Sunday, October 30, 2011

Such a Long Way from Here

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

It is a pivotal scene in Star Wars: Obi Wan Kenobi has rescued Luke from the Sand People and has taken him to his house in the Tatooine desert. While Luke fixes the droids, Obi Wan tells him that his father was a Jedi. He gives Luke his father's lightsaber and then invites Luke to come with him to Alderaan to help Princess Leia. Every time we've seen Luke so far in the movie, he's been whining and complaining about his farm chores and talking about how he wants to leave Tatooine and go to the Academy and become a pilot, but when the invitation is finally issued, he turns it down. Why? Well, he says, "I can't get involved. I've got work to do. It's not that I like the Empire, I hate it, but there's nothing I can do about it right now. It's such a long way from here."

I hate the fact that outside of the "first world" countries, so many women have it so very hard. Some are oppressed and denied rights because of their gender, and many die from pregnancy and childbirth complications simply because they have no access to education and healthcare. I hate it, but there's nothing I can do about it right now. It's an overwhelming problem and I am just one person. I am living my comfortable life in the United States, and it's such a long way from here.

I think it was Helen Keller that said "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something." Better yet, by working together we can do so much more. I am proud to support an organization called Global Women, whose mission is to improve the lives of women all over the globe. It supports people who work with women who have been sold into sex slavery in Eastern Europe, so that they may learn a trade with which to support themselves and come to know God's love and forgiveness. It provides volunteer teachers who travel to places like Burma and Indonesia to help train women to be midwives and medical aides, and its members collect supplies to put together birthing kits for these women to use. It collects scarves and hats for women and children at a battered women's shelter here in the United States. It educates those of us who have about the awful plight of women half a world away and sometimes closer who have not, and it gives us a way to do something about it.

I am only one, but I can do something. I can give money. I can buy supplies for a birthing kit. I can crochet hats and scarves with some of the leftover yarn I have lying around in abundance. Most of all, I can pray: for the women being helped, the suffering women yet to be helped, and those who are called to go and do the helping. And I can pray for myself, that I never forget that there is something I can do, even when it is such a long way from here.

(If this is something that touches your heart as it does mine, I would encourage you to visit the Global Women website to find out more about what they are doing to improve the lives of women throughout the world and how you can get involved in helping them. You don't have to be a woman to support them, either!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Good Blaster at Your Side

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

In the Doctor Who episode "The God Complex" that I wrote about last week, when the Doctor finally figures out that the monster feeds on people's faiths and not their fears, he gives as evidence the fact that Rory never seems to be in danger. The Doctor attributes this to the fact that Rory is not superstitious or religious – he doesn't seem to have any kind of faith. I don't think that's true, though. Everyone has faith in something. Take, for instance, two key conversations from Star Wars. In the first, during a meeting of Imperial leaders aboard the Death Star, Darth Vader and Admiral Motti have differing opinions about the best course of action:

Motti: Any attack made by the rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.
Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortress…
[Admiral Motti chokes as Vader uses the Force to strangle him from across the room]
Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

In the second conversation, on board the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo has been watching Obi-Wan teach Luke how to use at lightsaber:

Han: Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Luke: You don't believe in the Force, do you?
Han: Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

Admiral Motti and Han Solo are both set up as non-believers in these two scenes, but in both cases it is clear that they do believe in something – for Motti, it's technology and the power of the Death Star, and for Han it's also technology and weaponry, in addition to his own wits and skills. Both men put their trust in things seen and handled and personally experienced rather than some abstract, nebulous, god-like "force," like Luke and Obi-Wan and Vader do. In Admiral Motti's case particularly, it turns out to be misplaced trust in the end when the Rebel Alliance manages to blow up his "ultimate power in the universe."

I think I am like Han Solo more often than I realize or would wish to admit. I'm not nearly as cool as he is, but I am hard-headed and independent and want to do things myself. I want to take care of myself; I want to make things happen by myself. I don't have a good blaster at my side, but I do have my wits and my smarts. I would do well to remember that my abilities are insignificant next to the power of God, and that he is in control and I don't have to do it all on my own all the time.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Praise Him!

Vindicate me, O Lord,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.

(Psalm 26:1-3)

In the Doctor Who episode entitled "The God Complex," The Doctor, Amy, and Rory exit the TARDIS to find themselves in a hotel with outdated d├ęcor, bad elevator music coming over the speakers, and corridors that shift when you're not looking. When they look inside various rooms, they find strange things, like people in gorilla costumes, sad clowns, popular-looking girls hurling insults, and the scariest of new Who monsters, the Weeping Angels.

Pretty soon they meet up with a group of other people who also appear to be trapped in the hotel with them, and they learn that it seems to be like the Hotel California – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Also, there is a monster roaming the labyrinthine hallways that eventually finds and kills everyone who ends up there. The strange things in the hotel rooms are someone's greatest fear, and there is a room for everyone. The catch is, once you find your room and face your fear, bad things start to happen and eventually, no matter how long you try to hold out, the monster will come and get you. They assume that the monster feeds on fear, and when you find the thing you fear the most, it will cause the monster to come get you, so it's best if you do not find your room in the hotel.

