If you’ve been on the Internet for more than 5 minutes in the past two days, you are no doubt aware of a certain PR crisis surrounding an alleged Presidential statement. Nightly news anchors, local bloggers, church leadership councils and literally millions of people are in a state of shock and uproar and have taken to the web in order to communicate their feelings on the matter. And while I am admittedly terrified to even step foot into such a polarizing climate, I am also committed to bearing witness to my Christian faith. Today that commitment has conquered fear. And it is through film that I hope to express my response.
Instead of watching a film and pulling out a certain element or moment, this time I needed to find a film that illustrated what I was already thinking, which can be summed up as “why are we ok with going into these countries to serve and help, but aren’t ok with bringing those same people to live among us?” In other words, “who is worthy of our welcome?” And as it does so many times, Star Wars can put it into perspective.
In Return of the Jedi, our beloved Rebels have infiltrated a small forest moon in order to destroy the shield generator that is protecting the unfinished Death Star. But before they can complete their mission, they get a little sidetracked by a tribe of Ewoks.
Personal feelings regarding Ewoks aside, they are the ones I want to focus on. At first they respond to the strange human creatures with fear – they are threatened and take the steps necessary to ensure their tribe’s safety. But then conversation happens. C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) tells the story of the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, of their journey to this place and their mission moving forward. Despite language and cultural (and species) barriers, the Rebels and the Ewoks connect. Even beyond that, the Ewoks accept these strangers into their tribe. They become family. The Rebels’ mission becomes the Ewoks’s mission. The Rebels’ needs become the Ewoks’ opportunity to give.
Yes, the Empire is a universal threat, meaning there can be immediate commonality between the persecuted. But accepting someone into the folds of a community goes beyond a common enemy – it illustrates a deeper desire for relationship. It’s an acceptance that has more meaning than the temporary joining of forces in battle.
When we welcome a stranger into our midst, embracing them as part of our family or community, we are actively participating within the Biblical narrative. The story of Christianity is permeated and formed with countless references of how the Israelites were required by God to welcome the foreigner and alien into their lives, and to treat them as “native-born,” granted the same rights and protections as anyone else. In the book of John, chapter 14, verses 2-4, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Jesus came so that we may one day be brought to dwell with Him. We are undeserving and unworthy. We have done nothing to earn this privilege. Our beginnings are far below the majesty that is the Son of God. And yet we are welcomed into an eternal kingdom of glory! Jesus doesn’t care where we came from, but that we acknowledge His sovereign place as Lord of our lives. We are beloved not because we are Americans or African, white or black, rich or poor, but because we are created in God’s very image.
Yes, welcoming the stranger is scary. It’s risky. It requires vulnerability and grace and sacrifice. But there is so much more strength and power behind the gospel message when it is exemplified in our day-to-day interactions with the people that the rest of the world has deemed “unworthy.” It is wonderful to go into the lives of the suffering and help while and how we can. But it is life-changing when we welcome those same people into our communities to dwell with us.