The Dark Side

If any one of you know me personally, you will understand the fact that I am a Star Wars nerd. I was the one who would watch the original trilogy over and over again, though my favorite has always been (and will always be) The Return of the Jedi. While I did attend the midnight showing (when they still opened movies at midnight, not 7pm the night before) of The Revenge of the Sith, I refuse to accept the prequel trilogy as actual Star Wars due to the horrendous acting, over-use of CGI technology, and that character that was supposed to be the comedic relief.

I was the kid who collected and played the Star Wars Customizable Card Game (CCG) made by Decipher, Inc. Heck, I still am the kid who collects and continues to play even though Decipher lost its license and stopped producing and developing cards back in 2001. The fact that there is still a community out there who plays, has tournaments (including Worlds), and continues to operate is proof of how amazing the game is, but more importantly, how powerful Star Wars has become.

After the prequel trilogy, I was disappointed with the route George Lucas took my beloved childhood memories. Yes, lightsabers are cool and Jedi are awesome, but the story that made the originals so powerful was lost to flashy moments and technology. I was even more apprehensive when Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars and announced the continuation of the story in Episode VII. Princess Leia is a bad-[edit], not a Disney princess. And who in their right mind would let a mass murderer and Jedi slayer walk among children at an amusement park (does nobody remember the scene with the younglings!?).

I watched as J.J. Abrams was announced as the director for The Force Awakens (does nobody else understand that he is now the most powerful being in the galaxy after the remake of Star Trek and now Star Wars?). And I smiled at the teaser trailers, knowing that Abrams was not going to give us much, the name of Star Wars could have carried the movie to theaters without showing Han or Chewie. But then we got the official trailer. And the world went crazy.

If you haven’t seen the official trailer, I have one question: Have you been living under a rock?! Go watch it and try not to smile. I dare you.

Now, the big question that I have seen all over the place is: Where is Luke?  Is that his mechanical hand touching R2? Why isn’t he seen on the poster? We hear his voice in the teaser, but we want to see him?

And now there are theories that he is one in the same as Kylo Ren. But I’m not going to talk about that.

What I do want to discuss is the theory that surrounds the duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the throne room of the second Death Star. Did Luke Skywalker fall to the Dark Side of the Force?

Simple answer: Yes. Maybe.

No matter how much people try to explain the Force when it comes to the Light or Dark Side, the simple truth is that it is too fluid for any of us to comprehend. One one side, we have good. The other, evil. But what about the grey in between? According to the Jedi, it is either one or the other, a black and white world. And the Sith, well, they all start out with good intentions, right? Uhhh, no?

Luke sets out to confront Vader with the hope of redemption. He believes that it is possible to return to good, even after being consumed by evil for such a long time. In addition to this, we see Luke get captured in the hopes of giving his friends a chance to succeed at their mission and bring down the Death Star’s shield.

He has good intentions. And then he falls.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I believe that Luke Skywalker falls to the Dark Side when he lashes out in anger and strikes out at the Emperor. He knows it. And fights to regain his composure. Look at how he hides and tries to refuse to fight Vader. And once Vader senses his fear and preys upon it, Luke again falls to anger and fear. He goes crazy and strikes with reckless abandon. He is consumed by the Dark Side.

And to be honest, I think it takes him a lot longer to recover than The Return of the Jedi makes it out to be. Luke is still defiant, still fights against it. And suffers for it.

Now, I’m warning you before hand, I’m going to get into speculation and possibly some spoilers, so… you are warned.

There is a lot of theories out there regarding what the heck happened to Luke Skywalker. If you have read the Shattered Empire comic series, Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, specifically volume four, we realize that Luke is still alive, still fighting and stealing back these random trees that I have never seen before (I wonder, are they going to be a part of the story line?).But then evidently he goes into hiding?

By the sound of the trailers, Luke has disappeared. The entire idea of the Force has gone underground. Like it never happened. There are stories, myths about the Force and Luke is nowhere to be seen. It seems as if he has gone underground.

Unlike the original Expanded Universe, where Luke reconstructs the Jedi Academy and they all live happily ever after (lies). Instead of the Jedi Academy, we have the greatest Jedi, the hero who brought the fall of the Empire, nowhere to be seen.

