Author Archives: Kim Reisman

Faithful Leaders as Mission Evangelists ~ Order of the FLAME 2019

In March the Order of the FLAME gathered at Epworth by the Sea for its annual week of Holy Spirit inspired worship and learning. What a blessed time! Over 130 members of the Order were able to share together as we explored what it means to be a mission evangelist in our current age. When we see Facebook posts proclaiming that the FLAME was the single best training a young clergy had experienced in ministry, we are encouraged that our work is having a significant impact.

At the Order of the FLAME gathering, we explore holistic evangelism using three lenses – word, deed, and sign. In other words, we seek to answer three questions: How do we effectively communicate the good news so that others might hear and respond? How do engage in ministries of reconciliation, justice, and mercy in ways that authentically demonstrate the Gospel? How do we become channels of the Holy Spirit so that lives might be transformed?

This year we were blessed by a variety of answers to those questions, with teaching on preaching for response and communicating the Gospel to the next generation, on reconciliation, multi-cultural worship, and community outreach, and on the powerful movement of the Holy Spirit from the beginning of the Methodist movement to our current age.

In addition to the outstanding teaching and powerful worship, a highlight of our FLAME gatherings is the boundary breaking nature of our time together. The FLAME community connects the entire Wesleyan Methodist family – AME’s, AMEZ’s, CME’s, Evangelical Methodists, Free Methodists, Nazarenes, United Methodists, and Wesleyans. At FLAME gatherings denominational boundaries fade, racial and ethnic barriers are broken down, and cultural obstacles are overcome. This year it was exciting to welcome people from 24 different states, some traveled to Georgia from as far away as California, South Dakota, New York, and Maine. Our farthest members arrived from Indonesia, Romania, and South Africa.

In John’s Revelation we see that one day God will gather all the peoples of the earth and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. At the Order of the FLAME we are a microcosm of that image – a diversity of people bound together by our faith in Jesus Christ, a reconciled people joined together by our commitment to being mission evangelists in our communities, a Holy Spirit led people linked together by our willingness to become channels of God’s prevenient grace to all people.

We thank God for the many blessings we received during the 2019 Order of the FLAME gathering and we are already looking forward to returning to Epworth by the Sea March 9-13, 2020. We will welcome another class into the FLAME community, which already numbers over 2500. If you are a member of the Order of the FLAME, we encourage you to make plans join us and to nominate a promising young leader to participate in this transformative experience.

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation: Lessons from Language Can Help Us Share the Gospel

By Rev. Dr. Kimberly Reisman, Executive Director

In my leadership role with World Methodist Evangelism, I frequently preach and teach in international environments, depending heavily on the skills of translators and interpreters. These are gifted people!

I recall teaching on evangelism in Vladivostok, Russia a few years ago. I was trying to make an important point, which in English is not difficult to understand. It’s the idea that in evangelism, no way is THE way, but each way, by God’s grace, can become A way. The emphasis is on the word “the” (which implies a sense of singularity) and the word “a” (which implies a variety of possibilities). The point is that there is never only one way to evangelize; rather, there are a wide variety of fruitful approaches, depending on your environment.

What I didn’t realize is that in Russian, there is no easy way to translate “the” and “a,” especially to make the point I was trying to make. It took a few minutes of discussion with my interpreter, along with a much longer explanation in Russian, to finally make that one sentence clear.

In our life of faith, translation is critical. How do we understand this good news of Jesus Christ? How is it that we make it known to others? How do we translate this news that is at one and the same time something that inspires silent awe, joyful praise, tearful repentance, ecstatic utterances, or quiet prayer? How do we make known a gospel that is at one and the same time something that moves us to a life of personal piety, acts of mercy, or public activism? How do we provide a channel for the Holy Spirit to make this deeply mysterious yet magnificently understandable news real in all places and for each successive generation?

There is nothing new about these questions. The Jesus movement faced them from the beginning as the Good News spread from its first century Jewish roots to Greek towns and cities and on. The idea of faith seeking understanding has driven theologians in every place and in every age to wrestle with how to translate the mysteries of the Jesus way both to the church and to the culture at hand.

