Monday, July 27, 2015

Unmercifully Blessed

In recent days I've found myself thinking about and re-exploring  the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. It's a story of Jesus that only appears in one gospel (Matthew), it features a man who having a great debt faces terrible punishment. at the last minute his master has a change of heart and mercifully forgives the debt. Shortly after this, the servant tracks sown another man who owes the master a debt and threatens him with the same punishment he narrowly avoided, when the master hears about this... he reverses his decision and comes down on the unmerciful servant like a tonne of bricks.

In hindsight, the point of the story post Jesus death, resurrection and ascension is quite clear to us because those of us who are Christians recognise that in Christ, God forgave each and every one of us an unpayable debt, and therefore we accept the importance of forgiving others their own sins, however manifold.

However, I believe that the parable has applications beyond the obvious.

Why do we always assume that this attitude only applies to God's grace in respect of the bad things he has forgiven us? I put it to you that in fact, this applies equally to God's providence - the good things he gives us. When God blesses us, should we not equally acknowledge that we also don't deserve the good things he gives us. When we see people who have not been so fortunate or have yet to experience blessing in a particular way, should we not be merciful to them? Should we not remember what it was like to manage day by day before God blessed us? Should we not recognise in others, the difficulties and trials we may once have walked with and escaped, or may have completely avoided simply because God chose to bless us in a particular way?

The most obvious, stand-out example for me is the concept of marriage and the family. Time and time again I see people move into family life (with or without children), and they go through a personality change. I'm not talking about the increase of responsibilities and the change in priorities - these are natural. What I'm talking about is a personality swap that seems to occur. Where once you could joke around with your friends, the humour is lost and actually becomes offensive to the point they feel feel they have to defend one another. These are just the first few subtle cracks of an invisible chasm that begins to widen as time goes by, one that begins to create two tiers within the church... haves and have nots; one that has led to the idolatrous worship of the family unit within the Church... where those who do not meet the criteria are seen as eccentric lepers who we find discomfort in being around, whose presence embarrasses us and who we don't like to talk about because they have become so foreign to us.

In some ways, attitudes like this remind me of the final scene in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers:

It may sound ridiculous, but sometimes it really does seem sometimes like you can strike up a conversation with someone you once knew following a positive change of circumstances... and they just react as if you are some kind of aberration, foreigner or alien. The idea that your friends have become replaced by pod people is laughable... but the feelings associated with it are also not very nice.

There's another parable that Jesus told (this time in Luke's gospel), it's the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In this tale, a man who has been abundantly blessed with the things of this world remains blissfully unaware of a poor man named Lazarus who can only hope that leftovers might come his way.  However when both men die, the situation is reversed and Lazarus enjoys the company of Abraham in heaven, whilst the rich man longs for drops of water to cool his tongue from the heat of Hades. Isn't it telling that Jesus doesn't even bother to give the rich man a name? Because of their attitudes, the rich man is temporal and Lazarus is eternal. It is a tale of two chasms - the lateral and eventually... the vertical.

This then is another take on the temptation to be unmerciful. Had the rich man remembered where his blessings came from, had he been mindful of Lazarus... he could have a voided his fate.

So in conclusion then, what am I saying? Am I suggesting that if you are married with kids, you've had your lot in life and if you forget your single friends you are in danger of hellfire? No, of course not. I was merely using the paradigm between the married and the single as an example as it is the one that is most prevalent and relevant to me (and I should add that it isn't even universally true... I am blessed with several groups of married friends who treat me well).

No this isn't my point at all. My point is simply this... that each and every one of us has an obligation to recognise the manifold ways that God has blessed us... and not hoard it from or lord it over the people around us. there must be no ivory towers in God's kingdom.

Let it not be said of us that we are "unmercifully blessed". Instead, let us seek ways of  using our blessings to raise others up. Let us use what God has given us to bless others.

I'd like to finish with a quote from Ridley Scott's take on Robin Hood. I think it sums up in many ways the kind of attitude we should have with regard to the undeserved providence we may find ourselves the beneficiary of:

"We can't repay our good luck with bad grace, it invites darkness."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Paul's Prayer for a Deeper Experience of Christ

At present, the churches in Alcester Minster are doing a series on St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Last week, Adrian Guthrie preached on the reconciliation that comes through Christ as explored in the previous chapter of Paul's letter; on how Christians are being built together as one body to create a single nation, family, building and entity in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit; and how the need for reconciliation with God and one another is as relevant to our minster church, as it was for the Ephesians almost 2,000 years ago.
In this morning's passage, Paul writes that he is moved to prayer for the Ephesians. I find it interesting that Paul chooses to include his prayer into this part of his letter. It's a little counter intuitive to our sense of order. In the modern world, we are quite used to having set moments for prayer... We begin and end meetings with prayer and we have special slots in our services for our prayers of supplication, but here... Paul just stops in mid sentence and drops to his knees in prayer, before carrying on in the letter.

I think for Paul, prayer was as much a part of the conversation as the rest of his dialogue... and if the Holy Spirit tapped him on the shoulder in the midst of what he was doing, then engaged God in prayer with regard to whatever was on his heart. This morning I'd like to explore three questions with regards to Paul's prayer for the Ephesians... and demonstrate why it is so important to us in developing as spiritually well rounded individuals, as An effectively functioning and growing minster, and as a true family of Christian brothers and sisters in the universal Church. I'll be looking at what things Paul prayed for; why Paul prayed for those things, and why Paul was confident
in his prayers for those things.

So what exactly did Paul pray for?
Verse 15 tells us that Paul prayed for the Ephesians for the following things:
1. That they may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in their inner beings
2. That they may have power together with all the Lord's holy people.
On the surface that looks like he's asked God for the same thing, the same power twice, but I don't think that's the case. You see, in the first instance Paul has asked that the Ephesians are filled inwardly as individuals. In the second instance God has asked that they be filled with power together with all God's people as a collective. Paul is stressing the need for God to play an active role in both our personal lives and public fellowship.
3. That they may know Christ's love that surpasses knowledge...
That seems a bit odd too, doesn't it? If something surpasses knowledge... How can we know it? Isn't that a paradox?

I don't believe it is a paradox. Knowledge of the facts is one thing, but living in the truth of those facts is quite different. Reading a book about Michelangelo will tell you a lot of information about what the composition of his work. But it won't tell you what it feels like to stand in the Sistine chapel and take in all the sights, sounds and smells.
You can know what the concept of love is, but that's not the same as knowing the love of another person.

To know something in a way that surpasses knowledge requires that we connect with the subject of our knowledge and let that take us on a journey. Here on Earth we cannot fully know God... he's too big...
But we can know what it is like to live in the fullness of God.

The second question I wanted to ask, was why did Paul pray for the Ephesians.

Well he prayed that they would be strengthened inwardly, so that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith. The more time we make for God in our lives through prayer and meditation, reading the Bible and through fellowship with one another), the more our gaze is turned towards him and the stronger our relationship with him grows. Paul wants us to put our roots down deeply... as he words it, to be established in love.
This flows into the next reason that Paul prayed his prayer because the more deeply rooted in God we are as individuals, the more that benefits the Church.

Paul also prayed because he wanted the Church to truly understand how much Christ loves it.

When we see God at work in one life... be it our own, or another person's... it is invigorating and life changing. But when people see God at work in the life of a church or a community... that's when renewal or even revival happens!

As an example, did you know that there is a type of heat resistant grass that thrives in volcanic soil? However it can only do this because of a fungus that lives on it, that protects it. But scientists have discovered that the fungus itself can only survive because it too has a heat resistant virus living inside of it.
In this respect, God is like the virus, we are like the fungus and the church is like the grass. The more we experience God personally and the more we share God in fellowship with one another, the more the church thrives.

"Panic grass" grows in the geothermal soils of Yellowstone Park in America. It can only do this because of the protection afforded to it by a fungus, which in turn is protected by a virus. This to me illustrates how the Holy Spirit strengthens individuals in a hostile environment, and how a fellowship of these Spirit filled individuals in turn generate the right conditions for renewal and revival.
The third reason Paul prayed the prayer is because he wanted his readers to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I was saying earlier about the difference between knowledge of a person and knowing a person on a personal level... and this here is what Paul reinforces - know God cram as much of him into your life as you can! Jesus said to the apostles in John's gospel that:
"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.
Instead I have called you friends, for everything, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
 Paul is reminding us that this offer is extended to all who follow Jesus, not just his apostles. Some people get uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus being a friend... It seems disrespectful, but it is important to remember that Jesus being a friend to us, does not negate him being our master either. The difference is that Jesus is running a family business and not a faceless corporation.

