Posts Tagged ‘Anakin Skywalker’

What is your name?  What is your quest? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” – The Keeper of the Bridge of Death

What is a Quest?  The term is defined as “a long and arduous search for something” or “An expedition undertaken in medieval romance by a knight in order to perform a prescribed feat”.  I looked a few days ago through the dictionary that sits just to the left of the dais on the floor of the House of Representatives for what it had to say about “Quest” and what I was presented with was nothing but lame jargon…on the floor of the House of Representatives?!  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Tim Keller purports that a quest is a journey upon which one embarks  – not entirely of their own choice – that either leads to their death, or they return from the journey so changed that they cannot return to their old life.  Conversely, an adventure is something chosen freely that one embarks upon and at its end is able to return to their old life as it was before they left.

Looking at an example such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is a quest, while The Hobbit or There and Back Again – as it is also calledis an adventure (even if the the trailer for the upcoming film may hint  at it being a quest rather than an adventure).  Bilbo comes back to his old life as it was before he left it.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Merry, and Pippen do not – and – spoilers – Baromir dies.  Frodo and Gandalf go with the elves to the Grey Havens; Aragorn marries Arwen, becomes a father, and embraces his destiny as the long expected King of Gondor;  Gimli and Legolas become life-long friends; Merry and Pippen are now the tallest of Hobbits and in the books must return to the shire to defend it from destruction; and even though Sam marries Rosie and lives inHobbitton for some time – sans Frodo, his dearest friend – he eventually is called to the Grey Havens as he had been a  ring bearer too, never to return to the Shire once he leaves.

Much like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is a quest, Dune is certainly a quest, as is the Terminator franchise; in these cases the main characters go through things that leaves them vastly different than when they began.  Luke Skywalker goes from a lonely and forlorn  farm  boy on a backwater word to the hero of the Rebel Alliance and the last of the Jedi Order.  Han Solo: from rouge smuggler to, Rebel hero, hunted bounty, General, and the pirate who actually has a change of heart and finds it within himself to love a princess.  Leia: from youngest member of the Imperial Senate, to Rebel leader, orphan without a home, hunted fugitive, warrior princess, and willing to risk it all to save the life of the pirate who’s heart she won.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi…from Jedi, to hermit, to teacher, to sacrificing himself for a cause greater than himself:  allowing the rebels to escape the Death Star and calling out the potential he saw in a 19 year old farm-boy who he’d spent the child’s entire life thus far guarding in secret under the guise of “a crazy old man” (who thought it too dangerous to go alone, so he gave him his father’s lightsaber).  In Dune, there is no doubt what-so-ever that young Paul  Atradies cannot go back to the life he lead as the son of Duke Leto on the water-world of Caladan once his family leaves their home to manage spice production on Arakis at the behest of Duke Leto’s cousin, Emperor Shaddam the IV.  Paul goes from a young teenager to the Duke of House Atradies after the murder of his father and subsequently  the undisputed leader of the Fremen – the native people of  Arakis – waging war on House Harkonen and the Emperor for the freedom of Arakis and the Fremen; eventually waging war across the galaxy and becoming Emperor of the known universe himself.

These stories are fraught with danger and intense conflict which bring about great transformation and change within it’s characters, but it often isn’t “all pony rides in May sunshine”  We often shy from quests because we don’t like the pain and difficulty that must be persevered though and the unknown that is the fork in the road:  deciding to do what is right or shirk from it.  It’s why some, when faced with such choices, become the hero while others become the villain of the story and such a choice leads to a destiny of “glorious purpose” bent on selfish and devious ends.  It’s why Yoda voiced concern about Anakin Skywalker and was reticent to know what came after suffering because he didn’t know if perseverance and character would result in Anakin’s life or resentment and anger and it took a generation to ameliorate that mistake amidst Yoda questioning the readiness of the younger Skywalker.

The truth though, is that human beings need quests, especially men, and Superhero movies – from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Iron Man and the Avengers, and Green Lantern – to video game franchises, like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda, readily support this idea.  Often though, destiny does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing and we are reluctant to get involved.  We’d rather save whales, because that’s easy…and not the universe.