Over time there have been moments when our translation has so watered down our truths for the sake being understood that those truths have become only shadow representations. At other times we have held our truths so closely that it seems impossible to catch a glimpse of their beauty, let alone grasp the depth of their meaning.

At our present juncture, it feels more important than ever to find a balance between these two approaches. Without such balance, I fear the voices of our cultures will begin to translate for us. It may be that they already have. When Christianity is defined more by who you vote for than by your faith in God the Father, who sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, it may be that something significant has been lost in the translation.

As you have probably already guessed, I have never been very good at foreign languages. I’m envious of many of my friends who can speak multiple languages. What these friends tell me is that to learn any new language, it is important to have translation resources like a good dictionary. You can’t learn a new language without that element. And yet, good resources alone are not enough. It is also important to be immersed in the language – to be surrounded by it so that you hear it all the time. In fact many people say that translation alone will not make you fluent. Just having the language verbally explained isn’t enough for the language to become your own. In a very real sense, you have to live the language in order to make it yours.

How much more might this be the case for following in the Jesus way?

If translation and immersion go together, then those beyond the boundaries of our churches must not only hear us speak of it, but also become immersed in it through our relationships and through the life of our Christ following communities. Generations of preachers have sought to make God’s grace known, but how much more would those descriptive words come to life if the deepest meaning of God’s grace was made known through lived relationships of love & compassion?

The language of God is not only verbal, it is not only written, it is lived. When we become immersed in the language of God – reading it, speaking it, living it – we make it our own and are better able to translate and interpret it to others. When through our relationships, through our communities of faith, through our daily living, we enable others to become immersed in the language of God – to hear it spoken, to see it lived, to feel it within – that is when the Holy Spirit is given room to move and work, and others are able to make the language of God their own as well.

This post originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer.


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”62059″][vc_separator][vc_custom_heading text=”Evangelism Today! Evangelism Training in Portugal” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:center|color:%23bf302b” google_fonts=”font_family:Abel%3Aregular|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”][vc_separator][vc_column_text]For more than three decades, World Methodist Evangelism (WME) has trained indigenous, front-line evangelism leaders. We continued that important work in January, in partnership with our World Methodist Evangelism Institute and the Evangelical Methodist Church of Portugal. The theme of the seminar was “Evangelism Today! That the World Might Know Jesus Christ.”

Students from Candler Theological Seminary and Gammon Theological Seminary worked and learned alongside pastors and lay leaders from Portugal. WME staff members Kim Reisman and Rob Haynes offered original material around the subjects of “Embrace,” a model for relational evangelism, and “Evangelism in the age of new technologies.” WMEI Executive Director, Wesley de Souza, Candler professor faculty Jehu Hanciles, and Gammon professor, David Whitworth taught as well.

Along with training indigenous leaders across the globe, such international and regional evangelism seminars also provide Wesleyan Methodist seminarians in the United States the opportunity to explore the nature and practice of evangelism in a cross-cultural environment. Additionally, the seminars are occasions for pastors and laity to earn continuing education credits while experiencing evangelism in other cultural contexts. These transformative experiences are critical to building bridges across both geography and tradition and to promoting preaching, teaching, and witnessing grounded uncompromisingly in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Plans are underway for the next seminars:

  • Peru, August 2019
  • Sri Lanka, January 2020
  • Fiji, August 2020 (Pastor’s Continuing Education track available)

If your seminary would like to be involved in these opportunities, or to find out more about the Continue Education options, contact Rob Haynes,[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]


Strong hearts and gentle hands

As the hopeful anticipation and spiritual preparation of Advent gives way to the joyous celebration of Christmas, I pray that you might experience the depth of God’s love for you. It is a love that boggles the human mind – embodied in a tiny baby boy, born into poverty and rejected by those he came to love. It is a love that will always be larger than we can comprehend with our limited hearts and lives, but a love so radically unconditional, so dramatically forgiving, so magnificently gracious, righteous, pure and just, that it has been transforming lives for centuries.
One of my favorite Christmas cards my family has sent out over the years includes the following message:

The Dream of God shall be carried in strong hearts and gentle hands.

