Monday, January 29, 2018

Living in the Present

One my grandchildren’s favorite songs from the original High School Musical was “Get’cha Head in the Game.”  I think this is something that every leader should practice.  Leaders too often seem either weighted down by the past or lost in the future.  Either way, they become distracted from what is going around them right now.

Knowing the history of a situation, especially in an organization like the church, is not a bad thing.  I am a historian by training, so I love to read about and seek to understand what has happened in the past that impacts the present context.  We can learn from and celebrate many of those things.

Living in the past is not wise, however.  The past has good times and bad times, but all we have to work with is the present.  We learn from the past, but we don’t let it restrict us.  We need to concentrate on what God has placed before us right now and act.

Likewise, I enjoy speculating about the future and love science fiction, but I don’t live there.  Many leaders are so concentrated on their vision of the future that they don’t realize that the future starts right now.  We take the first steps today that will result in the changes of tomorrow.

How do we practice living in the present?

1.  We give each day to God and ask for the ability to discern what God is doing around us.  God is at work in the big and little things of life, but do we see and understand how that is happening?

2.  We invest in our present relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.  Life is transitory and relationships fragile.  In the long wrong, what happens with the people in our lives is our greatest legacy.

3.  We embrace the challenges of today.  They provide the basis of what is going to happen in the future.  We address them with enthusiasm and optimism.

4.  We dissect the failures of today and learn from them. It is not wrong to fail, but it is wrong not to learn from failure.

Today is what we have to work with.  How will we use it?

Monday, January 01, 2018

Reflections on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The latest entry in the Star Wars canon is an entertaining visual treat.  Although it basically follows the structure of The Empire Strikes Back, it gives us as fans a solid second act in this new trilogy.  In this blog, however, I don’t intend to provide a review, but reflections on a couple of main themes in this episode. In the interplay of old and new characters, several key ideas emerge or are clarified.  (I will try to provide as few spoilers as possible.)

First, after viewing The Last Jedi, we discover that the Force seems to be more egalitarian than we were previously led to believe.  In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) provides a much more engaging and informative explanation of the Force than Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) did in The Phantom Menace.  He explained it as something in the blood that provided the potential to manipulate the Force.  In some fan literature, the statement is made that you can tell if someone is strong in the Force by doing a blood test!  Qui-Gon tries to make the Force something mechanistic rather than spiritual.  (Maybe George Lucas was trying to provide a more rational approach and become embarrassed by the spiritual idea of the Force.)

Evidently, by the time of The Last Jedi, the understanding of the Force has evolved or Luke is part of a different Force denomination than Qui-Gon.  Luke explains the Force as a natural phenomenon that is widely accessible.  Both in Luke’s explanation and in various happenings in the film, we are led to believe that the Force is available to many people in that “galaxy far, far away.”  This makes sense.  Before Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine started slaughtering Jedi and Padawans in Revenge of the Sith, there seemed to be a number of Force sensitive persons from many different planets.

Perhaps the idea that the filmmakers wish to make in The Last Jedi is that each person has unfulfilled potential just waiting to be released.  Certainly we as Christians can identify with this idea.  Everyone is created in the image of God and has the potential to grow and develop into someone special in a relationship with Christ:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
A second truth in The Last Jedi that should resonant with Christians is that no one is ever lost to us.  As Leia (Carrie Fisher) says to Luke in a very poignant scene, “No one we love is ever lost to us.”  This is exhibited in the films repeatedly when Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and others return to share advice and support to our heroes.  As the writer of Hebrews noted, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)  Whatever your view is of the role of the former saints in our own spiritual journeys, certainly their faith and commitment encourage and sustain us in our task.

There is a corollary to this second truth, however.  If those we love are always with us, the same can be said for those we hate.  When we continue to hate rather than forgive, we allow that person to maintain a hold on us even after their death.  In the final confrontation between Kylo Ren and Luke in The Last Jedi, we understand that Luke will always be present in Kylo’s life because of the hate he has for the Jedi master.  If we cannot let go of hate, we are always its captive.

At the end of The Force Awakens, I think there was a certain reluctance on the part of Rey (Daisy Ridley) to pursue and embrace the Force.  With this episode, she sees the possibilities it offers.  In a similar manner, there are those who fear accepting the Christian faith because it might require change and sacrifice--both part of our daily lives as well as part of the Star Wars universe.  We have no need to fear if we believe.