On Lent and Avoiding the Star Wars Effect – Homily for the First Sunday of Lent 2015

Luke Skywalker on TatooineEvery year on the First Sunday of Lent,
the gospel takes us into the desert
where Jesus was tested for forty days.
And we follow Jesus into the desert for these forty days of Lent
so that our hearts can be transformed, so that we can be ready
to enter fully into the Mystery of Easter.
This means being careful of the Star Wars Effect.

When the original Star Wars movie came out in 1977,
every kid my age wanted to see it.
It was the first movie my dad took me and my two brothers to see.
It was a groundbreaking film in many ways.
The film makers made spaceships fly,
brought alien creatures to life, and built alien worlds.
There was one setting in particular
that was extremely difficult to create:
the desert planet Tatooine
where the hero Luke Skywalker lived.
To bring this desert planet to life,
the film makers went to Tunisia, in North Africa.
It took eight weeks for bulldozers and tractors
to reshape the land,
to transform the desert of Tunisia into the iconic sets
where Luke and Obi-Wan would meet for the first time,
where Jawas and the Sand People lived.
The actors and crew spent two and half weeks
in the heat, wind, and sand of the Tunisian desert.
But the harsh conditions paid off,
as Star Wars became one of the most successful films of all time.

During Lent we are driven into the desert.
Not to make a movie, but to make a change in our lives.

Just as Jesus spent forty days in the desert among wild beasts,
tested by Satan,
the forty days of Lent are to be our time in the desert.
We come to the place of heat, wind, and sand.
We have been driven here by the Spirit, marked with ashes.
This is our time of testing, of facing our demons.

The desert experience
has been a part of salvation history
from the very beginning.

Moses fasted for forty days on Mt. Sinai
and he received the tablets of the covenant.
And when the Israelites were unfaithful to the covenant,
Moses broke the tablets,
but then fasted for another forty days in penance,
until God wrote the tablets again.

The prophet Elijah walked through the desert
forty days and nights to find God on Mt. Horeb.

The Israelites wandered forty years in the desert
before reaching the promised land.

And today we see Jesus as the perfection
of the desert experience.
Immediately after his baptism he is driven into the desert
where the wild beasts are, where Satan tests him.

Through our baptism,
we join with Jesus in the desert and confront our demons.

The desert is a necessary part of an authentic spiritual life.

The solitude of the desert of Lent
gives us time to spend with God in prayer.
Our fasting helps us recognize what habits and attitudes
have been holding us prisoner.
In the desert we can draw on the strength of God
to be angels who minister to the poor and needy among us.

Jesus returned victorious from his time in the desert
to announce, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The word “repent” is a translation of the Greek word metanoia,
“a change of heart.”
Jesus says,“Change your heart and believe in the gospel.”
We go to the desert of Lent so our hearts can be changed.

But they cannot change if we give in to the Star Wars Effect.

Star Wars was so successful that it led two sequels.
And each of those movies required exotic, alien locations.
In The Empire Strikes Back, film makers created the ice planet Hoth
by filming on an actual glacier in Norway.
In Return of the Jedi a thrilling speeder chase took place
on the forest moon of Endor
by using footage from the Redwood forests of California.
But with each movie,
the films relied less and less on real locations,
and more and more on sound studios and special effects.

In fact, when a new series of Star Wars movies was made,
twenty years after the original movie,
almost all of the sets and backgrounds were created digitally.
The actors stood in front of a green screen waving light sabers
pretending they were on location
while a computer added the backgrounds later.
They appeared to be in the desert,
but they were in the safety of the sound studio.

Now that might make good sense if you’re filming a movie.
It’s easier on the actors, it’s less expensive,
and it gives the film makers more freedom
to create the worlds they want.
But even in a movie with the best digital effects
you lose something of the grittiness or the texture
of a real location.
The second Star Wars series looks more sterile,
more artificial than the first series.