Which brings us to the final question. Why was Paul confident in his prayer?
I believe the answer is because, knowing and experiencing God in his own life, in the ways we have explored this morning, he *knew* that God *is* able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

I just love the magnitude of those words. Immeasurably - beyond our ability to calculate.
More than all we ask or imagine - beyond the scope of things we can even conceive.
God is limitless.
And the wonderful thing is that God's limitless power and resources aren't just something that he dispenses from on high, but verse 20 tells us that this power is at work within us.
His power is at work within us. What a privilege

And so if Ephesians 2 last week told us where we need to go in terms of Christ reconciling us to one another in the church, the minster and the communities we live in, then this morning essentially tells us how we are getting there.
I have to confess that this short passage is one of my favourite scriptures, and I often use it as a model for prayer when taking part in some kind of mission. Let me finish by praying these words:
Heavenly Father, this morning we pray that out of your glorious riches that you may strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to you who are able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost: The Promise

Today is Pentecost Sunday. I was down to preach this morning and what follows is an adaptation of my talk. The reading for the service was  Acts 2:1-21.

A very rich man once held a huge party to celebrate his 50th birthday. He had a pool in which he collected all sorts of alligators, I think he must have made his money being a Bond villain. After an extravagant lunch, he announced he would be willing to give away his luxury cars, 1 million pounds, his home or even his daughter's hand in marriage to the man brave enough to swim across the perilous pool.

No sooner than he had made the announcement, there was a loud splash. In the pool is a man and he is swimming as hard as he can. Tails are thrashing in the water, jaws are snapping but the man just keeps on going while the alligators are gaining on him. Finally he reaches the end and gets out of the pool, tired and soaked. The rich man walks over the exhausted young man and loudly proclaims, 'I am a man of my word, anything of mine I will give, my Ferraris, my house, absolutely anything, for you are the bravest man I have ever seen. So sir what will it be?' The young man looks up and replies:

"I don't want your money or your daughter sir. I just want to know who on earth pushed me into that pool!"

In a sense, God is like the rich man in that joke. Now I don't mean that he keeps a swimming pool full of big alligators; I mean that like that rich man, he is all about great big promises.

Previously in John's Gospel, Jesus had promised that he would ask the Father to send another counsellor or advocate to help all Christians and to be with us forever. Today on Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the day that God fulfilled that promise and poured out the Holy Spirit on the group of roughly 120 followers of Jesus who met in his name. Before it was celebrated in the Christian faith, Pentecost was already celebrated as part of Judaism. It marked the 50th day after Passover and the bringing in of the first Harvest. It is also the feast day when Jews celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses. This is why there were Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem.

It's really important that God chose to give the Holy Spirit at a time when the people present were focussed on the Law. If the Christian life was merely about keeping the commandments, we would really struggle because as human beings, we are limited in our understanding of God's will and we lack the spiritual strength to obey him on our own.  Scripture teaches us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, that he convicts us when we are disobedient and that he enables us to understand and obey the will of God and express our needs to the Father, even when words fail us.

Someone once said "All word and no spirit, we dry up; all Spirit and no Word, we blow up; both Word and Spirit, we grow up." That the giving of the Law and the Spirit were being celebrated on the same day shows us how important it is for us to have a balanced relationship with both those elements.

But how did the apostles get the Spirit? Well we are told in the passage that they simply received it. God gives freely and abundantly, but he does it in his time. It does not depend on our desire or effort, but on God's mercy. Nevertheless Paul teaches us that we should eagerly desire the gifts of God. There's no doubt that God could pour out and equip his saints abundantly at a word, but I believe we demonstrate our faithfulness and discipleship when we actively seek these things in prayer.

Verse 2 speaks of a rushing wind filling the room and causing tongues of flame to appear. Whenever I read that, it calls to my mind the triangle of fire - heat, fuel and wind. Our lives are the dormant fuel waiting with hidden potential. Calling upon God in prayer to fill us and empower us, is the heat. When the wind of the Spirit blows.... The fire comes.

As Christians we already have access to the Spirit, but if we spend time in meditation and quiet, we can be filled anew. When I was preparing my talk for this morning, I felt that God laid the word "promise" on my heart. That it was important to illustrate that God didn't just casually let the Spirit into our lives, he committed himself to doing it. Did you know that if you take a banknote out of your pocket and examine it, it has the words "I promise to pay the bearer upon demand" emblazoned on it? In olden days you could go to the Bank of England and demand gold sovereigns equivalent to the value of your notes. Or again consider how a politician may be elected on the basis of what they promise to the electorate. Or yet again take the example of marriage - how two people who love each other make a commitment to love and serve one another in a relationship confirmed in vows. The point I'm trying to illustrate is that even as humans we don't make promises lightly... and when someone makes a promise or commitment to us, we take that seriously as well.
Well in this morning's passage, God makes his own promises known to us. If you call upon the name of the Lord, you will be saved. He will pour out his Spirit on all people. Can we as Christians treat God's promises with any less weight than those of the people around us? When somebody offers us something of great value, shouldn't we embrace it? Thinking back to my initial joke, when God offers us the opportunity to serve him with his many gifts... What do we see? Do we see the worthiness of the giver and the worth of his gift? Or do we preoccupy ourselves with the fear and suspicion that there might be alligators in the swimming pool?
What will it take for us to get swimming, are we ready to be hungry for what God wants? Or will it take a sneaky shove in the back?

Essentially though, there are three things that I'd like us to take from this morning's reading:

1. The promise of the Holy Spirit is for everyone who follows Christ. Whether you are young or old man or woman, high church or low church, rich or poor, ordained or laity. The passage that Peter quoted in our reading today says that God pours out his Spirit on ALL people.

2. The Holy Spirit meets each of us and speaks to us where we are at individually. All the Jews in Jerusalem that day could speak Hebrew and Greek, and yet God chose to publicly address them in their local language in a manner that was personal to each of them. The church is one body, but every part of it matters and never think for s moment that God doesn't care about your individual needs.

3. The Spirit is given that we may make God's presence known to a world that needs his love, forgiveness and direction. So that as verse 21 tell us, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. God will in grace respond to all who call. But how shall they call if they have never heard the gracious invitation of His word? We must go.

Finally I wanted to give an example of how being filled with the Spirit does not mean losing who we are as individuals... and that we don't have to be afraid of the good things God gives:
Imagine you had two identical bath sponges. If you took one of them and saturated it with water, its properties and internal nature would change. It's heavier, it's wetter but essentially it is still roughly the same shape. It is still a sponge just like its dry counterpart.

So it is with the Holy Spirit. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we are still the same individual. We are till the same person, but we carry something life giving that has changed our properties and our condition. When you look at a sponge filled with water you cannot tell where the sponge ends and the water begins.

When people look to us and scrutinise our way of life and responses to their questions, let us hope to be the kind of Christian where an observer cannot tell where the person ends and God begins.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Letter to Nadhim Zahawi (and Others) RE: The Proposals to Repeal and Replace the Human Rights Act (1998)

I have recently written a letter to my MP (Nadhim Zahawi), voicing my grievous feelings towards the proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act.  I have copied the text for anybody who reads my blog and would be interested in reading:

Dear Mr Zahawi

I am writing to you as one of your constituents who has grave concerns over the Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act (1998), with the intention of replacing it with a more UK centric Bill of Rights.

I have studied your rhetoric on Europe and my understanding is that your position is moderately Eurosceptical. For the sake of clarity, I will say that I agree with you that Britain’s best interests lie with us remaining as part of the European Parliament, but whilst I am also in agreement that the EU and European Parliament need reform and that the best solution lies in not “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, I am generally less sceptical than you and disagree with you on where the “baby” ends and the “bathwater” begins. Whilst I hope to obtain your support on the basis of my own argument, I accept that a more convincing case may be to illustrate to you how Britain’s position within the EU may be threatened by the consequences of a successful repeal of the Human Rights Act.

My concerns on the matter of the Government’s position over the Human Rights Act date back to 2011, where I set out my thoughts at the time on my blog, 

In 2011, when this first became an issue for me, the Home Secretary attempted to convince the public that a Bolivian individual escaped deportation on the basis of owning a cat (when in fact the cat was merely cited as a minor example on a very long list of criteria illustrating that a human relationship the individual in question had, was genuine and thus fell under the right to family life), it became apparent to me that the reasons for trying to repeal the HRA were ideological and not merely practical. The argument most proponents for the intent to repeal make, is that it is simply a transfer of jurisdiction about where and who determines the same rights.  I believe this is a straw man argument - a selling point that highlights a potential beneficial consequence of a repeal that conceals its actual purpose.  Besides, it is our own judges who uphold rulings like these and so the issue is not about who interprets these laws, but on the laws themselves.
When you look at the primary text of the HRA, there is nothing wrong in principle at all with it, we would be right to frown on anybody who objected to them. However, if the HRA is being misinterpreted, it is only because civil case law has gradually, over time, eroded or mutated its intent. I have little doubt that the same fate would eventually await any British Bill of Rights.

