Posts Tagged ‘Luke Skywalker’

Obi-Wan Kenobi once told Luke Skywalker that he was “taking his first step int a larger world” when he successfully reached out to the force in lightsaber training aboard the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.  For this blogging effort, that step happens today as I take this to the next level by re-launching this blog as it’s own website.  Going forward, I’ll be blogging there instead.  Additionally the site includes links to my Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In profiles as well as some of the media opportunities I’ve had over the last few years.   So, come along with me and join the adventure in some new surroundings.  As you do, recall the the words of Bilbo Baggins:  “It’s a dangerous thing to go out your front door, for if you don’t keep your feet there’s no telling where the road might take you”.

Where might your own adventure take you?

In the Star Wars three-quel, Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader famously tells Luke Skywalker:  “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side” as a statement of finality and admission to the grim hold Emperor Palpatine had upon Vader’s life.  Fortunately, we know that all changed shortly thereafter.    Think for a moment on the power of those two lives within that fictional universe.  Darth Vader: innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy as one of the greatest Jedi Knights; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; too self-aware; arrogant; prideful; discontent; susceptible; a deceiver and deceived; fallen; enslaved; instrument of tyranny; destroyer of millions; redeemed.   Luke Skywalker:   innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; humbled; learned; self-sacrificing; truthful; caring of friends and family; champion over evil; agent of redemption.  Two hyperspace lanes diverged in a star system…and Luke Skywalker took the one less navigated through.  Two lives, with such an effect on an entire galaxy and a far reaching legacy that bled over into (at least) the next generation.

Phil Coulson, Agent of the Strategic Homeland Intelligence Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD), and supporting character in the Iron Man films and, more importantly, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.    One man. No special abilities. A greater hero than the Avengers combined…because he combined them.  He believed in The Avengers, the heroes, when they didn’t believe in themselves.  His death served as “The Push” that was needed to coalesce the Avengers into the Family of Heroes the world needed them to be in order to defeat Loki and the Chitauri invasion.   Coulson knew a push was going to be needed and was at peace with and willing to have his death be that catalyst.  His sacrifice saved New York City – and the world – more than Iron Man’s willingness to fly the alien bomb into space.

This is all thought-provoking and inspirational pondering;  the type of fictional stories that inspire and spur on humanity; giving us hope the world will continue to spin on.  Such inspirational stories in real life are rarely like this and they involve homeless men, a wake, and telephone poles even less.  Nevertheless, one such story does involve a homeless man, another a wake, and yet another, a telephone pole of sorts.

Peter Bis lived on a bench near Union Station in Washington, DC.  Peter Bis was an institution on Capitol Hill. Peter Bis always referred to himself in the third-person.  Known by many on Capitol Hill as a friendly homeless guy who talked to everyone and actually remembered you, he recently passed away.  There’s actually a memorial spot under the tree near the bench he used to sleep on where people have been leaving flowers and messages (which I recently visited).  From interns to congressional power-players everyone knew him and often chatted with him.  I used to see him all the time when I was an intern with the Heritage Foundation seven years ago, as his “Sheldonian Spot” – long before there was a Sheldon Cooper – was less than a hundred feet from the front door of my intern housing that Heritage provided.  While saddened at his passing and the loss of this quirky institution of a man, I didn’t really grasp the extent that was Peter Bis until I realized that articles were written about him, in memorium, by National Review, The Washington Post, National Journal, and The Huffington Post (linking to a article in Roll Call).  The area that many consider to the the most powerful square footage in the world – as far as power, politics, and influence goes – has mourned the loss of a homeless man; a single life who spent most of his days on a park bench.  That’s inspiration.

A dear friend of mine will sometimes tell the tale of something that happened at his father’s wake years ago.  A young man arrived at the wake, one my friend had never seen before.  He slowly approached the casket and just stood there for what seemed an eternity.  Standing there, this younger man broke; the dam burst and the emotional flood water swept forth with great intensity.  My friend watched this both intrigued and mystified.  As the young man turned around and walked back down the aisle my friend asked him: “how did you know my father that it would produce such a reaction?”  The younger man explained:  “I didn’t have a Dad growing up and your father was the only man I ever knew who took time for me, who talked to me like a man, like a son, who invested in me; I’ve never forgotten that”   Therein was a life to emulate.

