question to ponder. Thank you, Hitchhiker's Guide!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

In Preparation for Episode III

"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."
In preparation for the release of Revenge of the Sith on May 19th, this quote by Yoda in Episode I keeps coming back to me. It speaks very clearly to the slippery slope to the Dark Side that each one of us is capable of, and it might help us understand why Anakin Skywalker will eventually choose the dark path in this new movie.

While fear and anger are natural human emotions, Star Wars tells us that unchecked, these feelings can become inner "shadows" (this is Swiss psychologist Carl Jung's description of the unchecked, hidden, unresolved parts of ourselves that, if left unattended, will become the dark side of our personality).

Anakin Skywalker let his fears of being left alone were never truly addressed in his Jedi training, and when he had the power to do something about it (i.e. Jedi skills, lightsaber abilities), he let his "shadow" develop as an act of hatred (as seen in Episode II when he murdered the sand people). He later tells Padme that he should have been able to "fix things," and if he had even more power, he would be able to control who lives and who dies. His fear and anger have become hatred, and in Episode III, this inner suffering and conflict will leave him vunerable to the "easier, more seductive" ways of Darth Sidious and the Dark Side to "fix things."

Does this have anything to do with us? Yes! In our everyday lives, the Dark Side is far from obvious. As Yoda notes, the Dark Side is shrouded and deceptive, and as Jung writes, it "thrwarts our most well-meant intentions." Temptations to give into our "shadow," our Dark Side, are lined with great intentions to "fix things," as Anakin wanted to do. "How will I know the good from the bad?" asks Luke Skywalker in Episode V, to which Yoda quickly responds, "You will know... when you are calm."

Where is God in the midst of all this? God is trying to call out to each one of us, through our friends, role models, mentors, and loved ones (for Anakin, it's Yoda, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Padme, the Droids, and the Jedi; for Luke, it's Yoda, Obi-Wan, the Droids, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca). We must be calm, pray, and be open to hear God's word through them and through our faith. When we hear Him, God gives us the choice of redemption at any stage on our journey, as the Star Wars films point out and as the Scriptures and tradition tell us. In Episode VI, Anakin is finally redeemed at the last moment by rekindling the love of his son.

We are all loved by God, even a Dark Lord of the Sith like Vader.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Spiritual Popcorn for the Soul

When we're at the movies, nothing satisfies us like a bucket of popcorn. This blog is like "spiritual popcorn," some refreshment for those interested in the intersection of faith and popular films. This blog will feature reviews, references, and ruminations on how God speaks to us through the lens of the film projector. So sit back and have some spiritual popcorn for your soul.