From Galaxy’s Edge to the Center of the Universe

Nov 5, 2019

I just watched the following movie about Jerusalem and wanted to write a little bit about it. The movie was filmed for IMAX – so I bet it would have been really cool to see it on the giant screen. It is 45 minutes long. I highly recommend taking some time to watch it.

In watching the video, I was reminded of a picture that one of my Old Testament professors showed me in seminary. It was a satellite shot of Jerusalem. The picture showed the entire Earth – with Jerusalem right in the middle of it. The Dome of the Rock helped make Jerusalem visible in the image. (I wish I could find where she got that image. I have never been able to find it, but it has stuck with me ever since she showed it in class.) She described, as this movie did, that Jerusalem is often considered the center of the world. Not only is it geographically right between Europe, Asia, and Africa, it is also where Christians, Jews, and Muslims have shared history. Jerusalem is less than one square mile in geographic size, but it is the most sacred piece of real estate on the planet. It’s incredible to think of everything that is tied to this place – different cultures, different histories, different religious traditions.

This video did a great job highlighting the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim views of Jerusalem. For each tradition, a young woman talks about her experiences of Jerusalem and what the city means to her. The video also talked about how, even though these three religious traditions share the same city, they experience it all differently – so it’s as if Jerusalem is three different Jerusalems. At the end, the narrator talks about how maybe in the future these three neighbors will really get to know each other. I was particularly struck by one of the final scenes where the three young women who were sharing their experiences of Jerusalem show up on the same street – but it’s as if they don’t see each other. It was a striking visual of what the movie was talking about. Jerusalem is a shared space – but the different groups don’t really “see” each other.

Another thing the movie said that struck me was that archaeologists can’t prove that Jesus was buried where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is located. It is simply a matter of faith. I imagine that is the case for many of these sites. Yes, there is history in all of these important places – but the thing that makes these places special is faith. Another video I watched (and I think I linked to it in an earlier post) mentioned that there is debate, for example, about where exactly Gabriel appeared to Mary. In one sense, though, it doesn’t really matter. My faith is not built on whether a particular event happened in one particular spot instead of another. My faith is built on Jesus. Even if science or archaeology can’t prove the events that are connected at these sites, it doesn’t make these sites any less important or any less special. There is something about being in this place, this place that is respected by so many people, this place that many people yearn to visit, that still connects you to the larger story.

In a similar way – but in a very different way too – I am reminded of the vacation I took this past summer. My wife, daughter, and I went to Disneyland in California. While we were there, we got to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge a week after it opened to the public! It was incredible. (As a Star Wars geek, I was super excited about it.) The people at Disneyland spent years building the planet of Batuu in “Star Wars Land”. Their attention to detail was incredible. The buildings looked like they had been there for years. The spaceships that were parked there looked amazing. The life-sized Millennium Falcon was jaw-dropping. Even the cast members dressed as Star Wars characters played their parts extremely well. One stormtrooper, for example, even pulled me aside for wearing a BB-8 t-shirt. He said, “That droid is not welcome in this sector. I’m keeping my eye on you.” Even though I knew he was pretending, there was still something intimidating about having a stormtrooper say he’s keeping his eye on you.

The thing about Galaxy’s Edge, though, is that everyone there knows that it’s pretend. The Disney cast members are acting their parts, and even the tourists like us know that it’s all pretend. We all know that, historically, nothing significant actually happened on this site. Just years before, it was empty space at the back of Disneyland. It’s all based on the fictional world of Star Wars. Although it was an immersive experience and I highly recommend it, it was all fantasy.

So now, as an I anticipate going to the Holy Land in February, I feel like I’m going from the edge of the galaxy in Batuu to the center of the universe in Jerusalem. Even though both places have an important story connected with them, even though they are sites that draw many people, even though there is something special about being in both of them, I know that Jerusalem will be completely unlike Disneyland. Disneyland was incredibly fun – but it did nothing to strengthen my faith. This trip to the Holy Land, though, I already know will be an incredible boost to my life of faith. Whether or not Jesus was actually buried on the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands or not doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the way this place helps people come together and be rooted in Jesus’ story. Even if the particular events can’t be pinpointed, this is still the area where it all took place. Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland is pretend – but the Holy Land is not.

All of us – Christians, Jews, Muslims, and everyone else – have stories that shape our lives. Many of us are familiar with the stories. We know the characters, the plot, sometimes many of the details. But there is something amazing about going to the land which is connected to these stories, to immerse yourself in that culture, to feel like you are in the story you know so well.

I am getting even more excited about going on this trip. (My passport showed up last week.) Some previous pilgrims on this trip and others who have visited that Holy Land have told me to just try to take it all in. Someone even said that it will be like trying to take a drink of water out of a fire hose. There will be so much coming at me it will be hard to process all of it. I imagine that I will be overwhelmed by all of it – but I will do my best to take a bunch of pictures and write notes and blog entries about the experience. However, as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I will also focus on being in the moment and experiencing the place I’m in. Yes, people will want to hear about my trip once I return and I will do my best to share my experience with them. But I am there as a pilgrim, as a person of faith, as someone who will be changed by the places we visit. I’m not going there as a reporter. I am looking forward to this amazing experience – and to being shaped by the places like Jerusalem. I’ll do what I can to share it with you when I return.

Thanks for reading my blog and supporting me along this journey.

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