My theory is that Luke is still recovering from that brush with the Dark Side. He is hiding because he is ashamed that he allowed himself to be consumed by anger and hate. I believe that he realized how powerful the Force can be, especially the Dark Side of the Force. There is a sense of shame that I could feel when we see this character reaching out to R2-D2. And R2 turns away.

I saw somewhere that all Jedi wear brown. Sith wear black. And those characters struggling between Light and Dark wear a mix of black and brown. To throw something more into the mix: Luke wears black. All black. Even in the comics.

The story of Luke is powerful because it is a story that we can all relate to. And that is what Star Wars is all about. I’m definitely looking forwards to The Force Awakens.


Beasts of No Nation

While browsing through Netflix this morning, I noticed a new title in the suggested films area. Several weeks ago I had watched the trailer for the new Netflix movie by the title of Beasts of No Nation and was immediately interested in the story of this young boy who becomes a child soldier after his world falls into chaos. I guess I’ve always been interested in war movies and documentaries based in Africa ever since I got involved with Invisible Children and spent a summer serving in Uganda.

For the sake of not spoiling the entire movie, I will not be discussing specifics but, be warned, I will be talking about it in broad strokes and themes throughout this post. I highly suggest that you log into Netflix tonight and watch the movie before you venture farther into these words. Be warned, the movie is graphic and disturbing at times (make sure the kids don’t watch, please). So, watch with caution.

This film is for mature audiences onlyBeasts of No Nation dives into death, drugs, war crimes (including, but not limited to rape, torture, and indoctrination), and has enough realistic bloodshed to make the viewer question whether we are watching a movie or a documentary filmed on scene. This is not a ‘feel good’ movie with a happy ending, but a gritty, down-to-earth look into the complex conflict of war

The film follows a young boy, Agu, who escapes death in the middle of a civil war in an unnamed country in Africa before starting a journey into becoming an exceptional child soldier fighting for the Commandant against government and other rebel forces. He is taught to kill and to be unafraid of death.

Unlike many other movies that center around conflicts in Africa (I’m specifically thinking about Blood Diamond, but you could also include Tears of the Sun and many others to this list), this movie dies not center around an individual that is made out to be a hero. There is nobody seeking after redemption or forgiveness. The characters have embraced their new reality and face it every day as a family. As brothers born together in bloodshed.

Yes, you can hear Agu’s prayers throughout the film, but he never seeks out forgiveness. All he wants is to find his lost mother and young sister, but is so caught up in the bloodletting and drugs that he cannot escape the life that he has been forced into.

In filming this story, director Cary Fukunaga and the entire cast and crew presented a powerful description of a life many of us could never imagine. The film not only catches our eye with vibrant images with dark undertones, but also captures our thoughts and mind as we try to comprehend the horror that fills the screen. In all, the film is a beautiful nightmare that draws us in from the opening scene and doesn’t allow us to breath until the end.

This view of the child soldier, an orphan who is indoctrinated into a family bound by bloodshed, is real. Part of me wishes that this story, this movie was just something that was formed and created in someones twisted mind, but I know that this is a story that echoes throughout hundreds of thousands of lives. The background and setting of this movie are based in reality.

The end of the movie captures our heart with the very real struggle of hope in the darkness. The beauty of the film that sticks with me is the possibility of hope and happiness that the movie leaves us with. Nothing is resolved, but we receive an echo of hope from Agu as he struggles to find happiness after all that he had not only witnessed, but taken part in.

The real power of this film is that very struggle.

Despite the graphic scenes and bloodshed, there is a struggle that echoes throughout the entire movie that draws us in and eventually provides us with hope for the future. And I know that this is the same struggle and hope that thousands are currently facing throughout the world, as children who have lost their innocence seek happiness once again.

Lessons from Kingdom of Heaven

Last night I watched the movie Kingdom of Heaven with my dad. You know, the movie where Orlando Bloom is a blacksmith who becomes a knight during the Crusades and ends up as the defender of Jerusalem. It’s one of my favorite movies. Not because Liam Neeson plays Godfrey de Ibelin, the baron who once fought for two days with an arrow in his [edit in case of sensitive eyes]. Or because the love story between Sibylla (played by the beautiful Eva Green) and Balian de Ibelin (Orlando Bloom). Though those are some of the interesting parts of the movie.

The reason I love this movie so much is the fact that it shows us the struggle of faith, the doubt in religion, and the quest to bring good into the world, to be ones best at all times, even when that means personal sacrifice.

