There’s a line in “Rogue One,” the “Star Wars” movie I recently watched on a plane, that struck me as relevant here and now in America (not just a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away).
The rebel Cassian is trying to enlist help from Jyn, the disaffected daughter of one of the masterminds of the Death Star. He asks her, “You can stand to see the Imperial flag reign across the galaxy?” She retorts, “It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.”
Although we’re not under the thumb of an evil Empire here in America – maybe some would say we are the empire – there’s plenty of trouble to see in our world if we only look up. Jyn’s comment spoke to the willful ignorance and self-interest we can be subject to when something bad doesn’t affect us personally.
Here are some of those things. More than 1 billion children – that’s half of all children – are victims of violence. A grim record was broken last year by the high number of refugees and displaced people forced from their homes – 65.3 million, comparable to the population of the U.K. And 20 million people are at risk of starvation right this minute, in four countries halfway across the globe.
No one would disagree these are terrible problems. But we didn’t create them, and they don’t affect our daily lives. So it’s easy to look down and say, “That’s not my problem.”
It may not be our fault that people suffer in our world. But it is our responsibility to do something about it.
That’s one of the threads the “Star Wars” movies pull on as they unfurl a storyline as old as human history: good vs. evil. The spiritual overtones of the saga resonate with many Christians, with the otherworldly villains resembling the “principalities and powers” of Ephesians 6:12 and the good side of the Force akin to the Holy Spirit, enabling us to do things beyond our human power.
The movies’ appeal over the past 40 years is the journey of ordinary, flawed characters like Jyn as they find their place among either the good guys or the “scum and villainy.” Think of the smuggler Han Solo, stormtrooper drop-out Finn, or Rey, the lonely scavenger. Around them a mighty battle rages between the “dark side” of the Force – which fosters the rise of totalitarian regimes like the Empire and the First Order – and the life-giving, altruistic “light side” of the Force that favors democracy and freedom.
Many characters don’t have Force-wielding Jedi powers like Luke Skywalker. But they still must choose which side they’re on. Not choosing, as Jyn wanted to do, is a de facto choice for evil.
And that’s true in the real world as well. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” said the Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke. Closer to home, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the “appalling silence of good people” in the face of injustice. It doesn’t matter if we believe ourselves to be decent people leading decent lives. If we decide to be bystanders to tragedy and oppression, we’ve joined the other side.
So when we “don’t look up,” children continue to be exploited and abused. Refugees live in despair at the world’s margins. Famine spreads across parts of East Africa.
Or we can choose to see and engage in the battle of good vs. evil in our world. That might take the form of contacting a member of Congress in support of U.S. foreign assistance, which does so much good in fragile places. Or we might donate to global humanitarian organizations with “boots on the ground,” fighting poverty and injustice. I’ve known people who gave up comfortable lives to serve hands-on in developing countries – something just as drastic but not quite as risky as Jyn’s mission to steal the Death Star plans.
Christians know that no matter how bitter the battles become here on earth, victory through Christ is already assured. “Take heart!” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). We know God wins. Just like when we watch “Star Wars” movies we know that the good guys will come through in the end.
But in real life and in the movies, good overcomes evil because ordinary people get involved. People with no special powers, great wealth, or fame. People who are willing to look up.
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