Rebellion has been on my mind a fair amount for several reasons. I think being a youth minister makes me try to prognosticate teenage rebellion and figure out how to crack those codes. The forthcoming presidential administration makes me ponder what ways the church might need to rebel. And a month of anticipatory waiting to see Rogue One then finally getting to see the movie put rebellion on the front burner. The Star Wars story is, after all, the story of the Rebellion.
Rogue One is an enjoyable film. It's one of those rare prequel/sequels that make the original movie an even richer story. There is also something viscerally thrilling about watching a ragtag group of rebels (led by a woman and group made up of an array of ethnicities plus a robot) undermine the Empire and deliver what turns out to be a fatal blow. Rogue One is a war movie, which means that stormtroopers are mowed down, Nazi-like Empire officers get their comeuppance, and bad guys get their just desserts. You get to see those who live by the blaster die by the blaster, the powerful reap what they have sown.
That is the rebellion of our popular imagination: war. It is a fist to the enemy's face. It is a cathartic thing to behold.
But is this the fight that we are supposed to choose? Is this how rebellion is supposed to be?
Towards the end of last year, I began to read March, a trilogy of graphic novels about the life of Congressman John Lewis and the civil rights movement. Even knowing a fair amount about this time in American history, the books are eye-opening. It is one thing to read about the opposition faced by those who were struggling for equality. It's another to see pictures of distorted faces full of hatred hurling slurs. To look as in horror as an evil mob descends on women and men with violence for simply riding a bus. To see fire hoses turned on children. Physical violence on top of emotional violence on top of spiritual violence.
All of that hatred and rage is juxtaposed with a furious righteousness that leads individuals to commit themselves fully to non-violence. Women, men, and children turn the other cheek when a fist is thrust into their face. They do not trade an eye for an eye. The commitment of these civil rights rebels to their principles and to the idea of equality is amazing. I cannot begin to imagine the horrors that they faced and yet they persevered. It's the greatest superhero story I have ever read in a graphic novel.
To not return hatred with hatred, to fight with human dignity rather than weapons or fists is the ultimate rebellion. It goes against all our narratives. It goes against our imaginations. There is something terrifying about ascending to this calling that Jesus put forth in the Sermon on the Mount: the call to turn the other cheek and love your enemies. In March, the enemies did not stop. The troopers cloaked in hatred continued to beat, terrorize, and hate those who turned the other cheek. Could one truly rebel in such a way that life and limb were put at risk? Could I?
True rebellion is full of peril. True rebellion does not play by the rules that the world has set. It vulnerably exposes the shattered nature of how the world works. It exposes hatred, prejudice, and selfishness for the dehumanizing lie that it is. Yet that rebellion is not easy. Nothing in this world worthwhile ever is. I stand amazed at those who did and do rebel in such a way: the way of Jesus.
March Books One through Three are written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell