Living and growing: Lessons to be learned from the dark side

Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2010

What does it mean when your 4-year-old likes all the bad guys?

My son has been wearing a Darth Vader costume for three days now. He's obsessed with the villains in pretty much every movie that we watch. He makes his sisters be the good people so he can be the evil one.

I'm starting to think he's warped. Or perfectly normal. I can't quite decide. The villains do seem a bit more interesting than the heroes and often have cooler gadgets, but I think it may be even more than that. It's just fun to play the bad guy. The Medieval church outlawed passion plays for much the same reason. They're supposed to be about Jesus, right? Well, Jesus turned out to be not nearly as exciting to perform as Pilate, Herod, the crowd or the guards. The "bad guys" in the story ended up getting overplayed and Jesus paled in comparison.

We're not going to force our son to play the good guys for multiple reasons. First of all, he is four. There isn't a lot of forcing that goes on with a 4-year-old. Second of all, recognizing and reflecting the dark side isn't necessarily a bad thing. Playing the villain may actually prepare him better to be a faithful man of great character and integrity.

There is something that builds us up as people when we confront and acknowledge our own capacity for destruction and evil. I've been reading some Carl Jung recently, so this may be the Jungian influence of exploring the unconscious so we are not surprised by our own brokenness or naive about social order, but I've also bumped up against this theme in theater and Christianity. One of the tenets in theater is recognizing that we all have the capacity to kill - recognizing that in some situations a part of ourselves may be revealed that we never imagined possible. If you cannot understand and connect with the motivation for a character - even the "bad" guy - then you'll never be able to play that character on stage.

In Christianity, if we are not aware of ourselves and our own capacity to hurt each other, then we deceive ourselves by blaming those around us, by making excuses, or by justifying ourselves with a thousand lies. It is this deception that opens the door wide for evil. Darth Vader did not turn to the dark side because one day he decided to be evil and grumpy. Evil snuck up on him through fear and trying to protect those he loved. Evil got such a strong grip because he deceived himself into thinking he was doing the right thing.

Lutherans tend to be a bit pessimistic (or I would say realistic) about humankind. One reason is because the Lutheran church has some strong German roots so we were forced after World War II to figure out how so many "nice" people did so many horrifying things. The other reason is because we rely heavily on God's grace not on our own goodness. We begin every worship by reminding ourselves that we deceive ourselves, we don't do what we should and we often do what we shouldn't and then we bask in God's good love anyway. It is this unconditional love poured out upon us that frees us to look in the mirror honestly. We can look at the seductiveness of evil, we can look at our deceptions, we can look at the harm we have caused others and turn. We turn away from destructive lies into a freeing truth. We turn away from living in fear to living in boldness. We turn from the protective mask to being revealed for who we are.

I'm sure the current obsession in our home with Darth Vader has nothing to do with Jung or confronting evil, but it's still an opportunity to take a good honest look at the power of evil, and even more the power of God's abundant love to set us free from that evil.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is a pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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