And as we come to Lent year after year,
it’s tempting to stand in front of a green screen,
having the appearance of entering the desert of Lent,
but not really entering it;
having the look of participating in Lent,
but not really going through the difficulty of being in the desert,
of facing our personal demons,
of having to tolerate the heat and sand.
It’s easier, it’s less costly to our comfort, it give us more freedom,
but it’s less authentic, too.
It’s less real.
And most importantly, there’s no room for a change of heart.

And so as we enter our first full week of Lent,
it would be good for us to consider
whether or not the desert we have entered into
is the real desert that Christ experienced,
or whether it’s a superficial green screen desert experience.

The challenge before us this Lent
is to avoid the Star Wars Effect,
the temptation to a superficial experience of the desert.

When we look at what we have decided to do for Lent,
are we simply standing in front of a green screen,
having the appearance of being among the wild beasts
and demons,
having the appearance of fasting,
or have we truly committed to going into the desert?

“This is the time of fulfillment,” Jesus says.
That doesn’t simply mean,
“Lent has rolled around on the calendar again.”
The word for time in this passage is the Greek work kairos.
Kairos is different from chronological time,
calendar time, day-after-day time.
Kairos is the opportune time, the moment when God acts.

God is acting right now, driving us into the desert.
This time of fulfillment is the opportune time
for us to overcome the temptation to a superficial green screen Lent,
and really enter the desert this year
so our hearts can be changed.

And if we truly enter the desert,
we follow in the footsteps of Moses, Elijah, and the Israelites;
but more importantly we walk in communion with Jesus.

And just as Jesus survived the testing in the desert,
he will survive death.
His early victory over Satan in the desert
foreshadows his great victory over death on the cross.

We are tested in the desert of this life,
but our communion with Christ assures us of victory.
The more we walk with Christ,
the safer we are, the more we share in his victory.

This is the time of fulfillment,
the time to enter the desert of Lent,
to change our hearts,
and believe in the gospel.

Eli, John and Andrew – Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Grandmother and GranddaughterIn the first reading we hear that “Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD.”
Now that doesn’t mean you get to sleep here in church during the homily!
But we do have something in common with Samuel: at one point, we, too, were not familiar with the Lord.
Samuel is called three times, but he does not recognize who is it is.
It is the priest Eli who helps him understand that it is the Lord who is calling.
In the gospel, too, Andrew and an unnamed disciple don’t know Jesus.
It is the prophet John the Baptist who points to the Lord and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
There was even a time when Peter did not know Jesus, and it was his brother the apostle Andrew who brings him to the Messiah.

As we stand at the beginning of another season of Ordinary Time, today’s scripture shows us these three people at the beginning of their relationship with the Lord.
Today, then, is a good day to remember that there was a time in all of our lives when we did not know God, when we did not know Jesus, and it is a day to be grateful for those brothers and sisters who first brought us to the Messiah.
At some point in the life of every Christian, we learned about Jesus from someone who loved us.
Each of us is gathered around the altar here today because someone introduced us to God.
The priest Eli told Samuel about the Lord.
The prophet John the Baptist told Andrew about the Lamb of God.
The apostle Andrew told his brother Peter about the Messiah.
Someone told you and me about Jesus.

If John was writing the Good News of your life, who would take the place of the prophet John the Baptist in telling you, “Behold the Lamb of God”? Or who is your apostle Andrew, bringing you to Jesus for the first time? Who has been the priest Eli in your life, advising you to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”?
In other words, who introduced you to God? Who first told you about Jesus?
For many of us, it was our parents, bringing us to the church for Baptism when we were infants. But that was so long ago we probably don’t remember it.
What is your earliest memory of knowing that Jesus loved you?
Imagine that moment in your life, hearing about Jesus for the first time.
Maybe you can’t pinpoint one particular moment the way Samuel, Andrew, or Peter can. Maybe your introduction to Jesus was more gradual, over the course of your childhood. That’s probably the experience of most people who come to know God.
After all, the reason Samuel was in the temple in the first place was because his mother Hannah had brought him there.
So whether your first experience with God was a single moment in time, or a gradual process locked away somewhere in your memory, the important thing is that it came from people who loved Jesus and who loved you enough to bring you together.
This is how we meet Jesus: through people we trust, through people who care for us and want what’s best for us.

They evangelize us.

Sometimes we might wish that Jesus would speak to us directly, that we could hear his voice or see his face.
But God has chosen a different way.
And as always, God’s way is better.
There’s a bond that forms when you hear about Jesus from people who love you.
When parents share the gospel with their children, for example, or when friends pray with friends, then the Body of Christ is strengthened, the Church is built up.
We become a closer, more interconnected, more loving community.

There’s also a dignity in knowing that God has entrusted us with spreading the Good News to the world.
We received that dignity at our Baptism when we were anointed priest, prophet, and king.
And with that dignity comes a responsibility, the responsibility that Jesus gave to all of his disciples:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

There’s someone in your life right now who trusts you just as much as you trusted the people who first introduced you to Jesus.
There’s someone you love, who loves you, waiting to hear the Good News that only you can give.

Who is it? What is it they need to hear?

We might hesitate, afraid that we don’t know what to say, or how to say it.
God has heard that before. When Moses was called to lead the Israelites he said, “What if they don’t believe me or listen to me? I’m not eloquent.”
When God called the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah said, “I don’t know how to speak, I’m too young.”

But today’s liturgy shows us how simple it really is to evangelize: a little conversation between Eli and Samuel; a brief recognition of Jesus’ presence by John the Baptist to his two disciples; a brief but excited exchange between the two brothers Andrew and Peter.

This is the kind of evangelization Pope Francis writes about in The Joy of the Gospel where he says,

“…there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation….Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” (#127)

In another part of The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes,

“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (#120)

Every Christian. Here and now. Daily. That is our challenge. To be Eli, John the Baptist, and Andrew to the people in our lives.

And as Pope Francis concludes,

“What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence.” (#264)

Today we are grateful for all those in our lives who loved Jesus so much, and who loved us so much that they introduced him to us and continue to proclaim him to us.
And today we also recognize the dignity and responsibility we have been given to introduce others to Jesus.

Through our baptism, we have been anointed priest, prophet, and king.
Like the priest Eli, we can help our loved ones recognize God and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Like the prophet John the Baptist, we can point to Jesus and say, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Like the apostle Andrew, we can bring our brothers and sisters to the Messiah.

Prayer for Teachers and Students Returning to School After Christmas Break

School in WinterHeavenly Father,
Thank you for the blessings of this Christmas Break.

Since last we gathered in this classroom,
we celebrated the birth of your Son,
we rang in a brand new year,
and we watched the magi give their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

As we meet in school again,
help us celebrate your Son’s presence in every moment of every day;
inspire us to use this new year to draw closer to you;
and grant us the desire to give our most precious gifts to those in need.

Give us the energy, enthusiasm, and strength
to withstand the doldrums of January, February, and March,
so that when Spring Break comes,
the hard work we have done
will blossom into new achievements, successes, and opportunities.

Grant this through Christ your Son,
the Light of the World,
the hope of the new year,
and your most precious gift to us.


Poetry Video Project Using Chromebooks, Librivox, and WeVideo

Fire and IceWhen school starts up again this week, one of my Tech classes is going to begin learning about video editing with a free online tool called WeVideo.

Students will browse through public domain poetry at Librivox.org and find a narrated poem they like. They’ll download the mp3 narration of the poem to their Google Drives and then search for accompanying images. I’ll be showing them how to use Google’s image search to find images that have been labeled for “reuse with modification,” so that they use the images legally.

After they have the mp3 and the images in their Google Drive they’ll use WeVideo to assemble them into a video that brings the poem to life. At least that’s the plan. I’ve never used WeVideo with students before, but now that students have switched from MacBooks to Chromebooks we had to find an alternative to iMovie. WeVideo has some nice basic video editing features including transitions, overlays, and audio tracks.

I had fun this weekend making a sample video to give students something concrete to visualize as they prepare to make their own videos. I selected Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice,” because I wanted something a bit dramatic. Here’s how it turned out:

After the students finish their videos maybe I’ll post a few of them here.