Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

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.

Schwarzenegger. Stallone. Willis. Lungren. Staham. Jet Li.  These men are the paragons of Hollywood action films spanning the last thirty-plus years.  Terminator. Predator. The Rocky Saga. Die Hard movies. Demolition Man. Judge Dredd. The Fifith Element.  Punisher.  The One. Transporter. Crank. Death Race.  And yes, even Masters of the Universe.    These are the movies that made them stars and household names.  The idea of ever getting these names all together for a single film was about as crazy as Marvel Studio’s plan to build-up to and then execute a “team-up” film called The Avengers.   Crazy as it sounded it happened in 2010 when Lionsgate released The Expendables and it did surprisingly well, earning $274 million and some change.  Low on character development and complex plot, it was the ultimate throwback to the action movies that made these men who they are today…and it was a fun ride that showed there are men out there – though rough and tumble – willing to take on the evil and corruption that others will not.

What happens when there’s a sequel with the same cast – and more Arnold and Willis – but with the addition of names like Norris and Van Dame?  It’s a better movie.  Chuck Norris plays “Booker” a lone-wolf gun for hire that pops in and out of the movie and honestly has the best scene in the film involving one of the actual “Chuck Norris Jokes” and it fits perfectly.  And Van Dame?  He plays the villainous dude – who wants access to, literally, tons of previously mined and stored uranium for black market money – that Sly’s team has to take down.  Nevertheless, it’s not that simple: Van Dame murders one of Sly’s team members in front of all of them as only he can:  a Guile-kick strait out of Street Fighter or something from Bloodsport, involving a metal knife.  This murdered member wanted out of the business after this last job so he could take the money and start a new life with his girlfriend, a French combat nurse he met in Afghanistan.  From there the rest of the film involves tracking down Van Dame and defeating him while the various action stars play somewhat caricatures of themselves and make comical references to one-anothers’ previous movie roles.  It’s worth seeing once just for that.

The message though, comes at the cliff-side memorial amongst the team for their fallen member, when Sly asks the question: Why is it that the youngest of us, the one most eager to live, dies and the older ones, worthy of death keep on living; what’s the message in that?  It’s a powerful scene and a poignant question, one the movie seems to answer by taking down the bad guy and saving the world from an unknown threat.  In part, to honor their teammate and ensure his death was not in vain but also to reiterate that as long as evil lurks, there is need for those wiling to fight against the manifested selfish darkness of human nature – even those who themselves are scarred by it.

I actually got more than I bargained for with this movie and I was pleasantly surprised.  For those wanting to see it, keep your eyes peeled for a dual nod to  Star Wars and Rocky IV; it’s impressive.

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?

Recently, I hopped abroad a airplane for a weekend trip to ‘The  Mitten” (aka Michigan).  While I did get to spend time with friends and family – not to mention the best plane conversation ever – none of those reasons are why I actually went.  I flew to Michigan because an aspiring film maker named Zack Arnold – who is also the editor for the show Burn Notice on USA Network – asked me to attend a special screening of”GO FAR” the documentary about his close friend, the late Chris Rush.  I’ve shared Chris’s story before and the progress that has been made in this effort to showcase the life of one man to encourage and inspire many.  So, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I hopped in the car with my brother Seth and we drove to the Michigan Theater on the campus of University of Michigan (where Zack and Chris attended undergrad together).

I’d never been in a movie theater before that I would describe as upscale or “swanky” but this fit the bill, even my brother commented on how nice the place was.  Finally getting to connect face-to-face with Zack after a year and a half of following his progress on this project and meet Chris’s father and talk with him about how I was drawn to Chris’s story by its power and potential for impact and that when there is a good story to be told I’m compelled to assist if I can.  Not too long after pizza, soda, and some cookies my brother was rather fond of, we entered the screening room and took our seats.  Zack took a few moments to tell us all why we were there, why he felt compelled to tell the story of this life but we all knew: this was his close friend, dear enough to name his son after him, who lived the life of a hero, one for whom the impossible became possible…because he was awesome.  Someone who inspired those around him to be better, just by being himself.

The film spans pretty much all of Chris’s life; from his younger days as a poster child with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, his high-school experience of becoming the first quadriplegic ever to be licensed for scuba-diving, his college days at the University of Michigan, and his days at the law school at Wayne State, using Chris’s own matrix of Goals, Obstacles, Focus, Achieve, and Review (GO-FAR) to segment the story as well as showcase his love for Star Wars.   An amazing and emotional tale of real life that doesn’t shy away from success and hardship, difficulty and joy; a story that features such individuals as Tony Orlando and Jerry Lewis.  As my brother commented later: “seeing something like that, you can’t help but feel as if you have no excuse to not do something with your life”; I couldn’t agree more.

For Seth and I, it was a little odd being the only individuals invited to be part of this screening who didn’t know Chris personally, but I’m representative of the target audience as Zack later explained.  A story like this, while for all, is meant to give hope to those with disabilities and medical challenges.  As Zack said, “you understand Chris’s struggle” and he’s quite right about that.  In the end it was a great way to spend an afternoon with my brother and a privilege to be part of the next step in telling this true tale.  I have no doubt that big things are ahead for this project as the waves and ripples of Chris’s life continue to touch many others, fitting as his last wish was to be buried at sea in the Cayman Islands where he first learned to walk; not on grass, carpet, or concrete, but on the sands of the ocean floor.

You went far Chris, father than most of us ever will…and the “Saga of Rush” is far from over.

How important is  seating on a commercial airline flight?  Business types shoot hard and fast for first class, having grown accustomed to a life granted them by their acumen, success, or both.  Sometimes though, I wonder about some of first class’s denizens – how did you get here?  Look the type to be lounging and sipping a Martini or Mai-Thai you do not!  Personally, I fly coach and shoot for the rear since it is safer to wait for all the impatient people to exit the aircraft.  By the time they’re done jostling baggage and off to their next-oh-so-important destination, my walker is off the plane and I can continue on.  In coach though it’s always the “window vs. aisle” debate and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was an aisle guy. What if you get stuck in the dreaded middle seat, sitting motionless amidst the neutral zone?

Welcome to the life of a guy named Matt Gesser, who – as hard as he tried to get a window seat – got stuck in the neutral zone on a Delta flight from Baltimore to Detroit, en-route to Tulsa, Oklahoma last week.  Like a good Dad, Matt was trying to get home for the football scrimmage of one of his sons.  A lover of both Jesus and Star Wars, it’s no surprise that he once helped with a church plant and that he works with Star Wars merchandise in his day job; the Imperial Crest tattoo on his arm is also a dead giveaway.  A husband and father of three boys, he’s always looking for inspiring stories and real life examples to share with his sons, as the eldest of the triad wants to one day play in the National Football League and the middle son, Stone, loves drawing things from Star Wars and watching Star Wars:  The Clone Wars with his dad.  It’s while sitting in that aisle seat that I met Matt.

Don’t ask me how the conversation started, I can’t remember.  I can tell you it covered everything from Jesus, Star Wars, and the connection between the Apostle Paul and The Terminator, to my story, the FENX Project, his work with Hasbro, how he moved across the country to help with a church plant, and what I hope to do once my job in Congress ends.   We talked the whole flight, one thing to another, much like Lando and Wedge racing to escape the reaction which precipitated the destruction of the Death Star II.  Towards the end of the conversation he assured me that one way or another this idea I have of traveling and speaking to share my journey with others would come to pass, and that he wanted to share my story with his sons to show them that “the impossible can become possible…”  It felt a little bit like living an episode of Touch…again.

Probably the best airline conversation I’ve ever had; who knew the neutral zone would ever be so important, that even an airline seat had a destiny?

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?