At World Evangelism, our hope is that we are able in some way to be either a strong heart or a gentle hand in bearing an admittedly partial rendering of God’s dream to the world. More importantly, we pray that you, and Christ followers across the globe, will be inspired to be that strong heart and gentle hand, bearing God’s dream wherever you find yourself.
A joyous Christmas to each of you…
Peace, Kim


Rob Haynes book release

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Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”61793″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row]New book on Mission and Evangelism from one of WME’s own.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Rob Haynes, WME Director of Education and Leadership, has a new book that provides key insights for anyone involved in evangelism and mission, particularly short-term missions.

Short-term mission trips are commonplace in American church life, yet their growth and practice has largely been divorced from theological education, seminary training, and mission studies. Consuming Mission takes important steps in offering a theological assessment of the practice of short-term mission and tools for subsequent mission training.

Using relevant academic studies and original focus-group interviews, Haynes offers important insights into this ubiquitous practice. While carefully examining the biblical and historical foundations for mission, Consuming Mission engages more contemporary movements like the Missio Dei, Fresh Expressions, the Emergent Church, and Third-Wave Mission movements that have helped shape mission.

Haynes uses original field research data to gather the implicit and explicit theologies of lay and clergy participants. Cultural influences are significantly influencing short-term mission participants as they use their time, money, sacrifice, and service, applied in the name of mission, to purchase a personal growth experience commonly sought by pilgrims. The resulting tensions from mixing mission, pilgrimage, and tourism are explored. Haynes offers important steps to move the practice away from using mission for personal edification.

Consuming Mission is already catching the attention of leaders in Mission and Evangelism:

“At last, a scholarly work that lays bare the realities of the mission trip industry, both the benefits and blemishes. Haynes leads us toward a much-needed foundation of mature theology to undergird this third wave of global missions. Excellent.” –Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity

“Combining rich theological reflection along with empirical, ethnographic data, Haynes offers a critical look at how the church can develop and engage short term mission as part of the missio dei. There is no other work currently available that does more to bring together the growing research on short term mission with theological resources at the service of the church than Robert Haynes’ work.” –Brian Howell, Wheaton College

Consuming Mission is available for pre-order on Amazon here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Evidence through Action

By Rev. Dr. Kimberly Reisman, Executive Director

People have different ways of approaching reality. Some are analytical, reasoned, and logical. That’s not me. Not that I can’t be analytical, reasoned and logical. I can, but those are deliberate disciplines that I practice in contrast to my instinctive way of approaching the world, which is through my feelings. I’m just a feeling kind of person.

Maybe too much sometimes. When people talk about having certain spiritual gifts I always say I have the spiritual gift of weeping – I cry at weddings and baptisms and movies. I can’t sing Charles Wesley’s hymn And Can It Be without getting choked up. There’s just something about the words, “Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” I’m not a very good singer, but I love to belt those words out. Toward the end of the song it says, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” At that point I usually have to keep myself from jumping up and down with gratitude and joy.

Jumping up and down to Charles Wesley – go figure.

Not surprisingly, I resonate with Scriptures like Paul’s word in Romans: You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (8:15-16, NLT) That kind of gut-oriented experience of the faith is foundational for me. I’m a true daughter of John Wesley, whose heart was “strangely warmed.”

This gut-oriented way of approaching the world made a recent encounter very disorienting. I was approached by a young woman toward the end of a weekend of preaching. She earnestly asked how she could really know that God loved her if she couldn’t feel it. She had heard me preach three times already and had been involved in my three-hour teaching session on faith sharing. It was now about 5 minutes before the last service was to start and she was desperate to know if what I’d been talking about all weekend long was really true.

