On New Year’s Eve, I finished watching “The Mandalorian” with my girls. They binged watched this series for Baby Yoda; I watched because of the spaceships and the fellow who resembled Boba Fett, the greatest action figure from the Star Wars Kenner line.
After the show, I announced, “Girls, l like Star Wars again.”
The show is based off of the gunslinger archetype found in almost every culture. It’s an old tale: the Ronin who suddenly enters into a new community. This character is detached, seemingly out-of-place with his or her world. It could be Clint Eastwood’s fixed, angry expression as the cowboy of “the man with no name”; the slow walk of Alan Ladd’s gangster; or Mad Max’s growl.
Or, in the case with the Mandalorian, the main character wear’s a space helmet and speaks through a radio.
The point of this character is that their emotion does not match the rest of their world. They are set aside, they stand alone. Or, to quote Pee Wee Herman: “You don’t want to get tangled up with a guy like me. I’m a loner. A rebel.”
Edwin Friedman, in his book “A Failure of Nerve”, describes this quality as the virtue of self-differentiation. Here’s a video that describes why this is a good thing for any kind of leader:
The world needs the Mandalorian, someone who is not possessed by the community’s collective anxiety or anger. The drifter who walks into the bar does not share or is held captive by the shared past.
In my line of work, as an Anglican Priest, it’s often the new priest or the incoming pastor that bears the image of the Mandalorian. The church is guarded, wondering what this “stranger” is going to do to their community.
And worst, the emotion of the priest does not match their own. When they talk about how the youth left water balloons in the baptismal it’s received with laughter and not horror/disgust/outrage; the priest performs the liturgy different than how they are used to doing things and doesn’t seem embarrassed; and the new priest talks to new people, unaware that he/she should be talking to those whose been there the longest and, therefore, are the most important.
In my world, it actually would make sense for a new priest to spend their first few months dressed as the Mandalorian. At least, just wear a space helmet.
The Mandalorian, it seems, cares only about getting money and turning that money into armor. But then the character enters more and more into the world, starts to care about people and sees the harm of that world.
Enter Baby Yoda.
I won’t give too much away, but the main character changes from protagonist to hero and it is found in gaining relationship with the other characters.
This happens in all of these kinds of stories. The gunslinger rids the towns of the bullies, the gangster cleans up crime, and the superhero repels the aliens. And then, when intimacy is established and felt, they disappear into whatever works as a horse riding off into the sunset.
We love these kinds of stories because no matter how fixed we become in our routine, our own group’s narrative, we can’t help but scan over our shoulder and look at what isn’t us. Carl Jung calls this the lure of the shadow. The shadow-everything we aren’t-comes across our path in the form of a stranger and we can’t help but stare.
These stories affirm the important reality that things don’t get better with more of more of the same. It’s not the town’s barber or the green fellow at the bar who looks like his cousin Greedo that brings about transformation: it’s the outsider, the person not like us.
So, back to my line of work as a Priest, the very thing or person that a congregation can fear- the stranger- could be what they need most.
Doctor Who is an outsider. He/she is an alien, a character from an ancient race of Time Lords who cheat death through regeneration. The Doctor travels through time and space, with the only constant is that of self-differentiation.
This season, she stepped onto our planet and uncovered an alien spy plot to rid us of our world’s spies; rescued a resort from monsters; and saved America from scorpion aliens. At one point, in this present season, the locals would get mad at the Doctor stating, in so many words: “We were fine until YOU showed up! You made all of these things happen!’
In truth, the Doctor didn’t make more problems: she, instead, brings them to the light in order to solve them.
But what makes the Doctor good? It isn’t just being an alien, for the cosmos is full of aliens. It is kindness. To quote the actor Peter Capaldi who played one of the Doctors:
“The essence of Doctor Who is kindness, that is what really is underneath all of this. This is a person who moves through time and space and history, and all kinds of situations, and reacts to them, ultimately – despite the way the different versions of him may appear – he reacts with kindness.”
Friedman would call this emotional intelligence. It’s that strange mixture of empathy (what is someone else going through) and vision (what does that person need). You need both empathy and vision.