Telephone polls aren’t considered to be inspirational either but I happen to know one that is, it’s at Lake Ann Camp and I climbed it…and then jumped off.  Even though I’ve already told the story, it’s told from my point of view.  It isn’t told from the viewpoints of any of the thirty-plus people who watched it happen.  Recently one of the Reborne Rangers from Alpha Week 2012, Maggie Syme, posted a  picture to Facebook of what the scene looked like before my climb of that dastardly telephone pole.  The caption she included with the photo said “The most inspirational moment of my life; Thank you, Aaron Welty”  I saw  that photo – with that caption – and I was speechless.  Yes, I conquered The Leap.  Yes, it was hard – seeming near impossible at moments – but I’d been through tougher things; things I’d even talked about earlier that week.  In being taken so aback my this, I thought, and even said, “it’s not like I saved NYC from an alien invasion like The Avengers did.”  Later, Maggie told me that she cried long and hard after seeing me make that climb and leap because it had impacted her that much.  I’ll never forget, Katie Decker, another Ranger, leaning over my exhausted body as I lay face down on the ground, telling me “you just changed my life”.  At the end of the week, Josiah Wyse, whose incredible story I’ve also already  relayed, told me that there were two moments that week where I left him without words: one was bequeathing the lightsaber, the other was this climb.

This was a huge “lollipop moment” for some; a moment that was much more significant for them then it was for the one doing it, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for me at all.

Mind your surroundings, be aware of the power and impact of your life; be an inspiration to others and invest in them.

Reborn Rangers praying before I began my climb.

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?

In the last three weeks I’ve authored a series of blog posts in an attempt to forever capture the spirit of the events at Lake Ann Camp during Alpha week of Reborne Rangers 2012.  Why go in the first place?  Why take an entire week off work in the midst of a busy legislative season and an election year?  Why book an expensive plane ticket on short notice and go through the hassle of missing a flight and flying out early the next day while the world slumbers?  My love for this place aside, I went because someone thought I had something worthwhile to say, and had I not gone I’d be a step behind on my own journey of discovery and acceptance; not willing to live out my own admonition to the Rangers to “take your first step into a larger world”.  Put another way, I was supposed to go if for no other reason than the many “lollipop moments” that occurred.

When I began wrestling with the question earlier this year of “if I were to go, what would I have to say?”, the single theme that kept coming up was:   illustrating the importance of destiny and purpose to avoid wandering about like Scott Pilgrim before he met Ramona Flowers and “The League of Evil Ex’s“.  What’s more, the ability to use the circumstances of my own story to illustrate this concept; that and my love for “The Wars” (Star Wars) and general Hero/Superhero culture to attempt a 21st Century equivalent to Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17.  What better way to begin than with the “snap-hiss” of a toy lightsaber?

With that as my launchpad, I explained the significance of the lightsaber, Lake Ann Camp as an arena of conflict in spiritual terms, and the Reborne Rangers program as a training ground for transformation.  In sharing my story with them, the faith built up in me through various events and circumstances could be loaned out to them for their own edification and encouragement toward embracing the story that is being written in their lives instead of living their lives through the story of someone else; Revelation 12:11 in real life.

I spoke of how my story began in an operating room and not in a maternity ward because of the circumstances of premature birth and the need get out into the world ASAP.  How the doctors didn’t expect me to live through the night and presented my parents with a grim assessment once I did, putting before my mom and Dad the choice if they wanted me (or not).  Moving through childhood I mentioned the mystery of a number of the scars my body carries because I was too young to remember how I got them.  Nevertheless, my memory of Shriner’s hospital at the end of 1996 is still very clear as I talked about much of what happened back then and what it was like to be confronted with my own mortality and stark spiritual reality as a young teenager and to carry that as life goes on – how it changes the way you “mind your surroundings“.