If you have not seen the movie, go watch it. There may be some spoilers and I do not want to be held responsible for ruining anything for anybody. I know the movie has been out for 10 years, but you never know if people have seen it or not.

The movie takes place in the Holy Land during a time of uncertainty, as Saladin and the Saracen army threaten the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On top of this, the Templar Knights, led by Guy de Lusignan, are trying to provoke a war by slaughtering Muslims left and right.

A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move for himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at that time. This will not suffice. Remember that.
– King Baldwin IV

King Baldwin, the leper king of Jerusalem, reminds Balian on their first meeting that a man’s actions are his and his alone. It is a reminder that every man is responsible for making the choice to follow the demands of those who claim to rule us or the commands of our Father above, Abba.

Each one of us bears this same responsibility. Do we follow the path that society tries to force us down, or do we seek out the stepping stones that God has put before our feet to find the journey stretching out before us? This is a choice that we must answer.

God has called each of us to be His hands and feet. To take up the weapons of love and become warriors in His name.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.
– Godfrey de Ibelin

That is the oath Balian took to become a knight. A slap to the face was so that he would remember it.

This is an oath that we should all live by. To love through our actions. To show our faith through protecting those around us. Even those that do not believe the same things we do. To stand when everyone else runs to hide behind the walls of protection. To ride out against a foe that outnumbers us to give others the chance to escape to safety.

Balian takes this oath to heart and tries to bring good wherever he goes. And though he struggles with his faith, he succeeds in building a better world for those under his protection.

At one point, after spending the night listening for God on the hill where Christ was crucified, he admits to his fathers friend, a Hospitaler who remains unnamed throughout the move, that he has lost Religion, that God has abandoned him.

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion, I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and of goodness. What God desires is here (pointing at his head) and here (placing a hand over his heart) and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.
– Hospitaler

Every time I hear this quote, I smile. These words were something that I struggled to discover for some time. They echo in my heart, telling us that if we do not live out our faith every single day, we do not truly know the desires of God. Religion has brought some of the greatest love to the world, but through the actions of men and women who have warped it into an abomination, it has also been used to pour out hatred, violence, and death.

Religion has been warped to spread war, but if we truly want to live the lives that God calls us to live, we will find ourselves fighting for love. And peace.

The movie ends with the siege and fall of Jerusalem, an epic battle of wills and strategy. After Balian threatens to tear down every religious building, temple, and holy place, Saladin responds stating that this might be for the best. He then goes to remind Balian that the city is filled with innocent women and children, granting them safe passage back to Christian lands in exchange for the city. With the safety of those under his protection secured, Balian surrenders the city.

As they depart, they share the following words:

And peace be with you

The entire move reminds me that we (Christians) are not so much different than those who are of differing faiths. As Balian and his father approach Messina, we hear a priest shouting “To Kill an Infidel is not murder! It is the path to heaven!” As my dad heard this, he turned to me and stated that his was the same rallying cry we still hear in the Holy Land. And when Balian spots a number of Muslims praying, he asks what their prayers mean:

“Subhana Rabbi’l Adhim.” Praise be to God. It is proper to praise him.

To which, Balian states: Sounds like our prayers.

I don’t believe we are all that different. That we are capable of living together in peace. That the lines drawn by religion can be erased through the love of faith. And that our actions prove stronger than our words.

One of my favorite characters in the movie is Nasir, a man we assume is a servant, but is revealed to be a leader of the Saracens with Saladin. After Balian spares his life, he returns the favor. After seeing the righteous actions of Balian as he fought to protect innocent citizens caught out in the open before the Saracen army and the defense of Jerusalem, Nasir returns a horse to Balian and then asks him a final question before the movie comes to a close:

… and if God does not love you, how could you have done the things you have done?

And I’ll leave it there.

God Bless and PEACE

Let It Go

Tonight, Christmas Eve, I watched Disney’s Frozen with my three-and-a-half year old niece and nephew (the beebops).  I’m sure I know what several of you are thinking:  It’s Christmas.  Why aren’t you writing about the birth of Jesus, Santa, and all that good stuff.  Simple answer, my family postponed the arrival of Santa until my brother is able to be here in several days.  (There may be another post tomorrow night about Christmas, so just chill out.)

Back to Frozen.  I’ve seen it twice now.  The first time I watched it with two of my cousins.  And then tonight with the beebops, my sister, brother-in-law, and parents.  It’s a beautiful movie with a powerful message of love.

There is a part that everyone knows and sings along to, when Elsa, the older sister, sings Let it Go.  If you’ve never looked at the lyrics before, they contain a beautiful message about being true to who you really are:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry!

Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on!

I’m never going back,
The past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!

We can learn so much from the lessons we teach our children.

I love this song because it speaks about the mask that we wear each day.  So many times we hide who we truly are because we are afraid of what others may feel, think, or believe about us.  We change who we are, how we act, how we hold ourselves up, in the hopes that people don’t notice our flaws and perfections.

We are all broken creatures.  We have all experienced shame and fear.  We have all made ourselves out to be heroes or villains.  And we have all experienced that moment when we wished that we could tear off that mask and shout out who we really are.

I’ve done it so much in my journey.  I’ve hidden behind ignorance.  I’ve tried to make myself sound better than I really am.  And so many times I have been held back by the assumptions, fears, and opinions of others.  I wish I could strip them all down, start anew once again.

I guess that’s why I loved moving so much as a child.  Fresh beginnings.  Heck, that is what saved me at times.

I’ve asked myself over and over again, what would people think if they knew the real me.  The one hiding behind the mask of confidence.  The one that bites his tongue so often that he has lost his voice.  The one that would rather hide behind a good book and make art than socialize (oh, wait, I already do that at times).  What would people do?

Better yet, how would I feel?  To be released from the chains of the past, the oppression of thoughts, and the weight of others opinions.  Oh, how glorious that would feel!

We tell ourselves that we are not lying when we put on a show in front of others, but that is exactly what it feels like: a lie.

So, the challenge that I am making, for both you, the reader, and myself: Let it go.  Embrace who you truly are.  And don’t let anything change that.  If people cannot accept you for who you are, then maybe they don’t have a place in your life.  I know that sounds harsh, but if you continue to hold onto them, they will drag you down, smother you, and you will never be able to be free.

Real Happiness

Last night a number of members from the ERT gathered to hang out and eventually put in a movie to watch.  While we have traditionally watched movies starring Patrick Swayze, we have fallen off the band-wagon and begun exploring other adventures.  Last night, we decided on the movie “Into The Wild.”

Since the last time I wrote about this movie, I have read Jon Krakauer’s book of the same title.  I’ve explored the vastness of my heart, searching for love, happiness, and a way to share my own story.  I wrote once that I thought I knew what drove Christopher Johnson McCandless to seek out the harmony of the wild lands that surround us.  I thought I understood why he abandoned his life and recreated himself.

But each time I read the words left behind or watch the movie that was made about his life, I find myself realizing how different we are.  He and I are nothing alike and our stories are barely an echo of one another.

In what many believe to be his last words and thoughts (as shown in the movie), his wisdom is revealed to be flawed as he discovers what he has been missing for so long.  I don’t know what he was thinking as he lay there dying of starvation, but I wonder if his thoughts wandered to all those he left behind:  His sister.  Jan Burres and Bob.  Ron Franz.  Tracy.  And maybe even his parents.

Next to a passage in Doctor Zhivago that read “And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is nor happiness … And this was most vexing of all,” he wrote the following:


The story of McCandless is not a happy one.  Each time I see the movie, I wonder why he couldn’t see what was in front of him the entire time.  So many people loved him, but each time he walked away from them he had convinced himself that the only way he could ever be happy was to find himself in the vast expanse of the Alaskan frontier.

We can learn something from his journey:  embrace the moment and love those that surround you.

There is a prayer that I read on the walls of the Agule Community Health Center.  I don’t know who said it originally but it goes as follows:

LORD, I shall pass through this world once – anyone I can help, any good thing I can do; help me do it now for I shall not pass this way again.

Every day that prayer echoes in my heart, and I continue the prayer replacing the word “help” with the simple four letter word that we all fear: LOVE.

We only have one chance to share our love before we pass through the moment.  And that is the only way we can find true happiness; to share it with those around us.

I struggle with that.  Opening myself up and allowing others to see me for who I truly am.  I like my solitude.  But at the same time, I know that I am not truly happy unless I am sharing my life with those around me, loving others to my fullest ability.  It’s not something that comes easily for me (and many others that I know), but we were created in  the image of God and need community to truly live.

