Galaxies of Grace
Advent 19 – 21
Technically it was known as “the crawl” and when it first appeared in 1977 it immediately captured not only the audiences that viewed it but the attention of the entire world. Officially it was an innovative opening sequence to set the stage for the science fiction fantasy that was to follow. In reality it was the ushering in of a new era of movie franchises, connecting to the consumer in a way that none had before. Is it possible that grace, that word found in so many ancient languages that denotes favor, charm, or thanks from to another in an equal sense, can do the same thing?
Advent 19: Far, Far Away
Forty-eight hours ago “Rogue One” the 2016 release of yet another Star Wars film garnered over twenty-nine million dollars in sales. That is slightly just over half of what the 2015 addition to the Star Wars saga earned. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the biggest blockbuster in United States movie industry history. “The Force Awakens” was released thirty-eight years after the first opening Star Wars crawl first proclaimed the beginning of the story, the story of the main characters involved in a fight for justice and the quintessential struggle between good and evil.
The seven films of the Star Wars family were more than just an evening’s entertainment. They told the story of mankind albeit set in a future no one had ever imagines except its creator George Lucas. “Rogue One” is just that – a rogue film in the franchise, designed more as a stand-alone film rather than part of the seven that came before it. The characters of the seven were familiar with new ones were introduced in the three prequel films and the seventh sequel. “Rogue One” has different characters and no opening crawl.
By now, if you are interested, you have either seen the film and/or read the reviews. This one is in the Star Wars family but does not bear the family name in its title. Much like a rebellious teenager, it distances itself in both title and opening and yet, the invitation to take a chance on being both challenged and thrilled is the core of the entire story. It may not begin with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” but no one viewing this film felt themselves to be any place else or walking into yet another chapter of any other family. It has no opening crawl for which Star Wars films have become so popular and yet, the opening crawl is everywhere.
“Rogue One” is just that – a scoundrel in the family. The story is simple and appeared at the beginning of the very first release in the Star Wars family. While the characters and the treatment may seem different and new, the basic Star Wars struggle of good versus evil is very much present. The old cliché “Everything new is old again” describes the plot, taken straight from the opening crawl of the very first Star Wars film: “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”
The first Star Wars film immediately captured the attention of its audience with its opening crawl – text streaming at an angle across the galaxy. It was an invitation to sit back and be transported to a different time and place. That same invitation is issued to all of us when the opportunity to extend grace appears. As I mentioned in the opening piece of this series, grace is something we all would like to share but without remembering our human connection to each other, we often fall short of that wish. Regardless of your age, condition, belief system or lack thereof, grace is still salvation from the human condition that we all need, not only to survive but to thrive. It is our connection to the family of all human beings. We need to see, recognize, and extend grace not only to those we know and like but to all. Grace should not exist only in a galaxy far, far away.
20: The Grace of a Hero of the Stars
When he died earlier this month, John Glenn was remembered as the first man to orbit the earth and truly live, for a brief moment, amid the galaxies far, far away. John Glenn was the realization of the dreams of so many who sought to break free of the gravity of the earth and explore the unknown. Piloting a spaceship to the ends of our imaginations was simple, according to Glenn. Getting his wife to use a telephone was much more of an impossible hurdle to overcome.
“A telephone was an invention of the devil” Glenn explained once when discussing his wife. Annie Glenn was like over six million in this country who stuttered. Unlike some who were institutionalized or others whose speech difficulties are misguidedly ignored, Glenn recognized his wife’s condition and treated it with grace. As we conclude this week long viewpoint of grace from a subjective standpoint, I looked for heroes of grace, those people who worked with reality to break the bonds of public opinion. John and Annie Glenn are one such story.
Bob Greene, a CNN contributor told their story earlier this month. He described how Annie Glenn was a stutterer who had difficulty getting words out eighty-five percent of the time. She never used a telephone because the person on the other end would not know if Annie was caught in a stutter, a blockage of air going over the vocal cords to make sound, or had simply been disconnected. Annie Glenn herself has described what living in the twentieth century with a husband in the military and then the space program was like. “Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use the telephone? “Hello” used to be so hard for me to say. I can remember some very painful experiences — especially the ridicule,” Annie recounts.
Few people extended to Annie Glenn the gift of grace, grace in believing what she had to say was worth the wait. “Even as a boy he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl,” Bob Greene wrote of John and Annie Glenn.
John Glenn has been heralded a hero ever since he broke the barrier of gravity and circled the earth. However, his own hero is his wife. “I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more,” John wrote of his wife. “I don’t know if I would have had the courage.” Perhaps the most heroic thing John Glenn really accomplished was extending grace to the woman he chose as his wife. Maybe that is his legacy and an example we should all strive to live.