As I neared the crux of my address to them I talked of my desire as a Jr. Higher to be in Washington someday, working on Capitol Hill because two friends saw something in me and called it out when we were kids and how all of that brought me to where I am today.  “When Paul wrote Ephesians”, I told them, “he wrote two verses that we know very well (Eph 2:8-9), but he also wrote the next verse – Eph 2:10 – and when I encountered it a few years ago, it rocked my world.  ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared for us in advance'”  I explained that this verse implies destiny, puts forth the idea of individual purpose, and shouts from the rooftops that “there are things on this earth that you are meant to do that nobody else can do; there are problems to which you are the solution and prayers to which you are the answer – find out what those things are!”  To illustrate this idea, I mentioned Frodo’s conversation with Galadriel in the Fellowship of the Ring.

I went on to tell the story of attending an events in DC earlier this year wherein I got to see James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars and Mufasa in The Lion King) interviewed live on stage.  I explained that in  attending this event, I learned that James Earl didn’t have a relationship with his dad growing up and how that affected him.  Further, I talked about how interesting it was to me that a man without a father would go on to to voice both the most notorious father to grace the silver screen in recent memory and the best fatherly portrayal I’d ever seen; one that tugs at me even now, because I see so much of my Dad and I in it.  I went on to posit that what my Dad and I have done with the FENX and media coverage over the last few years is part of Eph 2:10 for our lives as father and son, something we were meant to do together.

I thought it important to discuss the issue of disability, difficulty, and healing and how that ties into my purpose, my destiny; putting forward the idea that the “Greater Miracle” wouldn’t be a complete healing of this physical pain and infirmity, but that I have persevered for 30 years with it.  In perseverance I have learned dependence, knowing that I need to depend on the Heavenly Father much like I depend on my earthy Dad.  If my Heavenly Father is looking out for my welfare more-so than my earthly Dad, and my earthy Dad built me a rocket-car, how much more can the Heavenly Father do?  More than I can ask or think  (Matthew 7:9-11 and Eph 3:20 fused).

To wrap it all together, I simply explained:  “If you follow Christ and journey where He wants you to go it will often be filled with unexpected adventures to places and through things you could not imagine.  For once you leave this place and venture outside, the wisdom of Hobbits will ring true – ‘Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread; it’s a dangerous thing going out your front door, for if you don’t keep your feet there is no telling where the road will take you’  If you ask the Father ‘what story are you writing in my life?’ and follow where that leads, then you will be able to follow Obi-Wan Kenobi as Luke Skywalker did and ‘ take your first step into a larger world'”.

People need to know how important this idea of purpose is; there’s a reason that it’s one of the prime things individuals struggle with, that’s because it’s fundamental to who we are.  It’s a large part of the answer to the question “why am I here?”  If a life like mine, with all it’s uncertainty, perceived difficulty, and other challenges can be forged into something that illustrates purpose, plan, and destiny in a way that helps someone else embrace their own, then it makes the overgrown trail…that takes a lightsaber to blaze, worth more than it was moments before that “lollipop moment” happened; even if the wise words of Optimus Prime are often apt – “Destiny rarely calls upon us at the moment of our choosing…”

What is Ephesians 2:10 for you?

Among the many activities and incidents while in Michigan recently to see my brother get married, one found me at the doors of Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan.  Fortunately I wasn’t there because of some biological incident or medical malady, but rather to meet some wonderful people who work in a Family Medical Residency program housed within it’s walls.  Specifically, this program trains medical students to become general practitioners of medicine (aka Family Medicine) and those who graduate from this program generally go into undeserved areas of Michigan to provide much needed medical care.  So why might a lowly Capitol Hill staffer be addressing folks in such a program?  Because folks on both sides of the aisle in Congress worked together to preserve that program.  During the meeting, I talked with the faculty and students about how things had transpired and why it was so important to me to be involved in the effort given my own journey and that I was born in that hospital.  As I told them in the meeting:

“When many of you finish with your residency here, you will go out into under-served areas of Michigan and you’ll meet children just like I was, and their parents. Some will be scared, confused, feeling very alone and unable to cope. But they aren’t alone, they have you. In an age of medical science and genetic testing unheard of when I was born, you are there to guide them with your knowledge and expertise when the genetic test says their child will have a certain propensity for disability and the parents think they can’t; you have to fight for that precious life and reassure the parents they can. If you ever wondered “what are the problems, riddles and conundrums in the world that only I am meant to solve?” – you just got your answer, so know that when the training ends and you walk out these doors you have a purpose”

