I had an interesting emotional moment when I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night. It caught me by surprise at the time, and I had a hard time putting words to the “why” for those who went with me, our current YAVs, Will, Alexis, Emily, Alyson, Linda, and one of their buddies, MinKyeom. I took some time and wrote this to post after most of my friends had seen it so they wouldn’t mind the spoilers(!). This might seem silly to many of you, so no worries if you don’t want to read the whole deal. You might not “get it” if you’re not that into Star Wars, but this is connected to why I think my work here in Korea is so important; to my calling, and I believe non-Star Wars fans and non-Christians can still resonate with recognizing what’s important to you. You could call it one of my “burning bushes.”
(pictured above, an early birthday of mine, with Vader cake my mom made, well-played-with Millenium Falcon, capeless Vader looking on, etc.)
I grew up loving the Star Wars movies when I was a kid… I mean loved them, almost to a religious degree. I was born the year Empire Strikes Back was released, and was four and ready to watch big movies when Return of the Jedi was released. I’ll just note that I enjoyed the Ewoks an appropriate amount for my age. Beyond that, I WANTED TO BE A JEDI. I wanted a lightsaber, to ride speeder bikes, to feel the world around me with a deeper understanding. I vividly remember sitting on my bed for hours trying to move a cup on my desk with the force.
Eventually I stopped trying to use the force on objects (as often), and my thoughts settled on other aspects of my life. As I got into middle school the force also gave me a way to explain what I understood about God. I remember session members at my church asking questions for confirmation, “What is God for you?” “God is like this divine energy that is present all around us. Beyond our understanding, but also very close connecting us all together…. kinda like the force?” (maybe I said that last part in my head) The session member responded, “Well, I want you to think of God as like a friend, like Jesus is your friend.” “Sure, that’s cool too…. but more than that as well.”
Going into high school I then began to wonder what my purpose in life was. Was I meant for something? I actually began considering a call to ministry the summer after I turned 15 years old. I also had a tendency to think I was meant to leave West Texas.* So, at 15 I kept wondering, “Was I meant for something more? Far far away?” The moment in the first Star Wars (Episode IV) when Luke looked off into the binary sunset deeply resonated with me at that age. I also looked at the West Texas sunsets, at the stars in the sky wondering, “Am I connected to something much bigger than I can even understand?”
So the theme music that John Williams wrote for the above scene resonated profoundly in my heart. I asked for a four CD set of the Star Wars soundtracks for Christmas in high school, and I wore out that track on my CD because it became the soundtrack for me wondering whether God was calling me to something big. Henri Nouwen writes that, “Discernment is a life of listening to a deeper sound and marching to a different beat, a life in which we become ‘all ears’.” That melody, that part of the soundtrack connected me to that deeper sound and it grounded my ears to the wonder of God’s potential all around me. So I followed that call, became a campus minister, and then came to Korea with Hyeyoung to site coordinate for the Young Adult Volunteer Program; and perhaps I began to get comfortable with the idea that: this is the “something more”. Well done everyone. I’ll have hot chocolate now, and then take a nap.
However, I was suddenly given this opportunity to join the work of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and their Reconciliation and Unification Department (HwaTongBu) a year and a half ago. The first many months have been mostly translating statements and news articles and learning about histories of division and unification efforts, but this next year something bigger is coming up. The HwaTongBu is planning on turning their ongoing signature campaign for a Korean peace treaty to focus especially on US Americans and the US government this next year. It will involve bringing delegates from nine different denominations around the world to introduce them to the movement for peaceful reconciliation in Korea, and then it looks like I will go with NCCK to the US for an advocacy tour at the end of July to mark the culmination of a US specific signature campaign. I will be sharing much more about this in the coming months.
Now a big part of the stories to which we introduce our YAVs throughout the year involve Korean division and the actions of the US when they occupied Korea at the end of World War II in 1945. I haven’t been expecting them to magically become champions of Korean reunification or experts at dismantling the forces that perpetuate conflict, but I often wonder if the seeds we plant will have any use at all, or whether we’re doing it wrong and it could all be for naught.
So I feel this daunting weight imagining our NCCK group going before audiences who may be Korean war veterans to suggest there may be more to the story than what we and they were taught regarding the US role in conflict and division (If you are interested in hearing more about what I’ve learned, I’d be happy to share stories… just ask). Perhaps they won’t call on me specifically to speak, but we might also try to present our case in Washington D.C. in front of a representative of the US administration. We will suggest that the implications of the US’s actions in 1945 require that the US transform its current policy in North East Asia. When that prospect comes to mind, I become very aware of my limitations and times I’ve soured relations and messed up delicate situations. Sometimes, I’m not sure I’m the right one to do this work.
So there I am sitting in the dark theater with our YAVs as The Force Awakens. I went into the movie wondering if I was going to shed any tears. They didn’t come when [that one character] died. When Rey (my new favorite character ever!) embraced Leia I let them well up, and I suppose they greased the wheel; however, I didn’t see it coming. Right at the very end, when Rey took the Falcon out to find Luke, who had failed in the creation of a new Jedi school, screwed up trying to teach Leia and Han’s son, and exiled himself to uncharted stars….. when Rey pulled Luke’s old lightsaber out of her bag, and THAT melody blossomed up again out of nowhere [buh duuh duuh dahdahdaaaaaah duuuuh!], and something in my heart just burst open the gates. I began sobbing so uncontrollably hard that I shook in my seat. I’m not sure Will, who was sitting next to me, actually noticed me shaking, but I tried to lean to the empty seat on the other side so I didn’t bump him.
That melody came back, calling to me, as the lightsaber called to Rey in Maz Kanata’s, as it was calling to Luke to bring him out from the margins: it’s time to pick it up. So I’m getting ready. Time to shake loose the demons of my imperfections. It doesn’t even matter if not all our YAVs are ready to become champion advocates for the Korean peaceful reconciliation movement. If anything, we at least are breaking the spell of half-truths and possibly “planting seeds that one day may grow.” (prayer for Romero) Even if our NCCK signature campaign doesn’t prompt a response from the Obama administration again, we are still breaking the spell for all those who heard these hidden stories. This is probably the biggest reason why I believe our work in Korea is so important.
This story just happens to be one of the ways I try to connect to that deeper sound through music, movies, and soundtracks. You may have very different things that can light the fire within you when you’re running low on lamp oil; be it music, or scripture, or long late-night conversations with close friends. These days I don’t think everyone is called to “leave Texas”* or come to Korea or take up international policy advocacy. Henri Nouwen also wrote, “We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.” Your call might just be sitting next to a friend who is dealing with a deep wound, or reaching out to someone new to create a friendship, or faithfully completing your tasks as an actuary while computing supposed “boring numbers.” I’m not a big fan of Hallmark Cards that suggest, “your calling is where your deepest passion meets the world’s deepest need.” Because you know what, the world needs accountants, and sanitation workers**, and key grips, and software writers, and barkeeps, and taxi cabs, and poets, and parents, and post office workers, and phone operators, and etc. Maybe your call is to volunteer part of the week at an NGO. That deeper sound is humming through the entire life of each and every one of us. Just let it in.
* (My understanding of God’s presence and potential that included the possibility of ministry in Texas eventually matured.)