And so I will end as I began: Who are you and what is your Quest; what are you searching for…and are you willing tto embrace that quest in the same manner which young Talia Al’Guhl escaped the pit…jumping without the rope?

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Last weekend I attended the Leadership Summit at National Community Church.  It’s a once a quarter event wherein all the Small Group Leaders and Ministry leaders at that church get together to listen to and learn from the staff.  The theme for this year has been “If Leaders (fill in the blank with something leaders should be doing)” Building off the successful format of past incarnations of Leadership Summit, this instance continued the trend of doing short TED style talks on various topics.  One in particular was Dave Schmidgall’s “If Leaders Embrace the Tension”, wherein he talked about living in that uneasy place of pressure where strings are being pulled, hard and uncomfortable questions are being asked and ease is nowhere to be found.  Yet, leaders are called to live in that space; just like leaders are sometimes asked to walk through the dark Valleys of Shadow with those who are living in them and struggling to press forward out of them (though like pronouncing the language of Mordor “there are few who can”).

After the summit last weekend I was ruminating on this idea of tension, and it became much harder and much more personal:  How do I live in the tension between reliance on the Creator and Master of the Universe (a good thing) and the continued pain, discomfort, and difficulty in life that I loathe but live in regularly because of my biology and medical history?  The answer is a simple one, but it isn’t easy: I just do.  I persevere because there is no other option. I get up every morning and ask the Master of the Universe to handle the things I can’t (and working in Congress is a lot of that).

The FENX was born of that tension, it’s helped answer some of the question of “how do we live  in this difficult space?”  If I didn’t have to live here, the need for the FENX wouldn’t exist; the future possibility of the “needs of the one meeting the needs of the many” might never even have been, and many of my crazy stories wouldn’t either.  As my friend Heather Zempel wrote recently, there is “Beauty in the Tension

My friend Andy Piscotti asked me this week what I might have to say if ever put in a “TED Talk” style situation as he was asking me my thoughts on this last Leadership  Summit.  more than anything thoughts on perseverance began to coalesce and he inspired me to get that on paper (or screen as it happens):

Perseverance is: “Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success” or “Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory”

Having been born ten weeks premature, expected not to live though the first night, raised by parents who were told my quality of life would be nil, had more procedures done on me than I can remember and bearing the scars to prove it, lived with Cerebral Palsy my whole life and all that’s brought with it, I know a little about perseverance; friends have said I actually have a PhD in it.

Our culture hates the idea of perseverance (or long-suffering) because it implies hardship, work, suffering, and maybe even loss; it is the antithesis of our “Society of instant gratification and ease”. You see it everywhere…even in A Galaxy Far Far Away…

Episode I clip of Anakin Skywalker before Jedi Council

I’m an unabashed Star Wars fanboy, and Yoda is my favorite character, but even Yoda doesn’t really like the idea of perseverance, because he says “Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering…” and he stops; he doesn’t know what’s beyond. I can hear Ian McKellen’s wizard voice whispering in Yoda’s head “You shall not pass…

If we need to find an answer to “What’s AFTER suffering, what’s on the other side?” (and we crave that answer when in the midst of it) Yoda doesn’t help, but Paul’s letter to the church in Rome does. In Romans 5:3-5 Paul writes: “but we rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope and this hope does not disappoint us because it comes to us through the Holy Spirit whom Christ has given us.”

So perseverance comes out of suffering, out of testing as James confirms in James 1:2-4 “for the testing of your faith develops perseverance”, but leads to character and an unwavering hope that is eternal –if you know Christ – and that hope is something our instant gratification culture yearns for even if they don’t know it, something they need leaders in culture to embody – and, as leaders, that means us.  As Captain Tal cautioned a trigger-happy Giulo in Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness:  “Forbear, Forbear, he must go through it”

As we attempt to embody this, reliant on the Holy Spirit to do it, may we continue in a state of grace until we reach that state of glory, and just tell Yoda the truth: Much to Learn, you still have.