Upon the meeting’s conclusion, one of the faculty doctors asked me if  I wanted to see the room in which I was born – it happened to be right down the hallway, in an older wing of the hospital. With an small amount of well-hidden trepidation, I said yes – remembering from Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that few people get such an opportunity to engage their own story in this way.  As I stood before the double doors leading into the old wing, with only my exo-skeleton of a walker to shield me from whatever lay beyond, I heard the doctor say “normally we don’t allow this sort of thing because you have to be scrubbed to come back here”.   The doors opened, and I walked through the portal to a distant past; I imagined stepping through the Stargate and into the Dark Side cave on Dagobah in the same instant to a place all-together “other”.  The walls and paint were different, as this part of the hospital hadn’t been remodelled like the others.  To my left, the metal of the doctor’s scrubbing station.  To my right, two doors; the farther one in the corner, my destination.   I suddenly had a small inkling of the “unknown-ness” Luke Skywalker must have felt in that cave; the difference, I left my weapons behind.

I stopped at the door and turn away from it, looking towards the hallway perpendicular to my location; the photographer followed in behind us and had been snapping pictures of this journey.  He wanted a picture of me.  I turned back to the door as the doctor opened it, and I stepped just inside the doorway.  The photographer’s shutter was still snapping; at least I wasn’t facing him as I worked hard to control my emotions.  The doctor pipes in “the walls and tiles are the same as the day they brought your mother in, but the instruments are obviously new”; good to know.     Before me was the operating theatre and to my left, the special baby bed with the lamp wherein the baby goes after the C-section is performed; where I would have been placed for the doctors and nurses to furiously work on as mom lay on the table.   Everything started here; I was looking back in time at the genesis moment of my journey in space-time; thrust from the safety of the womb into the harsh reality of Terra.  All of the scars, all the uncertainty, all the difficulty, started in the space upon which I was gazing; had there been no one else in the hallway at that moment I might have lost control.  Part of me wanted to break, right then; Dad hadn’t even seen this room, only Mom and I were ever here.  The IV fluid issues that lead to my heart stopping and the subsequent brain bleeding causing the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, all the medical visits and surgeries, it all stated here; and 30 years later I had just walked out of a work-related meeting wherein I was the reason for attending – because The Plan started in that room too, the Destiny Clock started ticking.  It was almost too much to process.  I stood there in silence, gripping the red handlebars of my walker that has seen so much, as the truth of my existence washed over me, the truth of destiny, purpose, plan and the Master of the Universe from whence it all comes.  Slowly, I backed out of the doorway, turned around, and, one small step at a time, walked toward those double doors that would take me out of the past and back into the present, out of 1982 and back into 2012.  This Son of Welty did not meet the End of Line in that past or place, but what was just some small steps to and from some doors down a hallway was a giant leap in understanding that I am still ruminating on and will probably do so far a long time.

Wandering, but never all-together lost,

Aaron

I really like books; I like owning them, having shelves full of them, and reading them.  I’m currently in the midst of four separate books between various small groups and my own personal reading.  I started reading Frank Peretti at 11 years old and started collecting the Star Wars expanded Universe at 12; 17 years later my Star Wars  novels count is well over 80 and takes up three shelves of one of my bookcases.  I was obsessed with Christian apocalyptic fiction for most of Jr. High and High School thanks to the Left Behind books (but I won’t say anything more about that – except that I never finished the whole series).  When looking at my bookshelves, I never expected for it to hold a book by Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (which is going to be released as a theatrical film soon)JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, G.P. Taylor, Chuck Colson, and two series on Philosophy and Popular Culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator, Green Lantern, Batman, X-MEN, Battlestar Galactica, 24, LOST) sure, you’d find those, but Donald Miller?  Wasn’t he the guy that the “cool kids” read, those on the 21st Century cutting edge of Christianity?  Yeah, that was way too “Christian Hipster” for me when I actually thought about it, and I honestly would have rather read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books if given the choice (which I own but  haven’t finished).