So, I’ll leave you with the words of Alexander Supertramp: “Happiness only real when shared.”

God Bless and PEACE

The Indifference of Good Men

If you have never seen the movie Boondock Saints, I suggest that you think a long time before you decide to play it on whatever screen you choose.  It is not a beautiful movie.  At times it is a difficult movie to watch due to the extravagant amount of cursing, violence, and bloodshed.  But at the same time it is a beautiful movie that forces you to think.  And if you watch closely and open your ears, you might catch some of the symbolism that flows off the screen.

In the opening scene, the Monsignor gives a sermon that should challenge each and every single one of us.  It goes as follows:

… and I am reminded on this holy day, of the sad story of Kitty Geneviese.  As you all may remember, a long time ago, almost thirty years ago, this poor soul cried out for help time and time again but no person answered her calls.  Though many saw, no one so much as called the police.  They all just watched as Kitty was stabbed to death in broad daylight.   They watched as her assailant walked away.  Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most.  And that is the indifference of good men.

The indifference of good men.  When we know we should act, but yet something holds us back.

I was told many years ago that the devil doesn’t want us to fight him or his demons.  He wants us to sit back and do nothing.  That is the only way that he will win the war for our hearts and souls.

We don’t want to get involved.  We convince ourselves that it isn’t our fight.  We tell ourselves that it is safer to watch from a distance.

It doesn’t have to be murder.  Maybe it is the blind man who I have seen walking down the sidewalk.  Maybe it is the old gentleman who just wants to tell you his story.  Maybe it is the kid that everyone makes fun of at school.  Or the single mother trying to make ends meet.

It doesn’t really matter what the battle is.  In that moment, our hearts know that we should act.  But we don’t have the time.  We have places we’d rather be.  We are struggling ourselves.

One of the things that I have been learning (or trying to learn) is how to trust your heart.  That gut feeling you have about a situation, when you must decide to do something or nothing at all.  I believe that many times it is God pulling at our hearts, giving us the choice and chance to follow him.

You never know what joy you may discover.  The stories you will hear.  The lives you may save.

The greatest evil that the world will ever see is not the violence that floods our society or the hate that fuels the wars, nor is it the lust that consumes our society.  But it is the indifference that has consumed our hearts, forcing us to do nothing.

Just a thought…

God Bless and PEACE

Into The Wild

While I’ve never gotten the chance to read Jon Krakauer’s novel (don’t worry, it’s on my extensive to read list), I finally received the opportunity to watch Into the Wild from start to finish for the first time last night (thanks Netflix).  Over the years I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie, but there were parts that I knew were missing.

For those of you that have never seen it, it’s not a truly happy story, but one young man’s journey to discover the truth about love, happiness, and, in some way, God.  If you don’t want me to ruin the movie, I’d suggest you stop reading now, go watch it, and return to read this at another time.

Several years ago I would have been right there with Alexander Supertramp.  ready to head out into the unknown and discover myself in the silence of the wilderness.  The only difference is that I’m to hesitant, to safe, and have ties that I would not be able to break.

I find it sad that throughout his journey, he surrounded himself with people who loved him for who he was, but it wasn’t until he was starving to death, alone in the Alaskan wilderness that he realized that he could never find happiness in solitude.  He comes into contact with some beautiful people who have the love to welcome him with open arms, but he is consumed with getting as far away as possible that he cannot see that he is happy in their presence.

It’s a tragedy that unfolds before us day after day.  It’s a story that can be seen in all our lives.  I saw it once in myself as I desired adventure chased after the call to Africa with reckless abandon.  Fortunately, I never lost sight of the community that supported me, that fought beside me, with me.

Yes, we can find God in the vast emptiness of the wilderness but as Alexander points out, true happiness comes from companionship.  Being alone, you can never find the peace that you are seeking, you will only find loneliness.

The movie is a great character study of a young man trying to find himself, trying to find his way in the world.  The accounts from his sister, throughout the movie, bring us in to see that our actions, no matter how big or small, will affect those around us.  It is more than a story of survival, but a journey to discovering who we truly are.

And unfortunately the story reminds us that we may never realize what is right in front of us until it is too late.

God Bless and PEACE