Star Wars Bible Study Week 4: Force vs. Force

Luke Defeats Vader with power
Vader Saves Luke
Vader Dies
View 0:00 – 11:05 Only

Obi-wan and Yoda are training Luke in the hope that he can defeat Darth Vader and the Emperor. When Luke talks with Obi-wan’s force ghost on Degobah after Yoda’s death, Luke tells Obi-wan, “I can’t kill my own father,” to which Obi-wan responds, “Then the Emperor has already won, you were our final hope.” Luke believes that there is still something in Darth Vader that is good, Obi-wan disagrees, “He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil.”

Everyone in the struggle, the Emperor, Yoda, Darth Vader, and Obi-wan believe that the ultimate winner will be the who is most powerful in the force. Through the years, the Jedi have been training themselves to let go of their attachments, this is why they have been forbidden to marry, because fear of losing the things they love leads to using the force selfishly and ultimately the dark side. But through training themselves to be detached, they also lost some of their ability to have empathy and compassion, which is why Luke’s idea of saving Vader seems so ludicrous.

In Darth Vader’s death scene, Vader asks Luke to take off his helmet so he can see Luke through his own eyes, and when the mask is removed, the monster within in is revealed to be an old, shriveled, scarred, sad, broken man. Luke had the ability to see this version of his father before the mask was removed. Yoda and Obi-wan did not. And so Luke willingly hands himself over to Vader in the hopes of reaching the Anakin inside the helmet.

But Vader takes Luke to the Emperor anyway, where the Emperor reveals to Luke that he has trapped his friends and plans on destroying everything that Luke loves. Luke reacts in anger because he is afraid of losing those he loves, he has not purged his attachment to them like a proper Jedi. He force-reaches for his light saber and the duel with Vader begins. Throughout the fight, Luke is struggling to reconcile this, he does not want to fight his father, and at one point hides. This is when Darth Vader senses Luke’s strongest feelings of love for his sister Leia, whose identity was unknown to Vader until that moment. When Vader threatens to turn her to the dark side, Luke’s anger boils over and he attacks Vader with searing conviction. He overpowers him and cuts off his hand. Seeing the smoking wires of what is left of Vader’s robotic hand, Luke looks down at his own robotic hand. Just as Vader had cut off his hand, he had now cut off Vader’s hand, and Luke realizes that in his anger he had become the thing he hated. The Emperor tells Luke that he should finish Vader off, and seize his newly found power. And this is the point that Luke does something that no Jedi or Sith could have guessed or understood. He throws away his light saber. He realizes that the battle between dark and light cannot be won by force defeating force, power defeating power, violence defeating violence. Luke’s solution was his all his own.

The Emperor calls him a fool, and uses his Sith lightning to try to kill him. But the compassion that Luke has shown to his father, and his intuition that there is still good in him, reawakens something inside Vader, and Vader becomes the father to Luke that he himself has needed from the beginning. And in the end, the Emperor and the Sith are not defeated using the force at all, but with something entirely unexpected: belief that there is still good, trust in someone untrustable, courage to hold on to convictions about what is right, and the ability to see past the mask.

In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Throughout history, there have been individuals who believed that the cycle of “power over” cannot be defeated by more applying more coercive “power over”: Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela. In a time when we are filled with anger, and many swords are drawn, what do you think about this philosophy, and maybe more importantly, how does it make you feel?

As Christians our purpose is not to preserve a specific way of life, to protect the Christian culture, to solidify or preserve any particular system of institutional beliefs or theological formulations, or even to advance a particular Christian world view. Rather, it is to live out of the realization that even before our lives have turned toward a new direction, before our mess has been cleaned up and reorganized, before our life’s brokenness has begun to mend, God has already accepted each of us exactly as we are right now. And from that starting point, we participate in helping to create the reality of the kingdom of God on earth as contained in the values of Jesus: a reality based upon compassion instead of coercion, cooperation instead of competition, courage instead of fear, and forgiveness instead of tribal dominance. It is a reality where justice is not merely retribution or vengeance, but ultimately, it is the creative work that occurs after an event of irreparable brokenness, to reconstruct some version of wholeness and prevent future harm. This is the Kingdom we pursue.

Star Wars Bible Study Week 3: The Lightside, the Darkside, Good, and Evil

The temptation of Anakin by Palpatine
George Lucas on the difference between the lightside and the darkside.

