I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve never seen the Indiana Jones series. I don’t have a good excuse either. Maybe it’s my age (I wasn’t even alive in 1981 when Raiders of the Lost Ark released) or my over-active imagination (face melting – not a fan), who knows. But I am determined to rectify such blatant neglect on my part and am embarking on a #throwbackthursday journey through temples, jungles, and old flames.
Pretty much everyone knows that Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones: professor, archeologist, adventurer for hire…ruggedly handsome and charming while stone-faced in the midst of danger (except when there are snakes). Raiders of the Lost Ark is the inaugural event in the series from Steven Spielberg, introducing us to Indy’s mission to hunt down and acquire the ancient Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Karen Allen costars as Indy’s old girlfriend Marion Ravenwood, daughter of a former acquaintance who has inherited a certain relic Indy needs.
With all the hype and nostalgia and admiration of the Spielberg classic, I was prepared to be knocked off my feet. I mean, it’s Harrison Ford in his prime, battling ancient booby traps, leveraging centuries’-old legends as guideposts through life-threatening jungles, all while maintaining a cool demeanor and reminding us just how bad Nazis are. It’s a formula for unprecedented success.
Yet it left me more unsettled than enamored. The story line is great, the acting superb and the visuals delightful (for the 80s). So I watched it again, thinking maybe I was missing a key element of enjoyment. While I still wasn’t blown away, I did realize it wasn’t the movie as a whole that bothered me. It was the situational pursuit of the Ark.
Walk with me.
There are three groups pursuing this ancient source of mystery and power: the Nazis, the American government, and Indiana Jones (technically on the behalf of the Americans).
Obviously, the Nazis want the Ark for its power. To them it is a super weapon that can wipe out hordes of people without resistance. With the Ark preceding any military force, their quest for domination would be uncontested.
Since the Nazis want it for its power, the American government wants to get to it first. They hire Indy to locate it, only to (spoiler alert) hide it away in a giant warehouse of classified government artifacts. If no one knows where it is, no one can use it incorrectly.
Then there is Indiana Jones. Now Indy wants to keep it away from the Germans, but he is also entranced by its historical significance. The Ark of the Covenant is an artifact from an ancient culture that has been wiped away by the sands of time. He doesn’t want to use it, he wants to study it. And all three mindsets bother me. Why?
As a seminary student, a Christian servant in the local church, and as human being, I am irritated when someone has an incredible resource and they knowingly misuse it, don’t use it, or even use it halfway. Power and privilege and influence can be agents of incredible change. And they are things we all have in unique, personal iterations.
Instead, many people use these gifts and means of influence to gain control over others. To hurt, to ridicule, to demean. Or, we don’t use them at all. We know they’re there, and we know we have a voice and opportunity, but we sit in stillness and silence. We lock them up and hide them away.
Or we only go but so far. We identify our areas of influence and our strengths. We use them at our jobs, or once a week at church, maybe during a mission trip. But we don’t take risk. We don’t go outside of what we know. We use them in “safe” places where we can be congratulated and edified for doing a good job.
The task of the global Church of Christ-followers is to make disciples – people who grab hold of the Gospel of salvation and share it to the ends of the earth. But if we use our gifts like the Nazis wanted to use the Ark – if we use tradition and Holy words to elevate a certain people group at the expense of the other, we are not creating those Disciples.
If we don’t use any gifts at all – like the American government who locks up the Ark in a nondescript box and wheels it into a labyrinth of hundreds of other nondescript boxes – and instead horde the goodness and the compassion and the grace of God out of personal triumph or fear, we are not creating disciples.
And even if we act like Indy – if we limit what those gifts can do by only using them in a safe capacity – if we hold them only to intellectual expectation and avoid the possibility of divine intervention, we are not creating disciples.
Yes, I know that by using the Ark, the Nazis obliterated themselves. Yes, Indiana Jones was the hero. And yes, a key takeaway is that misuse of great power emanating from ancient archeological totems results in annihilation. But when we gaze beyond the theatrical veil, I think we can see that we must use the tools and gifts bestowed upon us with bold conviction and confidence.