Houston, We Have a Problem

Yesterday, in fulfillment of an assignment to teach the younger Young Men (a combined class of deacons and teachers), I incorporated 4 minutes and 5 seconds of precious material from The Empire Strikes Back into my lesson on “Self-Discipline”. Drawing from my own childhood/adolescence, I figured that nothing could drive home a point about the importance of developing self-discipline better than watching Luke’s Jedi Training on Dagobah and his Failure at the Cave.

I started out the lesson chit-chatting with the kids about our belief in Jesus Christ as our foundation. Everyone seemed to agree that we believe in Jesus Christ. Check. So how should people that believe in Jesus Christ behave on a day to day basis, how should we live our lives? They answered, good behavior, good works, etc. What does discipline mean? Predictably their collective answer more or less revealed a conception of discipline as imposed from the outside, more or less synonymous with punishment. This was the perfect opening to pave the way for a Christ-centered lesson on self-discipline, i.e. not imposed from the outside. Exhibit A: Luke Skywalker.

Trying to segue smoothly from this intro into the meat of the lesson, The Empire Strikes Back, I sort of said something like “This is just like when Yoda and Luke yadda yadda yadda.” The perfect transition — except that I noticed blank stares. No tinge of excitement at my discussion of The Empire Strikes Back together with the sight of my laptop set up with the projector pointing to the front of the class. Either these kids had major impairment of deductive logic faculties or . . . the unthinkable: they had not seen or even heard of The Empire Strikes Back. I was feeling a peculiar anxiety, a rising desperation — how could I even speak to these kids without a shared, lowest common denominator of mutual cultural understanding?

In a last ditch effort I glanced over to one of the four full-time missionaries in our ward who had accompanied me into the class because we had two young investigators along with us. “Elder X, remember how Luke yadda yadda yadda.” BLANK STARE FROM THE MISSIONARY!!! He confessed he had only seen it once “a long time ago” when he was “like 14″. I almost fell down. Not in my wildest imagination had I thought the kids wouldn’t know The Empire Strikes Back. I had thought a lot could go wrong with the lesson but that was not something I had foreseen.

I regained my composure and pressed forward. We took 10 minutes to watch a 4 minute clip of Luke’s Failure at the Cave as I paused it every so often to comment on what was happening and how it related to developing self-discipline and developing spiritual lives characteristic of followers of Jesus Christ (i.e. appropriately controlling our desires and emotions).

In the end it turned out great because it forced me to make a lot of points explicitly which, in what I had thought was the real world, would have come across implicitly as we all sat back and enjoyed reviewing this important episode from our cultural canon. I paused it when Luke put on his gun belt and we discussed his actions in light of Yoda’s admonitions. We discussed Yoda’s statement “Only what you take with you” in response to Luke’s question of what was in the cave. And, of course, we went into some detail when Vader’s mask explodes to reveal Luke’s face beneath.

The kids genuinely liked the lesson — hard to imagine they wouldn’t given that we watched such an important scene. The missionary was literally raving about the lesson afterward, saying he had never seen so much meaning in a movie scene before. Ah to be 19 again.

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