 

 

Star Wars lightsped it’s way back into theatres this weekend, in 3D no less, so in honor of it’s return, I want to talk a bit about what I, among many, affectionately call “The Wars”.  I’m an unabashed Star Wars fan, a FANBOY if you will.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the Star Wars films or the Star Wars:  The Clone Wars animated series; I lost count long ago (let’s not even get into the comic books and ever expanding novel collection I have).  The only things that has had a greater effect on me if life are the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my own unique story (and yet Star Wars has had it’s own role in that).  Late last year, a friend pointed me to the “Never Beyond” series that has been created by a group called People of the Second Chance.  The idea is to focus on individuals (real or not) who’ve done things that they should certainty be condemned for, but that even for them redemption is still possible (or achieved in some cases).

Which brings me to Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith formally known as Anakin Skywalker (one of the figures that the People of the Second Chance has highlighted).  The first time you see Vader in Star Wars (only later changed to Star Wars:  A New Hope in a theatrical re-release prior to the release of Empire Strikes Back in May of 1980) you know nothing about him, except that his very presence exudes fear in those that do not know and dread in those that do.  His troops have just wiped out the resistance to their boarding party, and his ship just plain dwarfs the Blockade Runner/Tantive IV.  Watching him threaten the hapless rebel trooper while he lifts the trooper under his own power, choke him to death, and then toss his lifeless body aside like a rag doll, you know this guy is bad news (and this is just the start).  He goes on to threaten/capture/torture a teenage Princess Leia (who he doesn’t know is his daughter), restrain the princess while they both watch Leia’s adopted home-world be destroyed in an instant along with almost two billion people, strike down his former friend and teacher in a duel, and almost kill Luke Skywalker (whom he doesn’t know is his son) in a space battle; and this is just the “first film”.  Except for Episode I:  The Phantom Menace, the Star Wars saga is filled with Anakin/Darth doing unspeakable thing: wiping out an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders after he watches his mother die because of their treatment of her, beheading Count Dooku, killing younglings during the siege on the Jedi Temple, wiping out the Separatist Council AFTER the Clone Wars are over, almost force choking his pregnant wife to death, cutting off his son’s hand (and destroying his innocence), and watching while his son gets tortured almost to the point of death by his Master, Palpatine/Darth Sidious – but I’ll come back to that one.  As an aside to buttress the point of Darth Vader being a bad dude, there is gargoyle of him hidden high on one of the towers of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC; the stone carving  was part of a competition to choose a representation of evil, and Vader won out.

Having established his bona-fides as a baddie, it is sometimes asked, “when did Skywalker become Vader?”.  The easy answer is “when Darth Sidious/Palpatine christened him as such in Revenge of the Sith”  Another might say “after he slaughters the Separatist Council on Mustafar and you see his eyes change to the red/yellow'”Sithy’ eyes that we saw Darth Maul have in Episode”.  The final, and best answer, I think is this:  Anakin Skywalker because Darth Vader to the fullest extent when he lashed out in rage after Sidious lied to him and told him he killed his wife (which, it could be argued was a partial truth).   This of course is forever immortalized with Vader screaming “NOOOOOOOOO” and crushing all the medical machines around him using the Dark Side at the end of Episode III.

Having experienced all of this as a character, not to mention the twenty years between Episodes III and IV wherein Vader actively hunts down and assassinates the remnants of the Jedi Order that escaped Order 66, when you see him in the Original Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) redemption for this character is the LAST thing someone naturally considers.  Nevertheless, it happened and from the most unlikely of places – due to the efforts of the one person who should have hated him most: his son, Luke Skywalker.  Despite, the attempts to kill Luke at the hands of his father, Luke’s maiming as a result of Vader’s crimson blade, and the destruction of Luke’s ideal concept of who/what Anakin Skywalker was/is, Luke still believed that redemption for Vader was possible; he says as much when he explains all of this to a semi-shocked Leia Organa on Endor that “there is good in him…I have to try…to bring him back to the good side”

