The Worst Thing About The Last Jedi

I’m still disappointed about Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Let me clarify. I don’t mind the new additional elements of the Force. I am willing to overlook the cheap jokes, the tragic misuse of interesting characters in uninteresting situations, and even the plot points shoved down our necks in the spirit of adventure.  It hard to write a story, let alone make a movie.  I’ve let it all go.

Two months later, the thing that continues to irk me is the last scene: a black slave finishes telling the story of the Jedi, right before his white buddy picks up a broom with the Force and stares out into the stars, inspired that someday he too might become a Jedi.

I hate this scene so much.

Here’s the message the movie is trying to send: The Force isn’t an elitist power running through the bloodline of a chosen family. It’s for every single one of us.  It plays no favorites.

Except when you show a handsome white boy with his new fancy power literally moments after passing over his black friend’s wishes for a heroic debut, it sure seems like you’re playing favorites.

I remember Jess’ father asking me beforehand if I was excited for the movie.  I told him, yes – but not because I’m a hardcore fan. I am excited about these new Star Wars movies because few franchises have the power and freedom to effect culture like Star Wars. Scorcese’s Silence is a masterpiece, but people by and large ignored it (and will continue to) because it is inaccessible and complex.  Any movie that takes place in the past, is ultra-serious, and is committed to unearthing deep, uncomfortable philosophical themes has a much steeper climb to mass popularity than a shallow, but entertaining movie.

But Star Wars has none of these problems.  In fact, as far as most movies go, it has a blank check in terms of sending messages to audiences – and a major reason for this is that it takes place in a futuristic galaxy far, far away, but not too unrelatable from our own.  This subtle, but potent prescriptive cultural power is rare, because you don’t get a lot of chances to be forward-thinking with something like a run-of-the-mill action or comedy movie (although, I think the Fast-and-the-Furious series somehow stumbled onto this power as well. A tangent for another time.) With the diversity inherent within Star Wars, it’s the rare opportunity to showcase people of every creed, race, sexual orientation, etc. in genre-defying roles, because they literally live side-by-side with an even more diverse group of aliens in a ever-expanding universe.  Star Wars literally has the power to write the future as it could and should be, and what do we get as a revelatory, newly-expanded paradigm for heroes?  The white man.

For all the new roles Star Wars is opening up for minorities in every sense of the word (Rose Tico is a particular favorite of mine), it has circled back to familiar territory.  The message to colored people and women hasn’t changed: you will always be a sidekick.

We’re way overdue for a change.


Ask Boldly

On Monday, I met with a friend who I hadn’t seen for years after he became a pastor and I moved to LA. As we caught up, he confessed that he was now going through his darkest moment: his mom had been in a coma for some time now with no signs of improvement. Just the day before, they had taken her off the machines, awaiting the inevitable. She is not a believer.
My friend was beside himself. He didn’t know if she could hear him when he told her about Jesus, or when the other Chinese pastor came to pray, or when he cried holding her hand, telling her that he was not ready for her to leave him.  My friend asked for prayer – because he wanted God to save her somehow.
And I was faced with a dilemma of what to tell my friend in his time of need – and more so, a dilemma of what to ask God for.  I often tell my friends to pray boldly – not because God is impressed by it, but because I believe it strengthens our faith when most of us are afraid to be let down by our fragile beliefs. And I’ve asked God for some pretty bold things these past years:
  • To raise my computer mouse from the dead.
  • To give my sister a job and a home without her looking for it.
  • To stop the rain.
  • To heal Jess’ sickness.
  • To heal my other friend’s mom.

And each time He has answered – over and over. But this was a woman on the edge of death – and I am not some wise, holy man that knows the will of God.

But earlier that day, I had read James 1:5-7:
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.”
Along with that, I had also read a few different accounts of former-coma victims who could hear the people around them. Lately, I believe God sends me signs that are obvious enough to not miss, so I decided to go for it.  I prayed that God would move in a mighty way with my friend’s mom and save her.
And I went home, wondering what God would do.