1. The scene between Palpatine and Anakin in the balcony reminds me of the Garden of Eden story, in which Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent. When I was younger I viewed the sin of Adam and Eve being primarily one of disobedience. They knew the rule about not eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they decided to break it anyway. As I have gotten older, I realized the great depth of this story. The serpent tempts them by telling them that they will become like God when they have the knowledge of good and evil. This is not simply a story about obedience, but also a story about growing up, loosing the innocence of childhood, and bearing the responsibility of knowing what is right and what is wrong.  Anakin wants the power to keep people from dying to save the woman he loves. But his pursuit of this power leads him to want to exert greater and greater control over everything and everyone. From Adam and Eve, to the fictional Anakin Skywalker, the temptation to have more knowledge and control, usually over our future, is immense. Jesus says that we should not worry about our necessities, that when we pursue the kingdom, God provides for us. (Matt. 6:31-34) Do you struggle with the desire to control the future? How do you manage it? Do you believe that God provides for our needs?

2. It is tempting to see the finished version of Darth Vader as purely evil. Yet we can see that his descent is a complicated one. It is tempting to try to separate reality into white and black, good guys and bad guys. But reality is more complicated. While history and moral judgment have fallen squarely against the Nazi’s in WW II or the Confederate States in the Civil War, even the “good guys” can commit atrocities in war. Both sides pray for their soldiers to be safe. Does God take sides?

Star Wars Bible Study Week 2: The Wisdom of Yoda

Luke Meets Yoda

Yoda is not what Luke expected. Ben Kenobi never said that Yoda was a great warrior, that was Luke’s assumption, to which Yoda responds, “Wars not make one great.” Often we expect strength, power, and immensity from those we deem as masters. This is especially true when speaking about God or Jesus, both of whom are often depicted in our artwork or imaginations as great conquering warriors, to rid the world of that which we deem as evil. This was the expectation for the Jewish Messiah, and it is often ours as well. Yet, Jesus is poor, born to poor parents in a barn. The incarnation of God appears in the body of a helpless baby. Jesus does not use his power to conquer or coerce, but to forgive and to heal. He is not what we expect. Can you think of an example in your life where God or Jesus has defied your expectations?

Yoda Reveals His Identity – Quote 7 only

Yoda describes Luke as impatient, angry, and reckless. He says, “All his life he looks away to the future, never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” Jesus says in Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Especially in this time of the pandemic, with uncertainty about health or income, it is easy for our focus to be consumed by the worry of the future. Sometimes I feel like we as Christians can become so focused on what lies at the end of the line: heaven, or the second coming, for instance, that we forget to have our mind on “where we are, what we are doing.” How do we heed Jesus’ words to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” in the reality of the present moment?

Yoda Pulls The X-wing From The Bog

1. We human beings living in the post-modern age are naturally inclined to think about reality in a dualistic framework. This stems all the way back to the Greek idea that reality is separated into the material and immaterial. It manifests itself in us in the way that we think of the physical world being the domain of science, and the spiritual world being the domain for religion. We think of our bodies as often being disconnected from our spirits, like the Platonic idea of immortality of the soul, our spirits live and our bodies die. The early Christian ideas were very different. They believed in resurrection of the body, that we would be raised into some new bodily form, like the resurrection stories of Jesus, in which Jesus is not purely a ghost. As science digs deeper, we discover the ambiguous gray area between the quantum physics at work in our bodies, and how this is inexplicably linked to what we call our own consciousness. Yoda says that the force is everywhere that there is life, that it connects everything within our physical reality, binding all creation together. The Hebrew word for the Spirit of God is “ruach”, which literally translated means “wind” or “breath.” God is encountered in the wind, in our breath. This is very different than the God suggested by Spinoza, that sets the universe spinning, with all of its laws, and remotely allows it to play itself out. When speaking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, “The godless world can’t take this friend in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know this friend already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” We are all in it together! So, what do you think? Have you ever felt God in the wind, or found God in the breath?

2. Luke fails in his attempt to save his ship from the bog. When Yoda uses the force to raise the ship, Luke exclaims “I don’t believe it!”, to which Yoda responds, “That is why you fail.” In the Bible, we are told to believe over and over again. Often, we interpret this as meaning that we must believe a certain set of facts. Sometimes we think it means that we must accept that certain biblical stories are historical events, or that we must acknowledge that a certain theological interpretation is true. Sometimes we think that believing means accepting certain orthodoxies or doctrinal formulations by the church. What did Luke mean when he said that he didn’t believe it? Did he mean that he refused to accept the fact that the ship was sitting on the land? Was it a lack of belief in facts? If I were to say that I believed in my son Zachary, I would not be saying that I believe in his identity or the fact that he exists. I would be saying that I have come to know who Zachary is, I understand his character, and I have built a trust with him. Luke says he cannot believe it, because he does not know Yoda well yet, or have much trust built up in the force, or himself, and so the new reality surprised him. Maybe when we are told to “believe”, rather than being asked to accept some set of facts, we are being asked to come to know who Jesus is by learning about his character, and incorporating his ideas and actions into our lives, to attempt to copy the things that he did in his life, and in so doing, learn to trust it. What do you think? Have you ever been surprised by God, and had to exclaim, even if only to yourself, “I don’t believe it!”

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