If I was Luke, I’d have a hard time not hating my dad (and I don’t even like typing that idea out when I think about my own dad and how wonderful he is) so that’s a testament to Luke’s strength of character and ability to see past all the dark and terrible things his dad had been involved with.  There is no indication as to what might have happened as far as the possibility of the restoration of any sort of relationship between father and son (even in the Return of the Jedi Infinities comic) much less a proper father/son relationship.  Interestingly, I once heard the voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, be interviewed live on stageWhen James Earl was interviewed, he talked of the relationship he never had with his dad because his dad abandoned him when he was a baby. When he eventually reconnected with his biological father later in life while getting into acting in New York City, he said that the best he could do was to be his father’s friend. How terrible is that? Think of what he missed, what he never got to learn. And yet a man who never knew never knew his father gave life to a character who never really knew his son.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke surrenders himself to Imperial Officers after talking with Leia and explaining the dynamics of their family and his intent to turn their father back from the Dark Side of the Force.  Upon his surrender, he is taken to Vader, and in the insuring conversation Luke calls him “father”, prompting Vader to interject that Luke has accecpted the truth that Vader is his father.  Luke responds:  “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.”  Vader retorts: “That name no longer has any meaning for me.”  Luke counters “It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten.  I know there is good in you, the Emperor (Palpatine) hasn’t driven it from you fully.”  Luke then asks his father to leave this dark life he has lead, to walk away and essentially join the rebellion (which actually happens in a Star Wars Infinities version of Return of the Jedi); Luke offers an alternative, believing that his father’s redemption is still possible  Vader, resolutely responds “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side…it is too late for me, son”

The ensuing physiological and physical confrontation (via lightsaber and Force Lightning) between Luke, Vader, and Palpatine forces everything to one point of decision for Vader:  Do I continue down this dark path I have walked for 23 years and in so doing allow my Master to kill my son, or do I turn from this path, hopefully save my son, and destroy my Master – not to replace him – to free the galaxy from his tyranny.  We know Vader chose the latter, now importalized by his exclamation of “NO. NOOOOO!!!!” much akin to Episode III.  Had Luke not been in a situation where his father HAD to make a decision, it probably would have never been made; Luke was willing to sacrifice himself in hopes of seeing his father redeemed from the dark life to which he had succumbed.  (Interestingly, the scene title on the Return of the Jedi Blu-Ray for this point is called “Vader’s Redemption”.)  After this, as Vader is wheezing, and enduring the final minutes of his life, he instructs Luke “help me take, this mask off…just for once let me look on you with my own eyes”  Removing the mask, the last vestige of Darth Vader fades away and (for Luke) a new individual is in the place the Dark Lord once occupied; a change has happened and all of the darkness and pain he endured, redeemed (in spite of that darkness being his own choice).

The story of Darth Vader throughout the six Star Wars films is a compelling one, from his meteoric rise to the plunge into darkness and eventual redemption.  His redemption rings of the Gospel, with the Son (of Skywalker) willing to  sacrifice himself to bring one cloaked and bound in darkness back to the side of Light.  Most would consider Vader beyond saving, but one did not and took the requisite steps to give such an outcome the best opportunity to happen, knowing still that Vader would have to make the choice to recognize his folly and turn from it.  Moreover, upon Luke removing the mask (Vader could not do it under his own power) a new man comes to light, the old had gone and the new had come, to quote part of II Corinthians 5:17.  As Tolkien suggested, all myth ultimately reflects the One True Myth, the Gospel, even if unintended.

I love the idea of redeeming pain itself and painful experiences (bequeathing purpose) and pain used as a facet of becoming (my post on Tozer’s quote); it’s a personal thing for me.  The FENX is part of that: creating something to meet a need generated by difficulty and pain, and that creation opening doors to tell story and speak truth that would never have been comprehended if not for the pain and difficulty in the first place.  Ruminating on how that works often taxes my capacity.

What experiences in your life are in need to redemption and purpose?