Was it really true that God loved her enough to become human in Jesus; was it really true that God’s love for her was radical enough to involve passionate sacrifice? She was sure it was true for everyone else since they could feel it; but it couldn’t possibly be true for her because she couldn’t. She continued that it wasn’t just about feeling God’s love. She couldn’t feel anything. Things had happened in her past and she had dealt with them by repressing, pushing down and blocking out any and all feeling within her. I have no feelings, she said and as I looked into her eyes, I believed her.

How is it that we come to know God’s love? Is it only when we feel God’s Spirit “bearing witness” with our spirit? Is it only when our hearts are “strangely warmed?” If we’re not a “feeling kind of person,” does God not work in us and through us anyway?

I was struggling as the woman patiently waited for my response. Then I remembered St. Patrick’s ministry in Ireland.

Way back in the mid-400’s Patrick began traveling in that country, moving from settlement to settlement, staying with the people, loving them and working among them. Through his ministry, monastic communities sprang up. These communities were different from what we normally think of when we think of monastic communities where monks separated themselves from the rest of society for a life of solitude and prayer. These were communities of committed Christ followers who lived and worked together, sharing resources, love, and life together. There were men and women, adults and kids; some were single, some were married, some had families – some were priests but most weren’t, and they were all together in community.

One of the things that made these communities so cool was the way they treated outsiders. There was always a gatekeeper – not to keep anybody out – but to be on duty all the time so that anyone who wanted to come in could come in, no matter what time of the day or night it was. If you visited the community, the gate keeper would welcome you first and then call everyone to come greet you. The abbot or abbess (head of the community) would immediately come out to make sure you felt at home. It wouldn’t matter what people were doing, they would stop because making guests feel welcome was more important than anything else. Then they’d show you to the guest house – the best accommodations in the whole place. When it was time to eat, you’d eat at the head table with the abbot/abbess. It would be clear that you could stay as long as you wanted, but you were also free to leave at any time. You could eat with the community, work with the community, worship with the community – always welcome to share in everything about the community. If you stayed for a while they’d assign you a ‘soul friend’ to talk to – no agenda – just about whatever was on your mind. Eventually, if you continued to stay they’d talk to you about God’s love and offer you the opportunity to become more than a guest.

It was a slow process of revealing God’s love; a process that started with the concept of belonging and acceptance and moved only gradually toward commitment. It was a process that took time because it was about providing evidence of God’s love. Not evidence in the form of skilled argument or tight logic; not even the evidence of a specific feeling even though that was probably part of it for most people. It was the evidence of action – consistent actions of love, continued day in and day out, actions that made God’s love visible and tangible and real through the welcoming, caring, support, and nurture of people. Evidence through action that God loves people and values them simply because they are.

The worship leaders were ready to begin as I stood front and center in the sanctuary with this woman who wanted to know if it was true that God really did love her. Remembering those communities founded by St. Patrick, I asked her why she came to this particular church. She said that the people were kind to her and took her in when she returned to town after a long absence. In the few years since she’d been back, they had consistently helped her and her children. Over and over they had been there for her – even in really difficult times. It was as though they had made space – just for her. She hadn’t had to earn it, or demand it, or even fight for it. They had simply offered it to her, time and time again.

We live in a broken and hurting world, a world where some live by feeling but others do not. A world where some will be able to feel God’s Spirit moving in their lives right from the very start – but others may not.

My mother always told me that people may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do. Evidence through action. That’s how you know.

This post also appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer

Looking ahead

WME is involved in a variety of ministries and covets your prayers for these upcoming events:


November 9-11, 2018 ~ Roundtable for Peace on the Korean Peninsula – Atlanta, Georgia

At the 2016 World Methodist Conference in Houston, the Korean Methodist Church (KMC), the United Methodist Church (UMC), and the World Methodist Council (WMC) partnered to sponsor a Roundtable for Peace on the Korean Peninsula. World Methodist Evangelism has been invited to participate in the second gathering of the Roundtable, November 9-11, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


January 4-8, 2019 ~ International Evangelism Seminar – Porto, Portugal

Collaborating with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, WME will provide training in evangelism for laity and clergy in the Methodist Wesleyan family in Portugal. International partnerships such as this are crucial as we examine both the essential values of evangelism that we all share, and approaches to evangelism unique to the Portuguese environment of increased migration and rising secularism.