The next day I received a text: You’re not going to believe this. My mom is opening her eyes.

I wrote back: I believe it, dude.  That’s what we prayed for.  Make it count.

Later on, he texted me an update: I shared the gospel with her and asked her to grab my hand if she trusted Jesus. She did and tried to sit up… She stayed awake for at least 15 minutes, but feel asleep once my father arrived. We asked God to help her understand… This is one of the only miracles I’ve ever personally seen. I pray my memory will not be short.

Praise God, y’all.  Come together in prayer and find your God waiting for you.


These past 40 days, I’ve been quieter than most. I’ve made an effort to listen, to filter out the excess, to not turn away from the difficult issues that I’d usually tune out. I started volunteering, reading more, being more intentional to listen for God’s whispers. And as a result, I’ve never felt so helpless.

Before this, I had felt so important in my little bubble. I had curated it carefully, and it was translucent enough for me to look out into the distance every once in a while and pretend I had wise things to say about topics I didn’t understand. It was nice.

And now, everything’s a mess.  I put away my toys, and washed the windows, and now I feel like I just see hurricanes tearing across the land in every direction. Climate change. Politics. Racism. Oppression and indifference. Systematic inequality. Goddamn capitalism.

Not to mention the fact that my house is already collapsing on itself. All those pillars I thought would be there forever or built when the time was right – just aren’t made of the material I thought, or don’t seem like the right thing to put in anymore.

And I’m even close to being the enlightened, wise, informed person I wish I was.  I don’t even know what I don’t know, I just know that I’m ignorant and limited.

I have never been so uncomfortable in my comfort. I have never been so uncertain in the midst of so much built-in stability. I have never felt so useless to enact change on my circumstances – let alone the world – and never so directionless on where to start. I didn’t see this coming.

I have no answers.  That’s probably a good thing, in some ways.  I’m just going to post a bunch of things that give me hope at this point.

Grace will take you places hustling can’t.
– Elizabeth Gilbert

God, I hope that’s true.  I’m terrible at hustling.

I think our culture isn’t very helpful when it comes to addressing our helplessness.  Maybe because we think the attitude of helplessness isn’t (ahem) helpful, that it’s weak, that’s its not productive, or maybe it just causes us to stare into the black hole of humanity just long enough to make us itch for our phones.  Regardless, I think we just end up defaulting back to the idea of “doing what you can,” – in the most efficient manner, of course – and not think about it too much.

But I do think about it.  It seems important.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” – Matthew 5:3 MSG

Lord, I know that’s true too, but I’m really not that amazing.  Don’t expect anything big.  And while we’re on the topic, aren’t You supposed to be changing the world?  You might want to reconsider using humans – we haven’t been doing a great job since we started.  Maybe You should get crackin’ soon too – have you seen the Great Barrier Reef lately?

All this time I was praying
All this time You were saying
“Come lay your burdens down on Me”
-Tim Be Told, “Lay Your Burdens Down”

Jess always tells me that it’s not my job to save the world. Maybe not, but this world’s been in sore need of some saving.

The disciples … learned … that when God seems most absent He may be closest of all, when God looks most powerless He may be most powerful, when God looks most dead He may be coming back to life. They learned never to count God out. 
– Phillip Yancey, “The Jesus I Never Knew”

Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

Vow of Silence

Have we forgotten the intimate? The eternal conversation between Creator and creation?

The question above comes from one of my favorite videos, and has been haunting me these days.

We Christians are tasked with a simple mission: to seek His Kingdom first.

A task that requires me to reverse-engineer all the common wisdom of a zero-sum, get-what-you-give, you-only-live-once mentality that I have been brainwashed with. A calling that flips everything on its head. But a calling has no use if I’m not listening.

I have not been listening because I have let in everything, for fear of missing out. It is characteristic of my generation, and I find it even more alarming, since I am one of its more private fellows.

When I am bombarded with noise, I lose my focus. I listen to the wrong messages. I confuse my priorities. I lose my place.

