For those of us who grew up in the church and those of us who are a part of it now, it’s incredible how much Christianese can bypass our filters as being normal, everyday terms. I like to think I’m fairly good at not dropping lines like “let’s fellowship with each other”, or “called to [insert ministry here]”, but just the other day, I had a friend stop me with a “wait, what’s a spiritual gift?” Whoops.
There is a very distinct subculture of American Christianity (with its own sub-sub-subcultures) where this Christianese language lives, and much of it is intended to be something good. “Fellowship” is meant to be about deep community. Being “called to” a ministry is about seeing God’s heart for a particular need. But when you live in an echo chamber of this language without grasping its heart, it can devolve into empty platitudes.
It can become Luminara Unduli’s words to Rafa Martez.
She looked at me, and you know what she said? She said I had to make a choice, but not to worry, “the Force will be with you.” That’s it. Then she was off. And Trace and I were left without parents, without a home, just left there to find our way in their system.Rafa Martez, “Dangerous Debt”
“The Force will be with you” is a phrase in Star Wars that was first given to us – the audience – as a promise. It’s Obi-Wan giving Luke the confidence he needs to save the day. It’s Ezra granting hope to Lothal as he removes Thrawn from the war. It’s the Jedi of the past coming to stand with Rey.
For Rafa, the line isn’t a promise. It’s a command, followed by abandonment. Words meant to instill hope instead inflict a wound, putting all the responsibility on the person in need. Luminara isn’t going to be there alongside Rafa when this girl has to make these difficult choices, and yet she still conveys an expectation that Rafa should follow a hard path.
But it’s not just Luminara. Obi-Wan tries to leave the farmers on Felucia. Humanitarian missions that we see in early seasons of The Clone Wars slowly fade away as military victories take precedence over people. By the time we reach Season Seven itself, the Poletecs – whose plight would have taken center stage in episodes like “Supply Lines”, “Bounty Hunters”, “Defenders of the Peace”, or “Trespass” – are reduced to threats and assets even in Anakin’s eyes.
A Jedi arriving on a planet is no longer about helping the people, it’s about fixing a part of the Republic that has fallen out of line.
It became increasingly clear that my fellow Christians didn’t want to listen to me, or grieve with me, or walk down this frightening road with me. They wanted to fix me. They wanted to wind me up like an old-fashioned toy and send me back to the fold with a painted smile on my face and tiny cymbals in my hands.Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
In the real world, the American church is also easily distracted by declarations of manufactured “wars”. Never mind that we1 aren’t the target of hate rallies like Charlottesville. Never mind that we don’t have travel bans discriminating against us. The (white) American church is nevertheless under attack; there’s an annual war on Christmas, don’t you know?
We get so wrapped up in defending ourselves from these perceived threats that we have no energy, no time, and no interest in actually helping the people that our God commanded us to help. We will be single-issue voters to protect “the most vulnerable” in our nation – Christianese for pro-life – and elect someone to office who will target actual vulnerable communities to increase their own power.
This division between our words and our actions is painted most clearly in Mace Windu’s Age of Republic story, which takes place before The Phantom Menace. Within this comic, Mace makes several moral declarations:
A child should be in a school, not waging war from a cave.
Looks more like a safe place for you to hide while you send children to die in battle. And if your motives are so pure, why is your operation funded by the Hutts?
Your cause was already lost as soon as you resorted to kidnapping and working for the Hutts!Mace Windu, “The Weapon,” Age of Republic Special
More than any other story, this comic shows exactly how far the Jedi have strayed from the heart of their code by the Clone Wars. While the Jedi aren’t kidnappers – episodes from The Clone Wars makes it clear that they give parents a choice whether or not to send their child to the Temple – once the war hits, they are using child soldiers. Teenage Padawans are commanders, clone growth is accelerated, and even clones that are still literal children are being trained for combat.
Mace’s future actions – and the future actions of the Jedi Order – are played for dramatic irony in the comic, but Age of Republic also reveals that this disconnect between the Jedi and the people they were supposed to be helping was there long before Palpatine ever began his manipulations.
The recent political climate in America may have highlighted the church’s disconnect with its heart – especially to white Christians like myself who grew up in privileged ignorance – but it’s been there for centuries, and we try to pretend that it’s not. We try to pretend that it ended with the crusades, with slavery, with the Civil Rights Movement. We try to pretend because pretending is easier than walking the long, hard road with the people who are hurting and grieving. It’s a quick fix of saying “The Lord be with you (and with your spirit)” and washing our hands of any further commitment.
Because – like Luminara – we have a war to get back to. How could we possibly have time for the little things?
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.James 2:15-17 (English Standard Version)
Now that I have thrown my entire religion under the bus, I do have to say that the core still exists. The teachings and commands of Jesus are still there, even if we no longer use them to back our platitudes, and a return to the core is required to affect true change. The church I personally attend isn’t perfect, but when it comes to helping people out of addiction, when it comes to staying beside them through the rough journey of victories and relapses, my church is there for the long haul. That’s what a Christian acts like. Then there are countless organizations like the Poor People’s Campaign, which is dedicated to continuing the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., faith leaders using their authority to fight for the marginalized. That’s what a Christian acts like.
Or at least, how I want us to be.
You might not think of yourself as a Jedi, but you act like one. Or at least, how I want them to be.Rafa Martez, “Together Again”
In Star Wars, the galaxy didn’t need the Jedi as generals. They didn’t need them in an ivory tower. The galaxy needed them in positions like Ahsoka was for Rafa and Trace. When you look back at the arc of Ahsoka in the underworld,2 you can see that Ahsoka is actually giving Rafa the exact same message as Luminara was.
Rafa had choices. To get rid of the dangerous droids or to sell them. To sell spice to the Pykes or to a medical facility. To help the beggar on the street or not. To run free or to rescue Ahsoka.
The Force was with Rafa. Ahsoka was there to stop the droid. To protect Rafa and Trace. To sacrifice herself for them. All of it, regardless of the choices Rafa made.
Luminara’s platitude was meant to be a quick fix to bring Rafa back into alignment with the Jedi’s system. But what really transformed Rafa was a Jedi that walked the hard road with her, a Jedi that stuck with Rafa no matter how messy it got. These are the sort of actions that give actual power and meaning to the promise, “the Force will be with you.”
- Specifically the white American church. Black churches are frequent targets of domestic terrorism. [↩]
- Please folks, stop using “walkabout”. I know Lucasfilm and Filoni used it, but a walkabout is a very real and important part of a very real and very marginalized culture. We shouldn’t be appropriating it. [↩]