Faced with a faulty internet connection the other night, Leeman and I were forced to turn away from Netflix to our long-neglected DVD shelf for the evening’s “hurrah the baby’s asleep!” entertainment. So, we watched The Empire Strikes Back for the first time in probably five years. (If you were around Grace last Sunday, yes, this was partially inspired by my sermon illustration).
In revisiting a classic movie from my youth, I realized a couple of things. First off — How did I never appreciate the fact that Darth Vader is the protagonist of this movie before now? Vader is the one with a clear dramatic objective–to hunt down and capture Luke Skywalker. Vader’s goal drives the course of the movie. Vader’s search for the rebels initiates their exodus from Hoth. Vader’s attempt to capture Luke leads to the Han Solo’s being frozen in carbonite and draws Luke to Cloud City for their final confrontation. The “good guys” (kind of) win in the end not because they achieved any of their own goals, but simply because they managed to thwart Vader’s objectives. I have no bigger point to make from that. I just think it’s cool.
I have (possibly) more interesting thoughts about the Millennium Falcon. It occurs to me that the problem with the Star Wars prequels is the lack of a Millennium Falcon. Ok, and Jar Jar Binks. But mostly it’s a the Millennium Falcon thing. Of course, the relationship between Han Solo and his beloved spaceship add a depth of world-building and character development to the original series that their more contemporary counterparts entirely lack. But there may be more to it than that.
There’s something poetic about the “hunk of junk” spaceship serving at once as the safe haven for our heroes and their narrative foil. The failure of the Falcon’s hyperdrive to launch our characters into the protection of light-speed travel is a running theme. The Falcon is clunky. It is broken. It doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to. And yet. And yet, it’s still home for our heroes. It’s still the best way they have at their disposal to evade capture. They know its quirks and its foibles, and–most importantly–its hidden capabilities. When the hyperdrive fails, the incomparable Han Solo knows how to make his ship navigate the asteroid field (odds of successful navigation being 3,720 to 1). Han knows that the disparate parts making up his beloved ship are all, well, hunks of junk. But assembled together in just the right way, the parts are greater than the whole — crafting a vessel that will, by the end of Return of the Jedi, bring down the galactic empire once and for all.
I think the church may be a bit like the Millennium Falcon. Sometimes, we have to admit that the church is broken. There are times when it desperately needs to be fixed. When it can seem like the weight of centuries of tradition can seem like hinderances, adversely affecting our desire to engage with the world in new and dynamic ways. If we didn’t have to navigate all the complicated issues of property, committees, budgets … think of what we could do with just the pure message of the Gospel!
But like Han Solo and his Falcon, I love my clunky, sometimes hunk-of-junk church. It might not always work in the ways that we would expect it to, or in the ways that would be most convenient in any given moment (at least according to our understanding). Nevertheless, it works in its own quirky, inexplicable ways. It is our home and our refuge from an, at times, chaotic and broken world. The same centuries of tradition that can so often seem a hinderance to spiritual dynamism and mission offer a different kind of nourishment–a place of rest, connection to God, and a testament to the power of the Gospel throughout generations. Not to mention, like that rickety space ship, the church is also made up of broken little bits–we fallible human creatures. We come to the church with our faults and imperfections. Yet, somehow, through the grace of God we are made into the Body of Christ–the whole of which is much greater than the sum of its parts. Together, in all our quirks and idiosyncrasies, we are able to be a witness to God’s presence in this imperfect world. If the church we shinier, flashier, more efficient … it wouldn’t be the church. It wouldn’t have heart. It wouldn’t have depth. And it wouldn’t offer that promise that we can all come, fallible as we are, and find spiritual wholeness in service to a reality greater than ourselves.
If the church were “perfect”, it would look like something out of those unfortunate Star Wars prequels. And, honestly, nobody wants that.