With the flow of resistance to the Nazi Empire in ancestral blood, Rachel Stampul shared a message on Sunday that brought us back to darker days and focused our attention on the kind of world we are creating. The Biblical image of a mother crying for her children “who are no more” was front and center. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) turned up the heat on the issue as the power of evil leaped back and forth between the big screen and the pulpit. How do we confront “Empire”? How do we fend off the temptation to become “Empire”?
A comment heard after Sunday’s message questioned the assumption that Jesus intended to overturn the Empire. Did he come to change political systems, or personal hearts? Can one happen absent the other? Related to this comment is the concern regarding what fills the vacuum when one system topples. Can we insure that evil will be replaced with good? Christianity itself is an example of a spirituality that ran wild in the post-Constantinian world of the Roman Empire. Placing the word “holy” before “Roman Empire” did nothing to sanctify the situation. Whether we call it a “Crusade” or “Jihad”, a “Just War” is still just war on so many levels.
The Hunger Games plays out not only as a national political tragedy, but as a personal ethical dilemma. Let’s go with the idea that Jesus came to influence persons rather than powers and principalities. Katniss struggles with the tension between the desire to survive and the possibility that she will lose her soul. On which of those two battlefields would Jesus be present, cheering her on?
Our “Screenings” series tumbled to its conclusion on Sunday as a preacher on the young side pushed faith hard against convenience. She didn’t solve anything for us. She offered no resolution. Rachel’s was a voice crying in what is so often the cavernous wilderness of rote religion. Good people gather in such places. Very good people. Often times such people are unaware of the extent to which we are caught up in the grind of the Empire’s agenda. If nothing else, I think the preacher’s cry on Sunday was an effort to direct our attention to what we know at a deep level – a personal level – but don’t know how to address on a larger scale.
However you slice it – systemically, or with intense self-reflection – the words of G. K. Chesterton, with very few exceptions, are resoundingly true: The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. Perhaps Rachel was hoping to goad us into believing that this week, at some level, we might be willing to give that “ideal” more of a go in our lives than ever before.