THE TAKE AWAY
The Least of These
By Kersley Fitzgerald
[** Warning: Spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road and, strangely enough, Shrek.]
A million years ago, Dev and I went with some friends to see Shrek. This wasn't unusual, since we often went out with this couple and he was a ghost-writer for a Christian movie review website. What was unusual was that we had actually seen the movie the night before and I loved it so much I wanted to see it again immediately.
You probably remember it. Shrek the ogre is blackmailed by the diminutive and power-hungry Lord Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona from imprisonment in a scary castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. Fiona's great secret is that every evening she transforms into an ogre until sunrise, and only true love's first kiss can release her from the curse and turn her into what she is supposed to be. Of course, her true love turns out to be Shrek, and instead of maintaining her identity as a svelte human princess, she remains an ogre forever. Oh, and Shrek's sidekick, a donkey named Donkey, ends up courting the dragon. Named Dragon.
Heading for dinner after, I asked my friends, "Wasn't it great? Didn't you love it? Wasn't it such a positive message about acceptance and body image?" (Okay, I didn't use those specific words...)
"Sure," said our friend. "As long as you're not short."
Because in and amongst the positive messages about how ogres can be beautiful and mighty warriors and donkeys are just as noble as stallions were several jokes about Lord Farquaad's height — or lack thereof. But wasn't it okay? He was the bad guy — weren't we allowed to dismiss him?
That moment came to mind Friday after a friend and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything September Grace said was true, and we enjoyed the movie. The whole plot caught me, though. Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa is a driver/warrior. She serves Immortan Joe who controls The Citadel, source of the only clean water source for hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles. His kingdom seems to be divided between slaves and beggars, all of whom capitulate to him for the chance of food and water. His prized possessions are his beautiful breeding wives.
Furiosa is commissioned to drive her War Rig (a tricked-out tanker semi) to apparently exchange breastmilk taken from female slaves (who all looked like Aborigines) for fuel. What Immortan Joe finds out too late is that Furiosa had adapted her tanker to also hide away his five wives. Her goal is to help them escape to the settlement where she grew up where they can find freedom in her native matriarchal society.
And then the rest of the 120 minutes is a chase/battle scene with lots of explosions and killing and redemption and stuff. And Max might be in there somewhere.
Great messages. Women are not property. Women can accomplish a lot, either alone or together. Women can invite men into great feats for the cause of justice and life. Yes and amen.
But why were the only people Furiosa saved the five most beautiful women in The Citadel?
Granted, back-story, it's likely that both she and her mother were subjected to sexual violence, so she may have identified with them more. And she apparently grew up in a matriarchal society where women would be valued more than men. But there were other people — other women — equally in need of rescue. The women who were used solely to produce breast milk, the redeemable war pups trained to worship Immortan Joe and die for his glory, even the "blood bags" — captured people like Max who provided clean blood for wounded and diseased war boys. But they were dismissed.
And this made me think of our work in sex trafficking recovery. Rescued girls will most likely not be saints. They may not even thank their rescuers. They will cuss and smoke and go back to drugs. They will lie and steal. It is not their responsibility to suddenly become perfect princesses. It's their job to do the hard work of recovery. And it's not our job to make them act right. It's our job to introduce them to Christ and teach them how to live in normal society.
If we can't see the image of God in every girl, we're not looking with Jesus' eyes.
Which brings me to something I've been stewing over ever since ISIS reared its ugly head and started killing people. There's a lot of talk about how many Christians ISIS has killed. Christians in the US call for the government to Do Something for our brothers and sisters in mortal danger.
The trick of it is, "Christian" is just a label. Most "Christians" in the Middle East are Eastern Orthodox. I say this because I met a Chaldean woman from Iraq. She explained that she grew up Eastern Orthodox, as did all her people, but, she said, she didn't become a Christian until her brother came back from university in the UK with the gospel. Or, as a representative of e3 Partners graciously described the persecuted Iraqis he's committed to helping, "These are people who may not have an understanding of the gospel as we do."
And his point and my point is: it doesn't matter. It shouldn't matter. Would American Christians be so devastated by the ISIS bloodshed if they understood the specifics of the religion these "Christians" follow? I don't think so because I hear next to nothing about the Yezidis. You know — the minority religious group that was herded to the top of the hill and left to die of thirst. The military dropped in water and stuff, but among the believers I know, no one has mentioned them since.
All to mean, it's fine to feel affinity for the persecuted Eastern Orthodox minority in Iraq because we share the label "Christian," but it's better to pray for and care about everyone ISIS is mowing down because they are people, made in the image of God, who desperately need help and the gospel. For that matter, pray for those in ISIS.
Our pastor tied it all together this Sunday with, strangely enough, a message based on the conversion of Paul. "Here's a guy" who was the ultimate anti-Christian. He hated Jesus — he thought Jesus was a lying blasphemer — and he tried to destroy the fledgling church by arresting everyone he could get his hands on. But God picked him. He not only picked him, He sent Ananias to help him along the way. After a quick confirmation that God really meant what he said, Ananias went to Paul and showed him compassion. He greeted him with, "Brother Saul," for Pete's sake.
Who, really, are the least of these? It's a donkey that wants to be a hero and a princess who doesn't want to be an ogre, but it's also a Napoleonic lord with self-esteem issues. It's five beautiful sex slaves, but it's also thousands of labor slaves and beggars dependent on a sociopath for water. It's the adorable eight-year-old rescued from trafficking in the Philippines, but it's also the hardened forty-year-old drug-addicted prostitute from downtown. It's overwhelming how many "least of these" are out in the world. I guess that's why God gave the job of reaching them to the entire church.
And that's what Mad Max: Fury Road got right in the end. What Furiosa and Max both realized. That the people we identify with most can't have real freedom unless that freedom is offered to everyone involved. When it comes to "poor in spirit," the "least of these" are everybody.
Image: the beggars at The Citadel; Mad Max: Fury Road
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Ministry-Church
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