Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Star Wars and the Sausageworks of Sacred Story

It was one of the more successful viral videos making the rounds yesterday.  For a few hundred bucks, an intrepid Star Wars fan had managed to purchase some bespoke old-tech digital discs containing long unseen outtakes from the very first Star Wars movie.  This being the era of sharing such magic, it popped up onto YouTube, and the resulting moments of delightful error are genuinely snicker-inducing.

Being the sort of human being who desperately overthinks everything, I found myself musing about what this video says about media-era mythopoetics.   Yes, I'm looking at bloopers, and the word "mythopoetics" comes into my head.  That's what makes Presbyterians Presbyterian.

Seriously, though: Star Wars succeeded, as a cultural phenomenon, because it was a form of healing mythopoetic.  It articulated the struggle between good and evil at a time when our society felt a tiny bit lost.  'Nam was a fresh wound in the mind of our nation, and we were no longer quite sure of who we were as a people.  Are we even good anymore?

Here in a space opera you had the light side and the dark side, writ in such a way that both mystic peacenik hippies and vets who had been through the crucible of 'Nam could relate.  It was filled with characters who were playing spare, simple, and recognizable archetypes, ones that resonated with something primal in the human character.

And it has had a profound influence.  Obi Wan waxing on about the Force has influenced more  American theology than ten-thousand sermons.

That, I think, is one of the reasons these films have stuck around for well over a generation.

Well, that and relentless marketing, but it's the essence of the story that carries it.  Like all myths, it is one of the stories that unifies, and that gives life meaning.

Which makes the blooper video so fascinating.  Here's the sausageworks of how your myth came to be, giggles the video.  Here are your iconic figures, stumbling over the verses...er..."lines"...you know by heart.  Here are stumblings and bumblings, as the making of a myth takes shape.

And the deeper truth in that comes when we realize the process of our own mythic creation is no different.  In my sacred tradition, there was plenty of mess, so much so that we don't even bother with a single unified story.  We tell it four times, each differently, because we know there's a slightly different but vital truth in each of the tellings.

There was some stuff, like the bright and brittle selfishness of Gnosticism or bits of fever-dream bizarreness like the Gospel of Judas, that we left on the cutting room floor.  We'd rather forget about them, in the same way a Star Wars fanboy would rather forget about that Christmas Special.  It just can't be canon.  It can't.

There's other stuff, like our understanding of the fascinating mix of sources that history swirled together to shape the central stories of the faith, that more thoughtful Jesus folks can embrace as just part of what makes our story part of the Real.

Because the transforming meaning of sacred narrative does arise out of the messiness of it all.  It can still define us, binding us together, moving in us and through us and...huh.

Why does that sound so familiar?