Tuesday notebook: Star Wars Canon and History

The first scene of The Bad Batch, the Lego Specials and Visions have got me thinking about why I enjoy canon continuity so much. Not so much the actual stories but the conversations they often bring up. I’ve spoken my piece about it before, especially the way I experience comics and novels having the same importance as films and tv. I think that’s the main difference between my own experience and that of my friends who don’t feel as connected to canon. Anyways, the ‘ol mind gears are turning about this topic once more. So here’s a proposition that I only partly believe, and not in the either-or way it’s presented:

Star Wars is not a mythology. It’s a history.

Again, I don’t really believe that. Of course it’s a mythology. It’s just that I don’t primarily experience it that way, with the fluidity, imagery and divinity that it entails. Star Wars for me is a history; even Jedi lore is a continuous story of cause and effect, an etiology that passes through High Republic to the Skywalker Saga to describe the “how did we get here” of Order 66, and the “where do we go from here” of Endor, Jakku and one day Exegol.

There’s the term: “etiology.” A narrative, presented in historical sequence, with an ideological, political or theological message that the storyteller is trying to drive home. I mean Bede’s and Eusebius’s histories. I mean, most of all, the Deuteronomistic history written to explain the Babylonian exile and God’s purposes of restoration. It’s written with a point, a purpose, but more concrete than a mythic “prehistory.” So, maybe continuities remind me of Star Wars’ fundamentally historical nature.

I’d argue that Lucas was trying to tell a real-world etiology through this fictional historical narrative, at least in part. How did we get to Vietnam and Iraq? Where do we go from the fall of the Iron Curtain, the rise (and hopefully fall) of qnon. And the questions I’m most interested in: how did we get to the end of Christendom, and how do Christians live faithfully and charitably now that we suddenly find ourselves a minority in so many more spaces than we used to? I think Qui-gon, Obi-wan, Luke, Ahsoka and Rey would have things to tell us—they have things to tell us—that light us on our way.

A final left-field thought. I’m reading Soccernomics, the premise of which is to apply economic calculations and principles to that other love of mine, Association Football. There’s also a chapter that contrasts soccer from North American sports. I won’t go into too many details here, but the chapter points out how the global sport has longer stretches of the season, and more opportunities for more teams, to play games that directly affect what happens to them in the future of that season, or the next. It also means that there are more games that are directly implicated by what happened in previous games. There’re simply less ways for this to happen in North American sports: if you’re eliminated from the playoffs, that’s it for now despite more games to play.

I wonder if that’s trained my brain to think a certain way: there’s an added oomph, a deeper interest, if a story is more directly implicated in what came before and directly implicates what happens next. In fiction, it also demonstrates the brilliant, satisfying, long-term planning of “show not tell” that I described yesterday. Finally, it’s realistic: something a character/person experiences at one point in their life will affect them later in life. We connect with, resonate with a character more when we see that occurring. We also get really excited when we hear something like the phrase, “I’m Cobb Vanth, the Marshall of Mos Pelgo.”

Or maybe I just love the way both Star Wars and Soccer are histories. Etiologies. Chicken or egg?

Monday notebook: Coach Nate

*spoilers for the Ted Lasso season 2 finale*

Here I go again, cheering for the bad guy. Ok fine I didn’t actually cheer for Nate to succeed, but there’s something satisfying about a well-written and well-performed villain origin story. I feel a hint of pride for the guy, who had a conviction, acted on it and stuck with it, and now he’s gained his independence, his power. His convictions were wrong and his actions were horrible: he’s now positioned as the villain after all, in an immensely clever bait-and-switch that follows directly on everything we’ve seen him experience, even if a far cry from the loveable, almost bumbling towel boy from season one.

We’ve seen him experience it. A cardinal rule of storytelling is “show, not tell,” and this show played that perfectly. We saw his horrified face when Roy came back to coach, relegating Nate’s influence to the literal and proverbial sidelines. We saw how he became motivated to up his confidence, transforming his fashion and developing that evocative, self-loathing and self-liberating spit. We saw how his father treated him, demanding, withholding praise but easy and direct with the criticisms. Nate was looking for a father to welcome and value him, and he never got it. If only he had spent some time with Dr. Fieldstone. Then he would have been able to see himself and others properly.