After three out of the four people there are killed by the monster, though, despite everything the Doctor has done to try to protect them, he finally figures it out: the monster doesn't feed on fear, it feeds on faith. When facing whatever scary thing was in their room, they relied on faith to overcome the fear, and that's what attracts the monster. Everyone who has died had faith in one form or another: Rita was Muslim, Joe the gambler believed in luck, and Howie was always trying to convince everyone who would listen that everything was part of one big conspiracy. Things come to a head when Amy finds her room and begins to show signs that the monster will soon be coming for her. The Doctor realizes that to save her and defeat the monster, he had to make her lose her faith, which was represented in her room by her child-self, little Amelia, sitting on her suitcase waiting for her Raggedy Doctor to come back. Ever since that night when she was eight years old, Amy had faith that the Doctor would return, and when he did, through all their adventures, she always had faith that whatever happened, the Doctor would save her, solve all the problems, and make sure everything turned out ok. She had even said as much throughout the episode to whomever would listen.

What a heart-wrenching scene when the Doctor, so gently and tenderly, explained to Amy that he wasn't the all-powerful alien creature that she put all of her trust in. He didn't always save the day, and he had caused death and destruction more often than not. He really was, as he had been telling her all along, a madman with a box, nothing more.

It has been a month since "The God Complex" aired, and it has taken me this long (and a second viewing) to make sense of what was really happening. At first I was trying to puzzle out what it was saying about having faith (or not) and losing faith. I have finally decided, however, that it is about misplaced trust and having faith in the wrong things. Amy placed her trust in the Doctor, and when the Doctor finally recognized this, it took quite an effort for him to convince her otherwise. It was necessary, however, for her to realize that the Doctor wasn't God, no matter how often his "God complex" (as Rita labeled it earlier in the episode) manifests itself.

Fortunately, faith in God is never misplaced trust. When I looked up "faith" in the concordance of my Bible to find a verse with which to preface this post, I noticed something interesting: all of the verses cited as containing the word "faith" used it in the context of humans having faith in God, but more than half of the verses given in the entries for "faithful" and "faithfulness" use those words to describe God and his attitude toward people, not the other way around. To me, that speaks volumes about what we should have faith in: the One whose faith in us never wavers, even when our faith does.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Believe It

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-20)

It’s a well-known scene from The Empire Strikes Back: Luke’s X-Wing fighter is sinking into the Dagobah swamp and Yoda wants him to get it out. Luke closes his eyes, stretches out a hand, and concentrates on the Force, but only manages a bit of a wiggle before it disappears completely under the water. Dejected, Luke watches as Yoda steps up and uses the power of the Force to lift the entire spacecraft out of the water and set it on firmer ground.

“I don’t believe it!” Luke exclaims.

“That is why you fail,” replies the Jedi Master.

This reminds me of the conversation between Jesus and his disciples in Matthew 17. A man brings his son, who suffers from life-threatening seizures, to Jesus for healing because the disciples, whom he had consulted first, had been unable to help. After Jesus gets the job done, the disciples look at him slack-jawed. “How’d you do that?” they ask him later, after everyone else leaves. Like Luke, they want to know, “Why couldn’t we do that?”

Faith is a powerful thing, and it doesn’t take much faith to make a powerful impact, according to Jesus. I think that’s because, like a tiny seed, the slightest bit of faith can grow into something that takes over and pushes out the doubts. But, also like a small seed, it takes nurturing and watering and practice for the little bit of faith to become great faith. So I keep plugging along, believing that one day something great will come about, despite my doubts and fears, and I thank God that it doesn’t take much faith at all to start the process.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anything for a Friend

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13)

Friendship is a major theme throughout the Star Wars trilogy of films. It influences actions and provides motivation for characters to do things they otherwise wouldn't dream of doing.

It's what made Ben Kenobi engage in a lightsaber duel to the death with Darth Vader so that the Millennium Falcon and its passengers could escape from the Death Star.

It's what made Han Solo turn the Millennium Falcon around and come to Luke's aid during his bombing run on the Death Star, and what made him ride a Tauntaun out into the freezing Hoth night to find Luke when he hadn't returned to base.

It's what made Luke, against the advice of his mentor and teacher Yoda, leave the relative safety of Dagobah and fly straight into a trap on Bespin because he felt through the Force that Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids were in danger.

It's what made Luke, Leia, Chewie, and Lando risk life and limb to break into Jabba the Hutt's fortress and relieve him of his prized wall decoration, the frozen body of Han Solo encased in carbonite.

Friendship is powerful. It is more powerful than the Dark Side of the Force and it's more powerful than any other form of evil. Friendship brings life, sometimes literally, as in many of the examples above. Even if my friends don't ever actually prevent me from being seriously harmed, though, they are still one of God's wonderful gifts that help make my world a brighter, happier, more life-filled place.