About two years ago, my favorite movie of the Star Wars franchise came out: Rogue One. It’s a story of heroics, but it’s also the story of what everyday rebellion can accomplish. It was just what I needed at the start of 2017.
In short, Rogue One is about a band of unlikely individuals seeking the architectural plans of an evil Empire’s super-destructive weapon, the Death Star. The plans detail one critical weakness that can be exploited by those who seek liberation from the Empire. That weakness only existed because of an Empire engineer: Galen Erso.
Galen was a “good guy” who faced a choice: work for the “bad guy” on building the Death Star or be killed. He decided to live and to build in secrecy a Death Star that could be destroyed. He knew that if the Empire killed him, they could easily find another engineer with more loyalty to the Empire.
Without Galen, there’s no rebellion, no story, no movie, no band of unlikely individuals seeking the Death Star plans against all hope. Without Galen, there’s no galaxy at all.
Some of Galen’s associates probably called him a sellout. Some of us probably would’ve, too, if he were our friend. “That guy? Galen? Ugh, he works for the Empire now.” But Galen’s life is one of obedience to something greater than the Empire.
Rogue One is a story where it’s easy to identify good and evil, and it’s also a story that’s over in two hours. Our own story is more complicated and, thankfully, it’s longer. We don’t frequently get the privilege of moral purity in our work or where we live or who we love.
Most of us, if we’re being honest, drift in and out of Empire doorways. We don’t exist solely with loyalties to Empire or rebellion. Nor do the people we don’t understand.
The story of Galen Erso is a story dear to this season: this time of Epiphany, when three magi traveled hundreds of miles to witness and worship the newborn Jesus. When the tyrannical King Herod of the Roman Empire commands the magi to betray the location of Jesus so that the child could be murdered for threatening the Roman Empire, the magi refuse. In all the stories that illuminate the character and desires of God, we see examples of holy sabotage: the Spirit moves through our willingness to be obedient for the sake of the kin-dom.
At the start of this year, I’m thinking about the Galen Ersos and the magi that I know as well as some of their recent acts of everyday sabotage. Here are just a few:
- The queer leader of a Christian fellowship loving queer students in an explicitly anti-LGBTQ organization
- A conference attendant with access to valuable resources and who shares those resources with LGBTQ people experiencing familial conflict and lack of acceptance
- My brother, who used his generous PTO allowance from a Silicon Valley tech start-up to help heal wounded animals after the California Camp Fire
- A nurse-founded local organization where Zora and I volunteered the other day, recovering and removing the expiration dates from unused but recently expired non-perishable medical supplies for use in under-resourced hospitals.
- So many of us who confront family members about toxic belief systems like homophobia, transphobia, racism, and classism.
What these people and organizations have in common is their willingness to utilize what they have in service of those who do not have what they have. Like Galen Erso and like the magi, they use their posts to seek the kin-dom. They exist in the Empire, but they are willing to sabotage the Empire through their daily efforts.
Some of us may be yearning for the kin-dom but frustrated by jobs, family, communities, or circumstances that feel more like the Empire. But like the Galen Ersos and the magi of our lives, we also have opportunities to sabotage the Empire through our daily efforts:
- Are you a teacher? If so, how can you sabotage inequity in the classroom?
- Do you belong to a faith community? If so, how can you sabotage the religious complexes of our day and make room for marginalized peoples in your community?
- Are you a white person? If so, how can you sabotage white supremacy?
- Are you cisgender? If so, how can you sabotage transphobia?
- Are you straight? If so, how can you sabotage homophobia?
- Do you have family? If so, how can you sabotage the toxic beliefs and behaviors they exhibit?
- Are you an employer? If so, how can you sabotage health under-insurance, low wages, or employee under-valuation?
- Are you a parent? If so, how can you sabotage toxic masculinity and misogyny?
- Are you able-bodied? If so, how can you sabotage ableism?
- Are you a property manager? If so, how can you sabotage housing inequity?
The rebellion is won not through single acts of heroism. The ground of the Empire is packed, after all, and well-guarded. But that ground is broken through everyday acts of sabotage. That’s really good news for those of us who aren’t a Jyn or a Cassius – the two charismatic, fearless leaders of the unlikely band.
And that’s really good news for the galaxy. In our everyday, we are called to examine the Empire before us and the tools in our hands. As this palest sliver of 2019 rolls in and we reflect on the injustice and destruction that last year has brought, I’m heartened by the love and hope demonstrated by the saboteurs I know, the justice and life that they have made possible.
After all, sabotaging the Empire is kin-dom work. Queer people understand that the kin-dom does not come by adherence to human rules too often set by those with power and privilege. Queer people understand that progress comes through the fight of queer people, yes, but that justice and compassion come through all of our willingness to imagine something better than the status quo. And that means that our allies have work to do, too, in the realms where they operate with privilege and welcome.
We are not promised a shortage of injustice this year, but neither will we suffer a shortage of the Spirit, now or ever. To those who would seek the kin-dom, to those who would conspire with the Creator: how are we willing to sabotage the Empire in 2019?