We must always be aware that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Even if the reasons for repealing the HRA were noble (something I do not accept), by committing to this course of action we would set a precedent for countries with a far more disturbing human rights record to emulate us. Great Britain helped lead the way in bettering human rights. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we helped secure the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it was a British citizen who subsequently helped forge the document that became the European Convention on Human Rights. It would be shameful if having played such a significant role in bringing other nations into the light, we enabled the door to swing the other way and became facilitators for nations pining for the darkness.

What happens when we start deciding that for whatever reason, on principle, one human being has more value than another? Is it not a slippery slope that has potential to result in dark episodes?

We must also take the long view with regard to this legislation. If a Bill of Rights becomes something malleable that successive Governments can use to further their own private agendas then even if it were used for a good purpose, the spectre that a more questionable or nefarious use for it would always hang over it. If Government overplays its role in scrutinising who and what is acceptable, the very notion of who is protected by the Bill of Rights becomes a movable feast and this is dangerous.

I don't necessarily oppose the composition of a Bill of Rights as it could be a useful tool to accompany the HRA in defining the responsibilities that accompany the freedoms. However, I don't see why it should need to replace the HRA. The Act doesn't just defend my rights; if I abuse the rights of another, then the Act works against me too. In fact technically, the legislation could be protected against the politicians who wish to do away with it:

“If any of these rights and freedoms are breached, you have a right to an effective solution in law, even if the breach was by someone in authority, such as, for example, a police officer”.

Does that not suggest that if the Government (being a lawmaker and source of authority), tries to repeal the Act, then they are actually violating our existing statutory human rights and are prosecutable themselves?  In my view the only legitimate way around this would be to hold a referendum. If the electorate clearly demonstrate by two thirds majority that they ultimately reject HRA, then I could see (regrettably), a case for doing something about it, but that mandate at the moment is far from clear.

These are my arguments for retaining the current legislation but as I said earlier, I recognise that if I’m to win your support, I must make a different case and this is it:
As a moderate Eurosceptic, you appear to believe that we have a place within the existing EU and that in the case of a referendum; you would prefer us to stay within it. I put it to you that should the law pass within Britain our position within Europe would be threatened from other influential nations within the EU. I also put it to you that should the law fail to pass, less moderate Eurosceptic rhetoric will gain more traction and the influence of Europe may be used as a scapegoat to deflect or embellish embarrassment over Government defeat… this would likely have an adverse effect on the subsequent referendum to remain within the EU. If Great Britain did regrettably exit the European Union, I believe that then and only then would be the a more reasonable time to have a Bill of Rights in place as a legislative successor to the HRA.

In conclusion then, I ask once again for your support. I would be extremely grateful for a response on this occasion; in the past I have tried communicating with you via email and Twitter and whilst I recognise that the latter isn’t the best format for formal political engagement, I am deeply disappointed not to have had the courtesy of a reply to my previous correspondence. I apologise for the somewhat lengthy nature of this letter but I hope the amount of time I have taken to write this demonstrates the level of feeling I and many like me have on this matter.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I would be grateful if you would consider what I have to say and let me know how you intend to proceed.

Kind regards

Yours sincerely

Nick Payne

Incidentally I have also dispatched similar letters (modified to reflect party position and general commentary), to David Cameron, Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg, Caroline Lucas, Alex Salmond, Jonathan Edwards, Tom Watson and Stella Creasy). I did so in deference to their position as respective leaders of their parties or in the case of the latter two MPs, because I have a modicum of respect for some of the notable high profile work they have done as individuals.

I additionally intend to follow these efforts up by corresponding with Justin Welby, John Sentamu and Prince Charles.

I will keep you up to date as to any response I receive. In the meantime here are a few links to some campaigns if you want to show some support... and a couple of questions for feedback here:

38 Degrees
Tom Watson

  • What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the Government proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a UK Bill of Rights?
  • Are you planning on doing anything to make your views known?

Monday, May 04, 2015

Mysteries of the Force

Several weeks ago, the second Star Wars Episode VII teaser trailer was released. I, like many of you I'm sure, was as giddy as a schoolboy. I wanted to post something about it then... but I thought I would wait until Star Wars Day to remark on them, as it gave me an opportunity to talk about it in a wider context. First however, just in case you've been hiding underneath a rock on Tatooine and have somehow missed it, here is that teaser:

It was exciting stuff. When I saw the initial trailer, I was happy... but the highlights of that was the sight of X Wings and the Millennium Falcon in flight. However when I saw this second trailer, I was overjoyed. It was just a step-up. Yes there's that big reveal of Han Solo and Chewie at the end... but for me, that was icing on the cake.  The general feel of the teaser just recaptured some of that old Star Wars magic. It was the clever use of specific John Williams scores, coupled with dialogue from Luke Skywalker that most caught my imagination.

A hooded cyborg (in all likelihood, Luke), affectionately places a hand on R2D2 in the new teaser.
When I look back to the flawed works that were the prequel films, I think it is pretty fair to say that for some people one of the things that annoyed long time fans, was the introduction of midichlorians as a way of explaining the nature of The Force. Star Wars works best as space fantasy and mythology... it doesn't require an overly heavy explanation as to the mechanics of its universe in quite the same way that Star Trek or Babylon 5 might.

Part of the beauty of Star Wars was the idea that the Force *is* a mystery - something to be probed, contemplated and explored, but never really answered.  This is probably never more evident than in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker begins his training under Yoda. Now it's true that Yoda's musings slant towards Eastern philosophies, but I think they are general enough that the wider world can lap it up and draw its own parallels.

However, in the prequels the mysticism seemed to take a firm back seat to the action... it just didn't seem to be as important - to the films detriment. Curiously when George Lucas originally came up with Star Wars, the need for young people to ask questions about religion, was clearly in his mind:
"I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people--more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question, "Is there a God or is there not a God?"--that is for me the worst thing that can happen. I think you should have an opinion about that. Or you should be saying, "I'm looking. I'm very curious about this, and I am going to continue to look until I can find an answer, and if I can't find an answer, then I'll die trying." I think it's important to have a belief system and to have faith."
George Lucas - Time Magazine, 1999

Yet strangely despite Lucas' motivation, I've always found the stories where these themes were explored with the most depth and the most explicitly were in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Both of these were co-written by Lawrence Kasdan.

This is why I'm greatly reassured about The Force Awakens... Kasdan is back on board. Going on this fact and the feel of the trailer, I am quite hopeful that this new batch of films will be the spiritual successor of the original Star Wars trilogy.

I do wonder if the new films are going to explore an evolution of Jedi beliefs.  As uncomfortable as I am with the idea of midichlorians in the past, what if Qui-Gon Jinn's death and the subsequent Jedi purge, became the catalyst for a Jedi Reformation?  Qui-Gon was the first Jedi to return from the netherworld of the Force; what if his spectral instruction of the exiles Yoda and Obi-Wan, led them to a deeper understanding of the Force... one that led them to realise that midichlorians were not the Force... but were just present on/in many beings who were Force sensitive?  Maybe they were symbiotes or harmless parasites that hitched rides on many Jedi because they could feed off Force energy.

It's a way of bringing back and reinforcing of the concept of the Force as primarily being mystical in nature as opposed to biological.

Finally, as it *is* Star Wars Day (still, just) I want to leave you with two more statements from George Lucas from that same TIME interview back in 1999  and a couple of questions to you as food for thought:
I think there is a God. No question. What that God is or what we know about that God, I'm not sure. The one thing I know about life and about the human race is that we've always tried to construct some kind of context for the unknown. Even the cavemen thought they had it figured out. I would say that cavemen understood on a scale of about 1. Now we've made it up to about 5. The only thing that most people don't realise is the scale goes to 1 million.

I think there's definitely a place for organised religion. I would hate to find ourselves in a completely secular world where entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience.
  • Do you think there is a God?
  • Has Star Wars in any way influenced you on a spiritual level?
  • Do you agree or disagree with George Lucas that organised religion has a place in society?
  • What are you most looking forward to in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens?

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