A Lesson in Grace
Born right before the turn of a century, he loved history. He grew up with those who remembered when they were not considered real citizens, though they had tilled the soil and built buildings for the future. His color defined him in so many ways but he was determined to help create the history of the new century. He became a teacher and poured into his students his love of history and the government that gave him rights and status as a person. While so many of his color saw the laws of the land as a challenge, he saw them as a gift and used his sense of humor to explain their complexities and advantages.
Professor Wilson, as his students knew him taught at the same school for decades. He taught the children of his first students and then their grandchildren. He loved living in the capitol city and walked the halls of the ancient state capitol now a museum. He never shied away from the past of those of color but delighted in the advancements each person made in their own lives. History for him was thrilling and not a subject about the past. “Fess” saw history as a prequel and the future was an invitation to create new galaxies, always embellished with an ever-present sense of humor.
As he celebrated his sixty-fifth year of teaching, change came. The federal courts were rewriting the boundaries of the school districts in an attempt to integrate existing systems and enhance the freedoms of all. This time, however, the students were not the only ones changing schools; teachers were also reassigned. In a city that thrived on family loyalty to schools, people were suddenly adrift in new environments and this time the teachers were also castaways.
Fess Wilson bravely met the challenge most balked at and he left his school of sixty-four and a half years to walk new halls with new students. He had already been told this would be his last year. Most people were retiring at the age of sixty-five, not celebrating a sixty-fifth year of teaching and the school administration was letting him retire or be fired. He bravely walked into the last six months of his teaching career, leaving his distance galaxy of the well-known to forge a new path with new students. He would become the first history and government teacher of color at this new school and as he walked the halls, all saw not just color but a brilliant smile.
Professor Wilson spent little time complaining but rather introduced himself to his new students and, as he encouraged them to open their textbooks, also warned them he had a “never-defeated sense of humor”. You see, Fess Wilson’s number one hobby was pulling practical jokes on those around him. He proudly boasted to his new classes that no one had ever gotten the best of him.
It was not surprising, then that one of his classes decided to rise to the challenge and put one over on their new teacher. Nor was it surprising that a national news syndicate wanted to interview the octogenarian about his new position and his long career as a teacher who taught about freedom but had his own struggles with equality as a reality. What was surprising was that the challenge was met on the very day of Fess’s nationally syndicated interview.
The students convinced another student to over-play her ethnic heritage. They introduced her to Professor Wilson who was delighted to meet a member of his country’s first families. She pretended to not speak English and another student served as her interpreter, the story being that his family knew hers and this was the reason for her visit from the northeastern environs of her heritage and the country’s first celebrations.
Fess was delighted in and in his interview proclaimed it to be the culminating highlight of his long illustrious career. His welcome at his new school and the lack of bitterness about not completing his career at the school where he lived it was negligible compared to the chance his students had given him today. Life was about moving forward and living history, he told the interviewer. The past became his present today and it foreshadowed the future, a future he felt would be as bright and as exciting as the last eighty-five years had been.
Fess Wilson’s smile at the day’s events took up most of the picture that accompanied the front page spread printed across at least twenty-five national newspapers the next day. It caught the attention of his new principal who wondered why he had not been told of such a visitor at his school. The story also caught the attention of the students who had pulled the prank on their teacher. Suddenly their harmless practical joke had gone national. Obviously an apology was in order.
The two students mainly involved in the practical joke were at school bright and early the next school day and sought out Fess Will. Coming out of a staff meeting, they also caught the eye of their principal who quickly put two and two together and came up with an angry answer. He approached Professor Wilson and the two students who were finishing up their apology and confessing their guilt. The principal informed them of the possibility of suspension and worse, expulsion. Then grace stepped into the conversation.
As Professor Wilson explained to the reporter in a follow-up story, the students had risen to the challenge he had put before them and won. He could not have been any happier to end his career having finally “been gotten” with a practical joke. He told both the principal and the reporter that is was the best compliment he could have ever received and it touched his inner core deeply. “These students cared enough about welcoming me to take my challenge and beat me”, he explained. “What greater gift than to be accepted in such a way? They made me feel not only welcome but at home.”
Fess Wilson was the epitome of grace that day to those two students. He treated them as equals and friends by extending the hand of grace. He accepted their efforts as a compliment, preferring to see only goodness in their faces. What greater lesson can there be in the history of humanity than to live grace?
Whether it is in your own living room or in a distant galaxy far, far away, in the battle of good versus evil, a battle which unfortunately will always face each of us in our daily living, we are invited to respond with grace and when we do, the future becomes possible and bright, almost as bright as the smile on Fess Wilson’s face. It takes courage, courage like that of Annie Glenn to walk in grace but when we do, the impossible becomes reality.