With just ten days away and every teaser, trailer, and TV spot swallowed whole many times over, it’s fair to say that I am looking forward to Episode VII of Star Wars. It will be a treat to see this film opening night with a dozen or so of my church members.
While I am fascinated with a number of characters (Where is Luke? Who lis Maz Kanata? What made Snoke a baddie?) and storylines (Are there any Solo-Skywalker children? Are Han and Leia still an item?), I think the most intriguing storyline of Episode VII is the director himself, J.J. Abrams.
Just think about it. This was the most anticipated film in any recent memory. Its teasers and trailers have been viewed by more people than any previous trailer for a movie. More tickets have been pre-sold for this film than any other film (and it isn’t even close). This film will probably break all kinds of box office records (and that may not even be close).
What kind of man is able to undergo all that pressure on an existential level and then continue to lead, cast vision, coach, mentor, and care for a cast, staff, and volunteers of the several hundred folks involved in this project?
I don’t know the answer to this question, but I hope a future autobiography from Abrams will fill in these details.
My two favorite stories so far about Abrams on the set are pretty well known. The first I’ve heard from a couple different sources. Basically, Abrams tells a stressed cast and staff, “We are here filming Star Wars, how amazing is that?” There is a a behind-the-scenes clip where on the first day of shooting, Abrams says something similar. Abrams seemed to keep the momentousness of the project before his flock so that while they played their parts they did so with reverence and awe.
The second story has now been told on late night talk shows. During the scary incident of Harrison Ford breaking his leg from being crushed by a hydraulic door on the Millennium Falcon, Abrams immediately bent down to move the door off of Ford. In doing so, Abrams actually broke his back.
While not a story, I’ve come to appreciate Abrams’ overall approach in making Episode VII. Multiple times he and others have said they wanted to make a digital film in a pre-digital setting. In other words, there is both CGI as well as plenty of real ships, sets, and characters. They didn’t CGI ‘The Force Awakens’ to smithereens. Rather, they got both contemporary and folky.
What does J.J. Abrams have to do with pastoral ministry? I’ve come to embrace and delight in the ‘church as gospel theatre’ metaphor that theologian Kevin Vanhoozer has written about. Vanhoozer compares the Christianity enterprise to that of local theatre. The Bible is our Script, the church are the players, the Spirit is the producer, the world is the audience, and the Pastor is the director.
This Pastor-as-Director analogy has struck me on many chords. The director is there to keep the players accountable to the Script while also encouraging faithful improvisation. The director attends to both technical details as well as the overall ethos of the play. In addition, the director must do a sort of soul care for the players. There is both invitation and challenge, admonishment and encouragement from the director. The director carries everyone through as both an authority and a servant (a servant-lord of sorts).
Like Abrams has masterfully done with the folks behind making Episode VII, the pastor is called to set the momentousness of this new creational kingdom project before his local congregation. “Guys, Jesus is raised from the dead, and we are seated with him in the heavenly places as we see his new creation come more alive each day. How incredible is that?”
Sometimes the pastor, like a director, needs to rebuke a member of his church. Other times, the pastor breaks himself while helping a broken person (ala Abrams and Ford). All of this is being done while the pastor deals with the immense pressure of handling a script more precious than anything Lawrence Kasdan might put together.
A pastor must also take his pre-digital tradition of the church (liturgy, creeds, doctrinal formulations) and perform them in the CGI-ified age we inhabit.
I falter and fumble every week pastoring a church plant that is trying to still capture the vision of being an extended spiritual family on mission together. I don’t always know my script well. I am afraid to confront certain folks, and I stink at encouraging others.
Still, I’m thankful that through God’s general revelation I see an image of what it means and looks like to direct God’s people to play their parts and exalt Jesus as the Hero of the gospel story.
J.J Abrams, you are always welcome to visit my church.