My place is at the foot of the cross. My place is amidst those who are hurting and lost.

There are thousands of articles and lists and videos that tell you to jump ship from the behemoth that is social media. To stop staring at your phone and look beyond its pixels. To get outside of our selfies.  And no one listens to thembecause they’re all just part of the noise.

In all honesty, the things I spend my time and attention on are not bad. They are just excessive. They are not necessary.

So, I am turning down the noise this Lenten season – not as an escape, but as an intentional course of action to truly engage with my world and with my God. To find clarity and purpose and abundance in the silence.

Speak, Lord. I am trying oh-so-hard to listen.

Nothing to Prove

At the time of year when everyone’s setting goals for the year and/or already feeling disillusioned with their resolutions, Jess and I stumbled upon something.

We have nothing to prove.

Not now. Not ever.

It’s counter-intuitive. We’ll probably forget tomorrow. We’re gonna have to fight for this one, really work to get it engrained on our minds and in our hearts – because it’s in our nature to try to earn whatever we think we have coming to us.

Our world tells us how sweet hard work is.  It’s in our gym ads, in our motivational quotes on Instagram, in our songs about success:

They always tell me nobody’s working as hard as you
And even though I laugh it off, man, it’s probably true
Cuz while all of my closest friends out partying
I’m just here making all the music that they party to
– Drake, Light Up

And you know what? Hard work is awesome – when it’s for the right purpose, and that’s to glorify God and bring about His Kingdom. But we get it twisted, and work to elevate ourselves and build our own empires. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone – as I type away at my screenplays, not once does it occur to me that all this is for God’s glory, come wild success or crippling failure.  Nope, it takes a week of frustrating efforts and desperate tears for me to come crawling back to God’s arms, confessing that I’ve idolized my career once again.

It’s a sad commentary on our priorities when if given the choice between exercising everyday vs. spending time with God daily, most of Christians really struggle to choose the latter.

Because deep down, I want to earn my worth and see the results.  And God wants to free me from that fatal desire.

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  God helps those who help themselves. 


It’s not wrong to have goals or want to improve ourselves.  The Gospel itself is also about us becoming our best selves – but God’s power is the only way that reality comes into being.  Everything else is idolatry, legalism, and vain striving.  We often make the mistake of setting goals, then immediately focusing on the steps we need to get there.

But we should be focusing on the things that will get us in the right frame of mind, rather on the steps towards our goal.  When we are full of peace, trust, contentment – we will see those next steps very differently.  When we see things through God’s eyes, our perspective is reframed in dependence on His promise.

If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it.

This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift.
– Romans 4:14-16, MSG

So, as we step into whatever phase of life comes next, may you not be anxious or consumed with the thought of earning your worth.  You have nothing to prove.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
– Matthew 11:28

Wealth and Me

A week ago, my friend told me about his stock-trading class.  The hook seemed too good to be true: 1 hour of work a day with a foolproof strategy, leading to huge returns. So of course, I was incredibly interested.

I spent the next few hours excitedly thinking about what I’d do with that money. I’d quit my job to focus on writing, possibly pick up a sport or instrument, and start looking into houses or nicer things.  I was halfway through my shower when the Holy Spirit slipped in:

“You are more generous now than you would be if you were rich.”

Well, sh*t.

It was true – not once in my 3 hours of fantasizing had I considered a single one of the causes or friends we were currently supporting.  It barely took a whisper of promised riches for me to forget about everyone but myself.

In the TV show Lost, Hugo “Hurley” Reyes wins the lottery, and his life is immediately beset by disaster.  Only recently have I begun to appreciate how spectacularly accurate this is.  For most of us, huge amounts of money are the equivalent of a spiritual catastrophe because it unveils our secret desire to place our trust in wealth – and not God.

Don’t get me wrong – God uses money, and Christians need to be awesome at making it and using it.  We cannot fear wealth.  But we must be incredibly aware of how fickle our hearts’ loyalties are, and not overestimate our strength.  We are most often the rule, not the exception.

