Alternative to Empire

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One of my favorite Biblical authors is Luke. His dual volume of Luke-Acts is an account not only of the life and ministry of Jesus and the community of “The Way” but also a commentary on first century society. Luke, although a physician, shows us through his history/narrative the dynamics of class, race, and even gender in first century society and how the Christ and the people of The Way engaged these areas of difference. 

It was great to have spent the past several months studying the book of Acts with my worship community as we asked ourselves the question: What does it look like to be a community “by faith”? I had the honor of starting the sermon series off and as I studied the book of Acts again, I (being the fly nerd that I am) saw an obvious connection between Star Wars and The Way. 

In Star Wars, there is a clear dichotomy made between two empires. You have the Galactic Empire, an oppressive regime that calls itself the dark side, using the Force for “evil.” But, you also have the Rebel Alliance, a group that is connected to and empowered by the Force (not abusing its power). The Galactic Empire is rising in strength as they attempt to take over and, in many ways, destroy the galaxy. The Rebel Alliance refuses to cave into the Galactic Empire and attempts to thwart its sinister plans through acts of revolution and subversion. The course of the Star Wars trilogy chronicles the back and forth between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. 

Likewise, the book of Acts describes the activities of “The Way.”  The Way is how early Christian believers were identified. Margaret Aymer describes “The Way” as “a political religious movement that asserts Jesus of Nazareth as both Master and Anointed One (or Messiah)...Luke portrays its proponents as spreading this political religion as directed by the Holy Spirit.    

The people of the Way were living in under the occupation of The Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, much like the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, was cruel and oppressive. This empire occupied lands and created extreme poverty, marked class distinctions with 2 % of the population controlling majority of the wealth, normalized patriarchy and slavery, and intimidated the less fortunate with brutal violence. In addition, the Roman Empire was also a religio-political movement, seeing itself as the bearer of peace and justice in society and hailing Caesar as a “son of god.” Two empires, two political-religious movements, two messages of peace and justice, two “saviors.” In an empire that seems to be the opposite of all one values and believes, how were the people of The Way to live and survive? The book of Acts chronicles their revolutionary actions—ones fueled by the revolutionary power of the Holy Spirit.  Aymer continues, “Acts thus illustrates the double bind of a colonized people imagining an alternative to Empire...” 

Alternative to empire. Every narrative and vignette within the book of Acts shows us that people of The Way, just like the members of the Rebel Alliance, lived, moved, and acted as they did because they were able to imagine an “alternative to empire.” They knew that the way things were was not the way they should be. Acts in turn shows us that we too can live alternative to the reigning empires of our day. Living alternative to empire is a revolutionary way of living, because revolutionaries have the vision to see what should be.  Living “alternative to empire” is a revolutionary way of living because revolutionaries must accept the challenge to live alternative to empire while also existing within empire. Living alternative to empire is a revolutionary way of living because revolutionaries know that the most subversive messages come from often dismissed places. This is what it means for me to be part of the #AdventistRevolution. While I have every reason to run away from the “empire” of our denomination, the text of Acts reminds me that I can live alternative to empire while living among it! 

I am part of this revolution because God has called me to subvert through proximity. Empowered by the Force (the Holy Spirit), I imagine an alternative and live as if that alternative is reality. 

- Danielle Barnard