March 11-15, 2019 ~ Order of the FLAME – St. Simons Island, Georgia, USA

The Order of the FLAME (Faithful Leaders as MissionEvangelists) is a covenant community within the Methodist Wesleyan family in North America bound together by our commitment to being mission evangelists in the communities in which we serve, and by our willingness to offer ourselves as channels of God’s prevenient grace to all people. WME gathers young clergy and their spouses (if applicable) each year for a time of evangelism training, inspiration, spiritual nourishment, and fellowship.


Additional activities in 2019:

  • April 8-10, 2019 ~ Methodist World Mission Conference – Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • August 2019 ~ International Evangelism Seminar – Peru
  • September 2-13, 2019 ~ Convergence: Evangelism in a Post-Christian Context – England


RIM: The Gap Year Redefined

Young people seeking to serve in ministry need strong foundations to help them thrive. The journey toward ministry can be difficult. World Methodist Evangelism works to provide firm foundations for young adults as they begin their path of service to the Kingdom of God even when difficulties arise.

A recent incident reminded me of the importance of strong foundations. In the last few months we have had quite a bit of rain at our house. So much so, that the road near our home had to be closed because the foundation underneath the pavement washed out. These rains did not all fall in one big storm. Rather, they fell a few inches at a time, over a period of weeks. When one particularly heavy storm hit, the foundation of the road washed away leaving only a thin layer of asphalt above. Though the road appeared safe and stable on the surface, the lack of support underneath would have led to disaster for anyone who tried to travel down it. The local authorities closed the road and rebuilt it to assure safe passage once again.

As young leaders discern God’s call and begin their ministry, they can face numerous challenges as they navigate the responsibilities of school, work, and home. These challenges seldom come in one big storm, rather they seem to come in several, smaller storms over a long period of time. If young leaders—even the most vibrant and dynamic ones—are not given the best tools early on, they can find that though the road appears safe and secure, it has been undermined and will be dangerous to them and those with whom they travel.

With this in mind, WME is launching The Residency in Mission (RIM). RIM is an immersive mission and evangelism experience designed for young adults who are called to serve beyond their home country in partnership with ministries in the Methodist Wesleyan family. RIM is a 9-12 month commitment that includes guided mentorship from mission and evangelism leadership experts. RIM also provides opportunities for host ministries to strengthen the work in their local contexts, while offering Residents an environment in which to grow in their ministry service.

The creation of the RIM grew out of WME’s commitment to cultivating dynamic, young leaders who are committed to the wholeness of the Christian message, integrity in evangelistic practices, and reconciliation in relationships. The next deadline for RIM applications is 31 October. Residents in Mission must have completed high school or the equivalent. Current or future university and/or seminary students are welcome to apply. The Resident in Mission should be a citizen or resident of Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, or the United States.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”61643″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

To find out more about RIM contact Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes, Director of Education and Leadership. Request an application.