My desire for wealth comes out of insecurity – and I am not yet free of its allure.  So I write this now to remind myself to trust not in empty promises of prosperity, but in the lasting promises of my God.

The Destruction of Our Plans

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” – Woody Allen

When we first moved out to LA, my friend’s mother sent me a book: Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb.  I barely made it through the first chapter and shoved it as far back in my bookcase as possible.  Crabb’s point was that God uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for Him, an idea that I was highly keen on ignoring, especially with my budding hopes of making it big in the movie biz. My subsequent failure to make any headway in my goals for the next few years did not induce any more fondness for the book’s premise.

7 years later – basically a few days ago – I was in the shower talking to God about how worried I was for my future. At this time, I had willingly turned down my steady, well-paying job to focus on applying for screenwriting fellowships – a process that eschews stability and offers a minuscule chance of payoff, but one I felt God leading me to try. Lately, in times of doubt, I attempt to remember the times that God has come through for me, but on this occasion, God prodded me in a different direction: he reminded me of all my plans that He had destroyed. It was an sobering moment as I reminisced about the deaths of the hopes and dreams I had so carefully groomed – and realized how much better off I was now because of it.

The theme of God destroying our plans is an uncomfortable but very real one. Joseph went from the favored son to being betrayed by his family, sold into slavery, and then landed in prison (to be fair, he must have been a enormous prick to his brothers). David went from being the anointed ruler-to-be and a highly-esteemed friend of the royal family to being hunted by his own nation and it’s jealous king.  Even Mary, who was set to live a quiet, normal life with Joseph, saw those plans dashed to the ground as an angel proclaimed her future as a social outcast with a high probability of being stoned.  We are fooling ourselves if we think God is somehow beholden to our plans.  He is more than willing to take us on other routes, drastic as they may be.

But the journey – and its subsequent inheritance – does not end there.  God’s purpose in breaking our strategies is so that He can move us into His far greater ambitions for our lives. We see Joseph learn humility and then become the Viceroy of Egypt.  David not only strengthens his dependence on God through his trials, he becomes Israel’s greatest king (though still not without some incredible gaping flaws).  And Mary endures shame and misunderstanding from all those around her, gives birth and raises the very Son of God – and I’m sure her accomplishments do not end there.  In no way could these people have achieved such greatness if they had clung to their ideal life and predicaments – but they inherited so much more because they were willing to follow God and trust Him.  In the same way, God’s bigger purposes for our lives will always eclipse our own silly plans – and we will be ever closer to Him if we choose to trust Him and His goodness, and not fight the grand destinies that He has laid out for us.

A brief caveat – because there is never the guarantee that we will witness the payoff of our struggles in our lifetimes due to our faith.  The story is not about us – we are just side-characters in God’s heroic narrative, and we must be willing to accept that our lives may be part of the sacrifice that brings about bigger change.  Personally, that thought makes me uncomfortable, but that’s also partially due to the fact that I think I’m incredibly important.  Interestingly, God thinks I’m important too in a different way – which is why He’s excited to use me… just perhaps not in the way I’m convinced is brilliant.  It’s a weird thing to trust in that.

God is not afraid to destroy our plans – so we should not be afraid either.

To Give Up What Is Precious

“That is love. To give up money like it is nothing.”
– Alba Villanueva, Jane the Virgin

I admit that I was not expecting to cry as much as I have watching Jane the Virgin. The show has some surprisingly straightforward and honest conversations which the actors pull off with genuine sincerity – and I find myself tearing up involuntarily.

After seeing the episode in which Jane’s grandmother reminisces about Jane’s grandfather’s giving up his family’s wealth for her, I spent the next few days unpacking her statement in my head.

There is something powerful about selfless sacrifice in the face of uncertainty that sends me crumbling to my knees.  I am completely undone at the thought of a man whose identity is completely wrapped up in his wealth and power, simply casting it away in the hope of grasping at something much more intangible.  It is easy to romanticize the gesture, but not as easy to swallow the consequences and implications.

I am reminded of what I find my own identity in. My accomplishments, my wealth and possessions, my pride, my talents – and how I spend so much of my time cultivating, preening, investing in them so that I can add layers to the deception that these are what are truly important.  Would I so easily throw them away for good after taking so much care of them and reaping their benefits?

For what is being cast aside is not treasure that can be re-assembled or re-procured, but an actual donning of a new identity: the transformation into lover, one who is willfully  incomplete without the connection to another –  a relationship susceptible to volatility, instability, and destruction.  To give up certainty for only the possibility of something greater – because his love is so great and reckless, he will burn all his ties to royalty, sell all his possessions, and commune with the lowest of the low, if only to win over a fickle and yearning person – this is the kind of sacrificial love that we see at work here.  And the beauty of it is that the lover sees priceless worth in whom he pursues.

We will only give up what is precious when we seek what is priceless. May we have eyes to see.

A Need to Break Rules

Suggestion: As Christians, we need to break more rules.

Last year, we were visiting some missionary friends in communist Vietnam, and found ourselves in a dilemma.  Legally, we had to officially register at a state-run hotel where our activities could be monitored, but for a variety of reasons, we had intended to stay with our friends.  In the eyes of the government, this was illegal and could send a police squad to our door.

I asked our hosts about what our options were if the police came.  They shrugged – we could 1) go along with them to be punished, or 2) bribe them.  Out of curiosity and secret ambition of ruling an underworld empire, I asked how much a typical bribe would be.  “About 225,000 Vietnamese dollars.”

Which equals 10.00 USD.  For the whole squad.

Oh, you know I considered it.

I know there are many who would argue that bribery is always wrong, and normally, I’d throw in with them – but this instance gave me pause to look deeper into the situation before applying such a blanket statement.

It’s too easy to stop at the fact that the system is corrupt and that the police are accepting bribes.  The deeper implication is that the system is so corrupt that the police are accepting 10 dollar bribes.  The amount of money says a lot more about how deep the rabbit hole goes – it is a tangible indicator of the poverty of the lawmen’s own lives, even while on the side of a corrupt government.  The system is failing them too.

Ultimately, we felt the Holy Spirit telling us to stay, and thankfully, nothing happened.  I honestly don’t know what we would have done if the police had come.  But it got me thinking.

In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd manager, who’s been cheating his boss out of a lot of money by skimming his accounts.  The boss finds out, fires the manager, and demands his money back.  So the manager finds all the people who owe his soon-to-be-ex-boss money… and cuts them a deal.  He reduces their debts and thus racks up some much-needed favors that he planned on cashing in once the ax fell.

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

I don’t think American Christians are used to hearing this message.  I think we’re used to living by rules and good behavior, and just praying that God makes a way when it comes to living in unjust conditions.  We don’t rock the boat like we used to.

I say used to, because we used to run an Underground Railroad.  We used to smuggle in Bibles to countries that outlawed Christianity, or pretend we’re teachers when we’re really missionaries and live under killer governments where their faith is forbidden.  We used to make treasonous statements like “Jesus is king,” in the face of Caesar.  We used to be troublemakers, get flogged, and go to jail on the regular because we refused to obey men over God.  Some of us still do.

So maybe a little bribe isn’t the end of the world, if it’s a shot in a war against an oppressive regime and a new opportunity to start a relationship with someone who needs a better reason to come back to your door.

We don’t need more Christians in churches.  We need Christians in casinos, in porn, in prisons, in the black market, in politics.  And I may not know how the heck we’re going to navigate those dark waters and slippery slopes, but I know that we’re not getting anywhere by hanging back in our safe little boxes fellowship halls.  The Kingdom is bigger and infinitely more complex than all we have assumed.  We need to start living creatively, and not blindly follow a set of inflexible rules that have been placed on us by both our culture and our churches.

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