Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Messiahs, Last Jedis, and Christmas Connections

On our recent trip to San Diego, we went to a beautiful Lutheran church downtown for Christmas Eve service.  We sang almost every Christmas carol possible, and we had communion.  We took our lit candles out into the chilly patio--we sang "Go Tell It on the Mountain," after singing "Silent Night" as we lit the candles; it was that kind of service.

And then we walked the 6 or so blocks back to our swanky downtown hotel.  We saw people sleeping on the ground, and I thought about the Gospel and what it means when there's no room at the inn.  On every block, people settled down to sleep on sidewalks and huddled beside buildings as Christmas Eve moved to Christmas morning.

I prayed for them as we walked past; the act of praying made me realize how many San Diego residents sleep/live out in the open.  I wanted to do more.  I had a vision of passing out Christmas cookies, but I had left them in my freezer a continent away.

I wish I could do more, like providing affordable housing.  But I know that homelessness is a complex issue.  If everyone had a house, we'd need a source of funding to care for the house.  Not everyone can hold down a job.  Not everyone is mentally stable enough to live in a house alone or with family members.  Not everyone wants to stay put.

On Christmas day, we hiked back down the hill to the Gaslamp district to see the latest Star Wars movie.  I'm a different kind of geek, the kind that sees the Jungian architecture, the one who sees everything through my English major lens, the one who can find a theological reading for every pop culture product that comes my way.

How interesting to see The Last Jedi less than 24 hours after Christmas Eve service and after an Advent month of longing--and after a political season that has included shifts I never would have forecast or believed.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of theology the movie presents.  It's an interesting blend of ancient religions and modern spirituality, as always.  I don't believe that the movie tells us that the destiny of humans is pre-ordained--and how interesting that twist is to me.

I love the message of the movie, at least the take-away message for me:  we don't fight evil by adopting the tools of the evil regime, we fight evil by saving what we love.  A parallel message is that we don't have to be part of a spiritual dynasty to join the fight for the future--the Force is available to us all.

I thought of our cultural desire for a Messiah, for someone who will save us.  But we're often doomed by our insistence on being the Messiah--it was interesting to watch this movie with the words of John the Baptist ringing in my head:  "I am not the Messiah."  I'm still thinking about these parallel ideas--how to respond to a world with so much need for a Messiah?  We can't be the Messiah, but people need more than just the promise that a Messiah will come.  I worry that I'm transposing my theological ideas on the movie, but here it is:  the Force (which I've always understood to be God) operates much more effectively in the world when there are spiritually attuned people to help.  Those light sabers and rocks won't move themselves. 

The idea that the Force can be used for good or for evil (or for profoundly mixed motives) isn't one that Christianity traditionally presents to believers, but it makes sense to me.  I don't see God as a parent, but as a partner, albeit a partner who knows more and has more resources than I do.

We left the movie and walked back through the ritzy dining establishments that were open on Christmas day.  We left the Gaslamp district and walked by all the people setting up camp for the night by the city's sidewalks.  We exchanged Christmas greetings.

And again, I prayed for us all.

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