The bounty hunter Boba Fett barely escapes the Sarlacc pit with his wits and weapons. The opening scene to The Book of Boba Fett (BOBF) is pretty much everything I had been waiting for since I saw Boba fall into the pit roughly 35 years ago on broadcast TV.
During the first two episodes, as they switched from flashbacks of life with the Tuskens to Boba working to become the new Daimyo of Tatooine, I became unsatisfied. At first I couldn’t tell what was causing this dissatisfaction. I knew it wasn’t the special effects; even the “Vespa” bike chase was enjoyable. I didn’t mind the way the story was being told; perhaps it could have been done better, but that wasn’t it. It took me watching YouTubers tearing into the show and talking with people both passionately and minimally invested in Boba’s story that I realized the issue at hand was … my expectations.
Expectations can be good. They can enhance our joy in the excitement and anticipation of waiting for new things we love. The problem with expectations is that if we don’t learn to manage and check them, they can rob us of our joy. We become disappointed, angry, and, over time, learn to anticipate the worst out of something instead of the best. Over the years my life experiences have forced me to develop tricks to check my expectations. By employing these tricks, I was able to enjoy BOBF more.
Unfortunately, the show tried to meet too many of our expectations and thus painted itself into an unenviable corner. Some of the expectations were untenable (trying to maintain the mystery of Boba while simultaneously explaining his history). Some were pure fan service (the appearance of Mando and Luke), and some were disappointing for certain hardcore fans (seeing Boba become more benevolent instead of just being a merciless bounty hunter). The odd thing is that those nerds who didn’t have expectations (e.g. those who didn’t read the Expanded Universe books) were able to enjoy BOBF more. For many others, they not only despised the series, but belittled anyone who liked it and claimed those who did were not true Star Wars fans. Fans who say things like this seem to believe they have a monopoly on what Star Wars really is and refuse to engage with anyone else who might disagree, even when it happens to be people like Mark Hamill, Dave Filoni, and Jon Favreau.Expectations don’t just influence our pop culture and social lives, but in how we do church as well. As I said earlier, expectations can be good. [… But these are only] expectations of church and fellow Christians that will allow them to feel good about themselves.
I am both fascinated and hurt that this attitude exists. I grew up in the wake of the original trilogy in my teens, and the Special Edition versions came out in theaters when I was 15 years old. I was 18 when The Phantom Menace was released. I grew up watching the THX remastered VHS tapes of the original trilogy while binge-watching syndicated Star Trek (the original show and The Next Generation). I would have debates with friends who were nerds as well, discussing which franchise had the cooler ships (as kids), which had the more compelling politics and economics (as teens), and which elements of society were reflected in them (as adults). We realized these franchises were meant both as an escape from our reality while also celebrating and critiquing the world we live in; that our world has beauty, hope, and majesty, while also showing us there is ugliness, despair, and triviality. Over the years, the cordial tone and culture has slowly disappeared with debate, and now it is a risky proposition to discuss anything I view in a positive light with friends who are displeased with Star Wars.
While I could go on about my nerdy expectations, I was struck by something interesting. Expectations don’t just influence our pop culture and social lives, but in how we do church as well. As I said earlier, expectations can be good. In the context of finding a church that feeds you well with good teaching and community, expectations are critical. Yet I have heard expectations from fellow Christians that don’t relate to this. Rather, they are expectations of church and fellow Christians that will allow them to feel good about themselves. What is fascinating is how many churches and leaders have embraced these expectations and made them a part of what it means to be a “true” church.
Some expectations are implemented in the belief they will help grow or maintain a church’s size. As I’ve talked with former church leaders over the years, it is very evident that this is only one reason why they do it. Some of the motivations behind their expectations arise from expecting blind loyalty, no curiosity that challenges beliefs, and silence on all matters that will embarrass the witness of a church. When leaders are pressed as to why they have these expectations, they often say something like, “It’s for the good of the many” or “preserving our witness to non-believers.” Worse, if you don’t follow these expectations, you will be isolated from your fellow believers or even removed from your church (yes, this happens in non-Catholic churches). This creates an atmosphere of fear and control, driven by an overriding desire to homogenize all in order to keep things pleasant. It robs the congregation and churches of diversity and joy because those who are different either are silent or leave.
The idea of certain Star Wars fans thinking they are the only ones in the “right” is also manifesting among Christians. A trend I’ve noticed is how churches are not concerned about having the “right” theology, doctrine, etc. Instead, they use these as tools to support their expectations first to prove they are “right.” Indeed, this belief in being unequivocally “right” is so ingrained that it’s automatically expected that everyone should think like them in every way. In particular, their expectations in politics and economics have been thoroughly integrated with their spiritual beliefs. If someone dares to disagree with these non-biblical matters, they will be called an agitator—hated, despised, and completely cut off at the moment they question things, and perhaps when they need help the most. It is easier for most to stay quiet and hope their leaders really are right.[Expectations can lead] to a joyless place where we are convinced we are the only ones who are “right.” Even in the Star Wars culture, that attitude has resulted in some nasty consequences; such as the division of the fandom, apathy, intense anger, and distrust. It can even lead to divisions for online communities […] and even the loss of friendships. For the church, it has allowed countless horrific events to be covered up.
This culture of silence and trust that church leaders are always “right,” even beyond the Bible, is so powerful that we are willing to overlook almost anything, even in our public figures, if it furthers power and brings in money and people. Only when it is something horrific does the silence crack, and even then, the victims are often brushed aside. I know of far too many instances (directly and indirectly) where someone in the church has been stalked, harassed, or assaulted by a church member, including leaders. However, the situation was swept under the rug. Silence … silent not to protect the flock, but silent to protect power.
Despite the pressure to remain silent, there are an increasing number of cracks. In the last decade, there have been many stories of victims with these kinds of stories. In just the past few months, there was an independent report confirming that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) maintained a list of over 700 incidents of sexual misconduct. A list the SBC created to not be exhaustive, but only to track potentially damaging situations to reputation. Indeed, of the countless instances I mentioned earlier that I know of, only one was on the list. One.
I bring this up to illustrate why it is dangerous when we don’t manage expectations. This leads to a joyless place where we are convinced we are the only ones who are “right.” Even in the Star Wars culture, that attitude has resulted in some nasty consequences; such as the division of the fandom, apathy, intense anger, and distrust. It can even lead to divisions for online communities (I have seen people leave my guild in Galaxy of Heroes for being called out for hateful comments about actors) and even the loss of friendships. For the church, it has allowed countless horrific events to be covered up. These coverups have created a sense of betrayal and a lack of accountability, which is why expectations are good—they just have to be managed. Here are some tips I have found helpful in managing expectations:
Everyone is human and mistakes will happen, this is helpful for any nerddom. Mistakes in this context rarely affect our actual lives, but we must keep perspective on how they affect fellow nerds.
Tolerate different opinions, even those that you don’t like. This should help keep emotions in check and allow meaningful dialogue.
Accept and respect others. This doesn’t mean you have to like them or agree with them, but it is super helpful in living out the first two points.
I have two metrics for how I engage any nerd media. Does it allow me to escape? Does it make me think or push me in some way? Figure out some basic metrics to fall back on, and it might help you appreciate what you love in a more reliable, joyous manner.
As for expectations with churches, I think my first three suggestions apply to a degree. Just as importantly, two expectations should be that the church feeds you and has legitimate accountability. One without the other just doesn’t work.
So my fellow nerds and Christians, whether it’s the church or the nerd media we love, I must ask you to “carbon freeze” your expectations so they don’t carry you down a path that makes you think you are always “right” and the expense of other people.