Riding towards Eternity,

Aaron

It is rare for me to come across something that I find so compelling that I have to act. A good friend of mine recently commented to me that we often come in contact with situations which impress upon us and move us, but they do not impact us enough to actually do something about it. For some it’s poverty and/or homelessness. For others, like Mike and Heather Colletto, it’s the trafficking and subsequent slavery of another human being – the robbing of another of that individuals’ inherent dignity bestowed upon them by the Creator by seeing them as less than human and ensnaring them in to a life of bondage either by deception or force. Still, for others it is the sacredness of human life – especially the unborn. This is a cause to which I have attached myself, along with countless other friends and strangers. In the midst of ALL that seems to be transpiring in our great Nation over this issue in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a particular “sub-issue’ which isn’t addressed all that often, maybe because it gets wrapped up into the various facets of the larger issues at play within the Pro-Life Cause. This crucial “sub-issue” is the “quality of life” for individuals with medical conditions, physical challenges, handicaps, disabilities – call it what you like.

Previously, I wrote about my experience being interviewed on this very subject by an Emmy-winning pro-life television show, because of my life experiences, trials, and triumphs with Cerebral Palsy. Since that interview four weeks ago to the day, this issue of quality of life, the importance of it, and the lies surrounding it have been made starker than ever before.

Almost two weeks ago, I was present for a subcommittee hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a hearing on Rep. Joe Pitts’s Protect Life Act to ensure no funding for abortion in Obamacare (since this hearing the bill has made it though sub-committee, full committee, and is likely to see floor action). During this hearing (which degraded into a circus at certain points) a member of the minority on the committee lamented the lack of access to abortion (if this bill becomes law) for the purpose of terminating a pregnancy wherein a fetus is determined to have a disability (just about a direct quote and certainly the spirit of the comments is not lost in how I phrased it). I caught this and my mind exploded. Here I was observing all this and I had to hear those words. The underlying “wisdom” in society is that such a life/baby/child does not deserve a chance because they will not have a good quality of life and/or raising such a child is too much of a burden to the parents (mother – since Planned Parenthood doesn’t really want the father involved at all). This is often how society is urged to think by purveyors of culture and it is a pernicious and sinister LIE. This “wisdom” is the under-girding foundation upon which that comment was uttered in the hearing last week – and people BELIEVE it. There I was, the proof to discredit this lie and no one knew because I wasn’t allowed to speak out because it would have broken decorum rules in a committee hearing.

Reeling from that experience over the last two weeks after it has been seared into my brain, I came across a blog post last Wednesday that floored me. Zack Arnold is the editor of the popular show Burn Notice on USA Network that happens to star Bruce Campbell among others. Zack’s blog post details his “Passion Project” (ironic/awesome since he edited the trailer for Passion of the Christ): a documentary about the late Chris Rush, a metro Detroit native and dear friend to Zack. Chris was a quadriplegic with Muscular Dystrophy who at a young age became an ambassador for Jerry’s Kids, met President Regan, was designated a honorary NASA astronaut, and as an avid Star Wars fan caught the attention of some of the crew who worked on Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Reading Zack’s blog post (twice) and watching the footage he had already edited together, I couldn’t help but ask myself “how can I help here, what can I do?” So I contacted Zack, and surprisingly heard back. Over the course of a few hours (as I told my own story and shared footage of The FENX Project and Zack expounded on Chris’s saga) I began to realize what a fantastic project this really is, and how much like Chris I actually am – we’d have been great friends given the chance. Since Zack is trying to raise $10,000 – with almost $5,000 raised as of this writing – to go out to Las Vegas for the next Muscular Dystrophy telethon organized by Jerry Lewis’s organization (and to try and interview Jerry himself) I’ve been trying to get the story out to folks in DC and around the country who might have an interest because they are familiar with my life and it’s triumphs and trials.

In this project, I see an excellent opportunity to showcase the quality of life someone can have while encouraging and inspiring others to live their own lives to their maximum potential; Chris did that. In the face of a culture that creates molds and an erroneous concept of the ideal which says “if you do not meet this you do not belong, we do not want you” – Chris lived and excelled. He reached higher and achieved more than anyone in the beginning (save his family – and I know how that is) thought possible, and that legacy has a chance to be immortalized.

