A New Hope (or The Jar-Jar Redemption)

I have really tried to keep a level head about this because it so easy to be burned. I look at it on paper and sometimes it makes perfect sense and other times it seems like the worst idea ever. Then the first teaser trailer hit and there was the fanfare and that shot and I'm rocketed back into wide-eyed childhood.

"But it's easy it to make a great trailer," I tell myself. "Bad movies have had phenomenal trailers." Yet, still, there is that twinge of hope.

The second trailer came out today and I just gave in. That gorgeous opening shot of a downed Star Destroyer on a desert planet. Luke Skywalker talking about the Force. Brand new characters running from peril. X-Wings. Tie-Fighters. Lightsaber-wielding bad guys. Chewbacca and Han Freaking Solo. Could Star Wars: The Force Awakens be a disappointment? Absolutely. But I'm going to let my heart believe; at least for today and probably for tomorrow.

Here's the thing: for a certain segment of the population--basically any kid that grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy--we desperately want these new movies to be good. We don't want Jar-Jar Binks and midichlorians and "Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo" to be the final word for this series. And I write that as someone who is a Star Wars fan, but by no means a STAR WARS FAN (I am not totally sure what I mean by the all-caps, but it means something).

If you love a story, you want it to be told well. Stories, even tales of galaxies far, far away, are living and breathing things. They have legacies. That's why sequels and new chapters are so exciting and anxiety-inducing for people. What if this new chapter hurts the beloved story's legacy (i.e. Why Toy Story 4 terrifies me)? Or what if this new chapter recaptures the spark that made people fall in love with the story in the first place? Hope and fear are intertwined as the tale carries on.

Of course, stories are not just works of fiction that we see on the silver screen or read about in novels. Our lives are stories and that makes things far more complicated. For example, there is The Story of America. That is a story that is ridiculously complicated, which always frustrates me when politicians and others try to make it more simple than it actually is. Those not in power declare that things were unilaterally awesome and now things have never been worse (not true). Those in power want to assert that things have never been better (also not true). In reality, things are good. Things are bad. Things have gotten better in some ways and worse in others. 

I reflect on this idea with respect to the story of the Church. I am largely aware of how complicated that story is in reality. It involves millions of people spread across tens of thousands of denominations. Even if I localize that story to the United States (which is really something we do far too much), the complication does not disappear. To oversimplify the tale would be to silence the legitimate stories of people that follow God.

Yet at the same time, I get this sense that the story the Church has been telling of late has been filled with Jar-Jar Binksi, cringe-worthy dialogue, and an over-reliance on special effects (parse that out as you will). Don't get me wrong, there have been some wonderful things going on in our story too. Yet I look around and feel like we--like I--could be doing a lot better expressing the story that God has given us the chance to tell.

That is always the case to a certain degree because we aren't perfect. Yet it is also true that the Church will often have a rebirth of sorts. By the grace of God, we'll follow up a series of mediocre or downright horrible sequels with something that reminds us why we fell in love with this story in the first place. We hit a groove where we rediscover the heart of the gospel.

That's what I want to see. Yet I have to realize that for new chapter to take place, it may have to take turns which make me and people all across the wide Christian spectrum uncomfortable. New stories take risks while remaining true to their core.

I try to keep a level head about this because it is easy to be burned, but I think I can see bits and pieces of that new story. Unlike a one-shot movie, it won't all be released at once. The beautiful redemptive stories will flicker to life like stars in the sky even as there is still an expanse of darkness. On the good days, I hope that I am seeing the beginning of some great stories told by the Church.

And if I get to live to see that rebirth gain momentum then that will make me even more excited than an awesome new tale from a galaxy far, far away.

Ghost Stories

Doubting Jesus