But now, at the end of season two, he sees us. That parting shot, smirking triumphantly from the touchline of the West Ham training session, is a glare that not only breaks but decimates the fourth wall. “I see you, and I see how you create villains like me.” It takes a village to make a villain. Withholding, critical fathers. Shame and fear at the reality of human vulnerability and all our struggles with mental health. A society that offers the tempting prospect that more money and power will paper over those struggles, wish them away, or worse, fix them. Sam shows us what happens when a man has a loving, supportive father. Ted and Jamie show us the true strength that comes when those whose fathers were absent or abusive learn to face that reality. Nate, our sympathetic (or utterly unsympathetic, your mileage may vary) villain, is going to further warn us that we still fall short of our ideals.

Tuesday notebook: Vernestra Rwoh, relatable prodigy

Original photo here.

I hope to have separate outlets for fandom and soccer writing, but for now I’ll keep them here.

*spoilers for Justina Ireland’s Out of the Shadows*

Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh could have been annoyingly unrealistic. I think we’re meant to think it’s a little ridiculous for a 16/17-year-old to be elevated to knighthood, much less have a Padawan of her own. It would have been ridiculous if she suddenly had everything figured out, knew precisely what to do all the time and, more importantly, knew how to react appropriately in every situation. Sure, there’re plenty of examples that show her to be a bona fide prodigy, from her steady leadership of younglings on the jungle moon, to her continued command just before the Valo attack (I’m about halfway through Daniel Jose Older’s Race to Crashpoint Tower). Much of her involvement in the Starros/Graf/San Tekka conflict displays uncommon maturity, culminating in the trust that Mari San Tekka shows her on The Oracle’s deathbed.

But there’s one moment in Out of the Shadows that clinches a more realistic character for me: her impatient response to her former Master Stellan now ordering her on behalf of the Jedi Council to accompany Ghirra Starros. We’re shown in this novel how Vernestra strongly sides with Avar Kriss’s emerging “interventionist” faction: Jedi who believe The Force is calling them to take a more active leadership role in the Republic’s war against the Nihil. Some of Rwoh’s commitment to this position may be a studied conviction, and it’s clearly tempered as shown when she abhorrs Jordanna’s use of excessive violence.

But there’s also an immaturely rebellious side to Vern (yeah, sorry Jedi Rwoh). She gets excited at the prospect of a “secret mission,” but then sarcastically protests when Stellan gives her the actual assignment to chaperone Starros. She blurts out, “’It’s not like we’d be of more use fighting the Nihil with Avar back on Starlight,’” very much believing that she and her Padawan would be of much greater use joining the fray. We’re told that “her tone was bitter,” although “she regretted the words as soon as they were out.” Stellan admonishes her to respect the importance of the assignment and the trust that the Council is putting in her. She gets there, but only after taking a moment to move through and past the “frustration” of feeling like “she was being sent to do the same kind of Padawan busywork Stellan had given her once upon a time.” (Out of the Shadows, 191-193)

She’s conflicted, she doesn’t have it all together, doesn’t always respond in the most mature way. Which is to say that Justina Ireland has written a thoroughly compelling and relatable adolescent prodigy, reminding us of another immature wunderkind who craved “adventure…excitement” at odds with the “deepest commitment, the most serious mind” that Jedi are called to pursue.

Monday notebook: False and True prophets

Here I go again. Another writing discipline. It may be rough but it’s here. Let’s do this.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading, combined with a fine sermon from the associate priest, got me thinking about the prophetic office and vocation. (We did the Feast of the Dedication so the readings are different.) Well, to be fair, a lot of things prompt me to think about the prophetic vocation these days. Jesus sure does root out corruption, clean house, get angry. The cleansing of the temple is rightly understood as an image of divine wrath on the corrupt exclusivisms of the Church, but we can’t stop there if we’re going to drive down to the true heart of prophecy. We often think prophecy is all about getting angry, making waves at the authorities, saying the “unpopular” thing. But it’s so very easy for those to turn into ends in themselves–or worse, ways to prop up the prophet’s own ego. Whatever happens to be unpopular can so quickly become popular, the waves and changes of one generation have a funny way of getting entrenched as the institutional MO, and frankly some folks have more of a right to be angry than others. Mark Driscoll, and perhaps some critics of Mark Driscoll, are poignant examples of prophecy gone awry. I’m one episode into the Christianity Today podcast about all that, and I can already see how truly prophetic it might be by not going the ideologically angry route of “gotcha” journalism.

Prophecy, be it Jesus in the temple, or Jeremiah in Judah or the compilers of the Deuteronomistic history in Babylon and after the exile, or those of us discerning a call to name the internal struggles and complicities of the Church today, does not get some sort of exception away from being rooted in the love of God who builds up God’s people, the love of God shown in Jesus Christ. Because nothing exists outside of God’s love; Christ is the one in whom all things are held together. A false, self-serving prophet divides and harms: their allegorical sentence of stoning is commensurate with Jesus’ hyperbolic claim that false, self-serving shepherds deserve to be sunk with a millstone. But a true prophet seeks to model the very humility, compassion and generosity that they are calling on the authorities to pursue, seeks to root their life and therefore their critique in the unifying love of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes cleanse the temple to be the place of prayer and gathering for all people; may the Holy Spirit cleanse us to be the place of prayer and gathering for all people, building us up in love.