In the church, I’ve known a lot of congregation who were full of vision, but little empathy. The result would be, as described by a former Baptist Regional Minister, “The church spends all sorts of time giving things to their community no one has really asked for or wanted.”
There can be empathy and no vision. This is found in the sympathetic ear who hears one’s problems, loves and accepts, and, when it comes time for a solution, they simply grimace and mumble, “You’re hooped!”
The Doctor is that stranger who brings to us a vision and kindly applies to his or her new world. The world may doubt the Doctor’s intention (most often they do) or they struggle with the Doctor’s vision because it’s new, it hasn’t been thought of, and it’s…alien.
For those who know I am an Anglican Priest, you can anticipate that I will claim these things are found in the character of Christ. Well, rest assured: yes, they are. The Bible, that old book, describes Christ as empathetic (Hebrews 4:15) and having a clear vision for what is needed (Luke 4:18-19). He is, as the church creeds and the Bible explain, both human and God: that mix of outsider and insider.
And for those who accept this outsider of Jesus, He brings them a new life. Those that reject the outsider, are stuck in the problems of more of more of the same.
How do we, in our own little planets and civilizations, receive the Prophets?
The Prophets are like the Mandalorian, the outsiders, the Doctor, the weirdos, and those who are outside of our frame of reference or circle of cozy.
In the Old Testament, the Prophets were these wild men and women who lived outside of civilization’s cusp, residing in the margins of society. They would bring news that would either be good or bad. It would be new news, something alien to what is considered normal or usual. The news was given, hopefully, with love and a vision for something better.
Prophets might be wrong, most certainly. They need truth and reality on their side, otherwise they could just be someone weird and odd and mismatched in their community. The treatment and the listening of these prophets is on the burden of the community. A prophet being odd does not MAKE a community abuse them for not fitting in; instead, there must be a listening and weighing of evidence.
Throughout history, the Prophets were rejected by the mainstream for the most part. Only when they were martyred, did the message ring potentially true. We have examples of this like Martin Luther King Jr. or Jeremiah or…take your pick.
Today we have a potential prophet in our world, Greta Thunberg.
Her message is simple: listen to the scientists who are telling us that the way we are doing industry is adversely impacting our future on this planet.
It’s odd, I think, that many Christians have reacting with so much wrath, so much anger, and so much hatred towards this teenage girl. Granted, there are atheists and other faiths who have reacted against her…so it’s not unique to Christendom. But what is surprised is that Christianity has been shaped by the outsiders, the prophets, the weirdos, and those whose message is alien to more of more of the same. Why now, this teenager, is not fitting in?
I have read the posts that quote the studies that refute “Greta’s Science” (which is a fallacy because she doesn’t have a unified science, but rather her message is to listen to scientists). I’ve seen the anger that is a reaction to her anger (“How dare she say ‘how dare you’ to the UN? She should be grateful she was able to be there!”). And I’ve seen the energy, the time, and passion denying climate change and defending capitalism.
I’ve read the conspiracy theories that Greta is really an actress in her 20’s or that her parents have made her a puppet for a one-world government organization seeking to rule the world. Again, her empathy and kindness is questioned with the purpose of changing the facts of her claims.
And yet she’s an outsider, a Mandalorian, a stranger who is bringing up something new against our present assumptions. Why be a prophet? What’s in it for her? There is more money and power to be had if she is wrong and we do nothing than for her to be right.
As an agrarian conservationist (see my posts on Wendell Berry), I would probably disagree with some of the scientists she refers to…but that’s okay. Science, in the pursuit of fact, allows disagreement; disagreement disregarding fact for the pursuit of industry is where we fall into trouble. As a priest, my calling is kindness and capitalism only fits into that plan if it allows us to be kind. But if it prevents kindness, it cannot be defended.
My question for the Christian church is simple: how do you deal with the outsiders, those who challenge our way of thinking? Could they be prophets from your God?
And this question is posed to my friends outside of the Christian church: do we listen to the strangers, the aliens from our margins who challenge our status quo?