All that changed one night a few weeks ago.  It was a cold Tuesday night and I’d just finished leading a C.S. Lewis reading group called “The Inklings” (what else would you call it?) when I ran into my friend Andy.  We hadn’t seen one another since the Leadership retreat for National Community Church a few weeks prior, so we got to talking.  Before we knew it we got talking about dreams, destiny, and how it takes intense conflict and perseverance to make a good story (all in “epic superhero/comic book movie” context as well as some of my own life story).  All of the sudden a light goes on inside Andy’s mind and he asks me “Have you ever read Donald Miller?”  I said “no”, and I wasn’t so eager to begin.    Andy began to explain that he understood my hesitation, as he didn’t like Donald Miller either, at first.  It wasn’t until he read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that his perspective began to change (and he has now lead multiple smallgroups though this book).  In fact, my friend believed so much that I should read this book that he bought me a copy and had it sent to my house.  When that happens, you’ve got to give the book a shot because someone you respect sees it as a powerful vessel for wisdom, transformation, and change.  So I began reading.

This being my first experience with this author I didn’t know what to expect.  I had recently seen a trailer for the theatrical release of Blue Like Jazz and it looked very “indie and weird” (redundancy?).  I don’t really like “indie and weird”, except when it crosses over into “epic, super-ish, and full of awesome” like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does (and SO WELL), because I live in the land of epic and I don’t’ like to stray outside those borders.  As I read I began to realize that one of the threads going through this book was the story of how Blue Like Jazz was going to become a movie: a ground floor account of the author’s life though that process and how it all went down (from characters, to conflict, inciting incidents, plot turns and the like).  I began to wonder “Has George Lucas done this?” and I found myself wishing the answer was yes.

Miller uses this book to look at his life as a story, and to ask the overall question of “what makes a good story and am I living one, a story worth living and inviting others to be a part of?”  As I read I realized that these were questions that I was (and am) consistently wrestling with in light of some of my experiences.  It brought to mind the ending of the two part episode of Facing Life Head On that I was featured in last year, when the host of the show, Brad Mates, says that I and my fellow interviewees had made our lives “stories worth telling”.  Does that mean that at the end of every day you have to be able to say that the day that just ended was worth it?  No, it does not, but worthwhile things have sure happened.  Often in our own stories it’s others that see the worth that we can’t as we’re in the midst of it, as I wrote about Kirk and Spock yesterday.

The book talks about how in Star Wars, the viewer can pause the movie at any point and ask the question “what does a certain character want and what do they have to overcome to get it?” and you know the answer.  Luke wants to become a Jedi and join the Rebellion; Leia wants to defeat the Empire; Han Solo want money so he can pay off Jabba the Hutt.  Ben Kenobi wants to teach Luke the ways of the Force.  Reader finds themselves asking, “what do I want and what do I have to overcome to get it?”  (Along that line of thinking I started to read Quitter by Jon Acuff and will blog about it when I finish the book).  I started asking myself, “is mine a story that is one others should be invited to participate in?” once the book raised this question.

In addressing this question, thoughts drift to The FENX (how can it not?)  I think of how that part of the my story touches and relates to so many other parts and is the fulfilment of some aspects (like wishing I were a superhero).  It’s also something that so many have been invited to be part of.  From Carl Sears and his wife Sheila at NBC to Brad Mates at Facing Life Head On; from radio show hosts Aleksander Danilov, Rick Amato, Anthony DiMiggaio, and Armstrong Williams to writers like Kate Tumerello and Roll Call newspaper.  Even two wonderful ladies who work at NASA and have become good friends of mine (one I actually went to high school with).  Not to mention friends in DC that find themselves part of the crazy incidents that happen on a regular basis and become wondrous tales.  It isn’t just my story anymore; they’ve all been invited to be part of it, and in accepting it’s become part of their story too.  One of the pastors at National Community Church once said that “everyone had that friend on college that was the crazy one that stuff happened to all the time; you either wanted to be around them or run from them because of that.”  I am fortunate to have friends that haven’t run away yet.

There’s still much ground to cover any always improvements to be made, and some of them monumental ones, but yes, I think my life to be a story worth living on the whole of it.  Remember that a good story requires intense conflict and perseverance – the road of The Greater Miracle is unpaved and sparsely trod – the Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans 5:3-5 for a reason, venturing into the realm of suffering where Yoda dared not go.

What sort of story is your life, is it one that people want to be a part of?  Are you inviting people to be part of it?

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