2018 at a Glance

September is a time of both winding down and gearing up. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we are enjoying the last vestiges of summer, school has begun, and many churches are launching new or renewed ministries. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, we are anticipating spring, the school year is in full stride, and churches are in the thick of their ministries. All of these experiences make it a good time to reflect on the work of World Methodist Evangelism around the globe.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]India ~ Collaborating with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, we were able to provide training for over 100 leaders who gathered in New Delhi in January. This gathering was the first time many of these leaders had ever met! Religious pluralism is one of the main aspects of Indian culture and feedback from participants emphasized how important WME’s Embrace evangelism material is in providing tools necessary to share the Gospel in that type of context. We are especially encouraged by the young adult leaders who recently took the initiative to launch a youth camp to reach young adults using the principles they learned through WME. This is indeed multiplication of the gospel in action![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”61635″ img_size=”medium”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row]Ukraine ~ Eurasia is a vast geographical area and WME has partnered with the leadership there to provide comprehensive instruction over the last three years. Beginning with training in Vladivostok, Russia in 2016 and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 2017, we continued this coordinated effort in April through an evangelism training event in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. Christians in these areas face significant religious oppression and overt evangelism is prohibited. Therefore, our emphasis on developing relationships of trust and providing tools for personal sharing was crucial to equip Christ followers to share in contexts where their freedom is extremely limited and sharing can be dangerous.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”61636″ img_size=”medium”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Costa Rica – Metanoia ~ WME has a long history of empowering young adults to follow Jesus with integrity and grace. In early June, over 100 young adults from over 20 countries experienced transformation with over 30 people responding to a call to pursue full time ministry. Many also made commitments to WME Movement groups to effect change on behalf of Jesus Christ after Metanoia concluded, and all returned to their homes renewed and revitalized.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row]Argentina ~ Collaboration with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute continued in August when we gathered for an evangelism seminar in Argentina. We were expecting 80 but over 140 attended! One of the remarkable aspects of our work is our ability to bring people together around the task of making the good news of Jesus Christ known throughout the world. That “coming together” was dramatically apparent during our seminar, when those who have exclusively emphasized social holiness (justice) came together with those who have emphasized personal holiness (individual salvation). Through our teaching on Embrace and teaching from other leaders in South America, we were able to experience a holistic understanding of the gospel and evangelism that highlights the inseparable nature of personal and social holiness, and individual and communal salvation. It was remarkable to witness a church galvanized to share the good news of Jesus Christ not only ways that reflect a commitment to God’s justice in our current world, but in ways that attend to the spiritual health of new believers.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”61638″ alignment=”center”][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row]

God has richly blessed our work thus far, but the year is not over and 2019 holds a great deal of promise!

Here are a few things we are looking forward to:

November 9-11, 2018 ~ Roundtable for Peace on the Korean Peninsula – Atlanta, Georgia

January 4-8, 2019 ~ International Evangelism Seminar – Porto, Portugal

March 11-15, 2019 ~ Order of the FLAME – St. Simons Island, Georgia[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Guest Post: Rebecca Bratten Weiss ~ Women Are the True Heroes of Star Wars

I went to see The Last Jedi with some immature trepidation, since I’m more emotionally invested in this story than I should be, not being a teenager doing crappy cosplay before I knew cosplay was a thing anymore. For me, you see, the Star Wars epic is not just a story. It’s one of “my” stories—the stories I have carried with me and that helped shape my imagination, my sense of humanity, and my understanding of our relationships to the cosmos.

It wasn’t until grad school that I found out that George Lucas had been inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which the mythographer argues for an archetypal mono-myth: One story to contain them allIt all fit together then. The story was my story not just because I had fallen for it as an impressionable kid who liked to wave sticks around and dress up in cloaks. It was mine because it was made to be inhabited out of preexisting archetypes already familiar to me. The things we fear. The things we desire. Temptation. The hero’s journey.

But the hero’s journey is typically a masculine archetype. I don’t just mean simply that heroes have generally been portrayed as male. Nor even that the journey usually involves a lot of typically masculine accoutrements such as swords and spears. I mean, masculinity is written right into the concept itself. The idea that the hero must kill his father invokes all the terror of the taboo against patricide, but it’s a taboo specific to the son and is connected with themes of paternal inheritance, progenitive power, phallic power. Identity between father and son is part of this—and, in the original trilogy, this is made overt when Luke, after cutting off Vader’s head, sees his own face. At the time his lesson is “do not become your enemy!” But later he will learn the more sinister truth: Insofar as the son is an image of the father, he truly is Vader.

But what about the women?

We’re princesses to be rescued, sorceresses to be conquered, crones to give curses. We might be beneficent maternal figures, hovering on the margins. We might be objects of desire. But rarely do we get to be agents in the hero’s tale. This is not because we can’t inhabit the archetype, but because we’re so rarely allowed to do so.