I look forward to the day when Chris and I will walk together on streets of gold and talk about how our faith in Christ sustained us though trial, as we appreciate something for eternity that we never were able to experience as intended on Earth. One day, two Star Wars fans will race from one galaxy to the next to “be the first one to see them all” (as a young Anakin Skywalker once exclaimed).

Riding Towards Eternity to meet Him (and Chris),

Aaron

Two days from now I will be sitting at a table with (almost) my entire family eating turkey, enjoying their company, and reflecting on what I’ve been thankful for in 2010. It’s been a tough year in some respects, just like the previous year was. It’s sometimes easy for me to let the things that happen to me which are difficult or downright unjust crowd out everything else. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in 2010, lessons which the Master of the Universe sees fit to have me learn, lessons about identity; contentment; perseverance; trust; and owning who you are – embracing one’s destiny and calling no matter where it may lead, knowing it can alter and morph, even if it puts you in places you’d rather not be and you reside there longer than you want, often facing things which seek to damage the core of who you are, to diminish the person you are wired to be.

Passengers hate it when they are flying on a big commercial airplane and the captain comes over the speaker system to inform them the tower on the ground has put them in a holding pattern, forcing all those passengers on board to have to wait longer to reach their destination – and not one of the passengers on the plane has the power to change what is happening to them; the ultimate authority in air traffic gives a directive and it puts a wrench in things – I say this as someone who is flying home to celebrate thanksgiving and I’ll be at the airport a dozen hours from now. This is just on a plane; imagine such a scenario invading the rest of your life and not just your travel plans.

Sometimes I feel like screaming the same thing Anakin Skywalker did about Obi-Wan Kenobi (but in reference to God instead): “He’s holding ME back!” or “I can be a Jedi, Ben, tell him I can be a Jedi, I’m ready”. God just looks at me sometimes and, much like Yoda did to Luke Skywalker, lifts and eyebrow and queries ‘Ready?! Ready are you, what know YOU of ready?’ I’m pretty sure He does this because He’s Sovereign – He is the Master of the Universe after all – He spoke it all into being, neat when you consider the properties of sound and how it travels – there is no fate…but what He allows. Though I am eager, He knows I am not ready for what is next. Considering some of what I’ve been allowed to go through so far in twenty-eight short years and the trials I’ve overcome, this idea is still hard to grapple with and find peace in the midst of; enter The FENX Project.

The FENX Project is many things: an idea, a dream, a vehicle, advancement, an adventure, a shield, an extension of identity, and an incredible expression of love from father to son. Lately, it has become an alter; specifically, an Altar of Remembrance. In the Old Testament, Jehovah instructed the Children of Israel to often construct alters of remembrance so as to recall the provision and safety which He provided them at various times throughout their history. Pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church (where I happened to attend in Washington, DC) often discusses this in the context of how humanity often remembers the things they should forget and forgets the things they should remember. Most of the time these alters are immobile while the FENX is quite the opposite.

The FENX Project has sovereignty written all over it. From the circumstances surrounding its inception (and yes my actions did firmly implant the idea in my father’s mind) to seeing it on National TV this year. Just the story of how it came to be on TV – which I’ve recounted on this blog in the past – is a total orchestration by the Master of the Universe, no question. Something like being featured on the blog for The ForceCast (the Star Wars podcast) is indeed beyond what I can ask or imagine – which is the realm the Master of the Universe often orchestrates from – although I can imagine quite a bit (to use Han Solo’s words).

Yet, in the midst of all of this, driving around in a living alter, I struggle. Control is such a difficult thing to relinquish, to be reliant upon Another when you were raised to be independent and to reach for the stars. Yet, this is what is asked of me at present to wait till the timing is right to see more of the FENX on TV and in print – to take the story of the FENX and my adventure to other places and talk of what the Master of the Universe has done; to move on in life to a place of sure footing, of solid ground; this is my hope for 2011, though I do not see it…yet. Presently, all I see is the past as I drive my mobile altar through the fog of uncertainty and into the future – focusing on the Undiscovered Country ahead of me.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron