It’s been a while since we’ve built our conversation around an iconic piece of pop culture. So let’s go there this week.
In a really interesting article posted at the website Mockingbird, Baptist pastor Brad Gray muses on the failures of the two great Jedi masters of the saga, Yoda and Luke Skywalker, and why we can learn from and take comfort in them:
The similarities between Master Yoda’s and Luke Skywalker’s stories could not be greater. They both, of course, represent the best the “Jedi order” has to offer. Yet, at the same time, their idealistic devotion to the Jedi religion is also what leads to their distinctive downfalls. Both masters of their creed, Yoda and Luke experience grievous falls from grace that leave the blood squarely on their hands. They are each involved in epic snafus stemming from an altruistic motive to train future Jedi knights, the results of which leave both masters sequestered in self-imposed exile. …
In that way, Luke’s story serves as a parable for what we often believe of ourselves. We witness the failures of our parents and brazenly proclaim, “I’ll never do that. I’ll never make those mistakes.” Never realizing that failure is a gift. The blunders of those who have gone before are not blemishes easily buffed-out through meticulous energy and efficiency. Rather, they are scars that are meant to remind us, guide us, and advise us.
When the writers at Mockingbird speak of grace, this is what they mean: “Broadly speaking, grace can be understood as God’s unmerited favor toward human beings, his one-way, sacrificial love for sinful men and women who deserve anything but. It is a gift with no strings attached. Grace is the answer we receive in Christ to the question of God’s disposition toward troubled people like you and me.” But, they point out, grace also has a “horizontal” dimension, coming into play in our relationships with each other:
While humans tend to attach strings to the gifts we give, acts of mercy and charity that occur in spite (or because) of ample reason for them not to could be considered gracious. We often experience grace in such terms, being loved when we feel unlovable, praised when we deserve reproach, rewarded when we should be punished, etc.
To tie this back to Star Wars, and failure, Gray argues for the teaching power of getting it wrong, and how important it is to share with others not just our strengths and successes but our weaknesses and failures as well. Luke’s failure, he argues, was in thinking that he could replicate himself in his apprentice, the doomed Kylo Ren. He says this can serve as a parable of what we believe about ourselves, witnessing the failures of our parents or our mentors and loudly proclaiming that we’ll never make those mistakes ourselves. But failure, Gray says, is a form of grace, a gift, scars that are meant to remind us, guide us, and advise us. Orthodox priest Fr. Stephen Freeman writes compellingly about the spiritual dimensions of failure:
I think failure is far more important than success. Not everybody succeeds. Failure is the true universal experience. Learning to deal with failure is certainly among the most important skills in life. It is also essential for being a Christian.
The general experience of failure is that it is accompanied by shame. When we fail, we feel that we have not only fallen short by some external measure but have fallen short as a person. We feel diminished and of less worth. For some, this experience has been internalized to such an extent as to be their default self-perception. That’s the voice of toxic shame.
Many times the strength of God is made complete simply as we sit in His presence and acknowledge our failure. This acknowledgement is bearable when we allow our failure to be captured and swallowed by His strength.
So in our conversation this week we’ll be talking about failure, grace, and maybe even Star Wars. What have you learned from your own failures? And what do you think yo’ve learned from the failures of others? When in your life have you experienced grace? When have you offered grace to others? And is Star Wars really about failure and grace? What makes you think so?
Join us for the virtual discussion tomorrow evening, starting at 7 pm. Keep reading down for details on how to join the session.
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