My prophetic message to the western mainline

Especially to clergy:

Work less. Delegate more.
Love your family. Keep the Sabbath holy.
When it comes to the concrete tasks of mission,
have less answers and more conversations.
You are not a CEO shackled to a bottom line.
You are a leader of a missional community,
of people called to make God’s love present
through their selves, souls and bodies,
through their ideas, input, commitment, and (as needed) money.
Mission cannot be driven by the consolidation of power,
but by the collective buy-in
of a common vision and common action:
it is what *we* do because it is who *we* are.

And it is only who we are because it is who God is.
So the pressure’s off:
you are not the Good Shepherd
and you never will be.
It’s not up to you to keep the Church/your parish alive.
There is One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,
One Sustainer and Giver of Life.
He is unflappably gathering and feeding his flock,
of which you are a part,
and in which are called to take part
in His work of gathering and empowering.
May we, His sheep, be open to His voice.

Amen.

“The medium is the message”

Missional Community in our digital age

“The medium is the message.”

This insight by professor Marshall McLuhan began as some “inside baseball” of communications theory. But it was so profound, and so resonant with our late-modern experience, that it’s now a household phrase. And to prove the point, its popularity in Canada probably owes more than a little to a well-worn Heritage Minute that was broadcast into our living rooms for a few years.

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Faith to perceive his glory: Lent II

Almighty God,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross,
give us faith to perceive his glory,
that being strengthened by his grace
we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Original image available here.

What is faith? I’m currently reading a recent academic article by Timothy Troutner (a doctoral student at Notre Dame) that takes up the question of silence or language in Beatitude. Halfway through he presents an excursus that discusses the linguistic turn that has come to define the postmodern philosophy of Derrida, Wittgenstein and others. Such a turn cannot but lead to despair and nihilistic doubt, because it concludes that all communication is a repeating series of significations that can never achieve a “thing signified” outside of it. Famously (or infamously), il n’y a pas de hors-texte.

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Sermon: Epiphany 5B

St. Stephen’s, Maple; Zoom Eucharist; February 7, 2021

Collects and Readings for the Day:
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”

There’s an almost-comedic tension running through this first half of the Gospel of Mark, and it’s set up in the reading we heard tonight. Jesus tells us plainly: he came out to “proclaim the message,” to preach and teach the Good News of the Kingdom of God. But Mark’s Gospel doesn’t have time for long, flowing speeches: the story we’re given is one of action, signs, miracles, healings. Jesus moves immediately from scene to scene, from Synagogue to home to countryside, from Galilee to Judea to surrounding Gentile territory and back to Judea—with some silent nights to pray to the Father and catch his breath in the Spirit. Maybe he wants to stop and preach, and in the other Gospel accounts we get to hear what he has to say, but in Mark it seems like all he does is miraculously transform creation, and then move on.

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Sermon: Epiphany 2B

St. Stephen’s, Maple; Zoom Eucharist; January 17, 2021

Collects and Readings for the Day:
1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

Silver linings.

I’m not an optimist by nature, which is all the more reason for me to intentionally look for the good in every situation. And I don’t believe God willed this pandemic into being, but I still think it’s helpful to ask why God allowed it, what God is doing with it and despite it. After all, we can only offer God what we have on-hand, and trust Him to make something of it even when we have no clue how or if that’s even possible. So what is God calling us to offer—who is God calling us to be, as we embark on this phase of the journey as it finds us in the year 2021?

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Sermon: Christmas Day Year B

St. Stephen’s, Maple; Zoom Eucharist; December 25, 2020

Collects and Readings for the Day:
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4
John 1:1-14

“In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”

I speak to you in the name of Christ, the Word made Flesh. Amen

You may have noticed that the Christian Tradition has always had a complicated relationship with the End of Time. Most of the New Testament was written with the view that God’s culmination of history was just around the corner, a perspective that changed dramatically as the centuries wore on and Roman Europe became Medieval Christendom. In times of prosperity, we prefer to emphasize the stability of the here-and-now. We exaggerate Scripture’s promises of blessing to kings and priests, throne and temple, and downplay the impending judgement and consummation of the created order.

Continue reading “Sermon: Christmas Day Year B”