It’s interesting that through the saga, Princess Leia—herself no less force-powerful than her twin brother—escapes reduction to these tropes. She’s a princess to be rescued only as a side note in her already tragic story, and as soon as she’s rescued she takes charge. Initially an object of desire for two men, this gets creepily subverted when one of the men turns out to be her own brother. When Leia is forced into a sexualized costume and position by Jabba the Hutt, she hates it. After strangling her captor with her own chains—itself a subversion of the erotic—she gets back into sensible clothing as quickly as possible.

Fans love the flirtatious banter between Han and Leia, but realistically their relationship was always doomed. It’s no surprise that in The Force Awakens the tempestuous couple is a couple no more. Han and Leia were never really a good fit. The perception of some complementary equality in their relationship was the result of a sexist idea that any man with attitude is automatically entitled to the woman in the story, even if she’s a princess and political mastermind while he’s just a smuggler out for profit. Their romance blossoms in the empty spaces between the stars, in places of danger, liminal escapes. It could never survive reality.

Many female fans grew even more attached to the character of Leia in a year that saw women standing up against powerful men who would treat us the way Jabba treated his captive. It helped that Carrie Fisher herself was a strong advocate for women’s rights, as well as for the mentally ill, so we could have a sort of double-vision appreciation for two heroes, both the princess in space and the brave, outspoken actress in our world.

And then Fisher died. So going to see The Last Jedi meant going to see not just the next stage in the story, but also a final tribute to “space mom.”

The women who don’t give up

There’s been a lot of complaint about the centrality of the female characters in The Last Jedi from more conservative corners of fandom, as though it were too much, too in-your-face, Hollywood forcing feminism on us. And while I’ll grant that The Last Jedi was in many ways a flawed film, its centering of female characters was not one of its flaws.

If the hero’s journey is primarily a masculine archetype, maybe rebellion is where the women take the lead. In the Star Wars saga, the Rebellion is initially led by a woman, Mon Mothma—who also mentors Princess Leia, who becomes General Organa and in time leads the rebellion herself.

Leia is a survivor. During her life, she has seen her home planet obliterated by a galactic villain who would turn out to be her own father. She’s seen Obi-Wan, her “only hope,” cut down by this same villain. After her son went over to the Dark Side, her brother fell into existential despair and disappeared to live as a hermit and her husband returned to a life of smuggling. And, finally, her son repeated the family pattern of doom by killing his own father.

Perhaps, at this point in her life, a prudent general decides that women are the ones to be trusted. Or maybe Leia has simply created a community of mentorship in which she trains reliable women on every level of the Resistance.

If you want to take issue with this, you have to take issue with the reality that in this saga, the hero’s journey has been individual, tragic, and destructive. Like Greek tragedy. You have to take issue with everything you love about the Star Wars epics.

Finding our places

Watching the story unfold, seeing the faithful women who remain at their posts and who don’t give up, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels with salvation history. It’s not only in a Galaxy Far Far Away that the men flake out while the women hold firm. Think of the gospel narratives of the death of Jesus. The male disciples are driven by the great tragic passions: desire for glory, lust for revenge, fear of dishonor. But these passions drive them to betray Jesus, to deny him, and finally to flee his ignominious execution. The women stay, however. They weep, and they endure.

I don’t think either Star Wars or the gospels are trying to prove that women are somehow morally superior or even that women can’t have “hero’s journeys.” We get female villains in plenty of stories, as well as in real life, because to be a woman is to be human. The Last Jedi gives us this, too—Gwendoline Christie’s ominous Captain Phasma, who I hope will somehow be back for the next installment.

But in both stories, we see that the women have earned a place at the center. In The Last Jedi, the plot gets this right. Women aren’t running things in the Resistance because Hollywood is trying to rub our faces in feminism; rather, they’re running things because it makes logical sense given the backstory and who’s in charge.

Men who object to women taking central roles in the church might want to remember what place the women took in the gospels: at the foot of the cross, present with Christ, at the moment when God himself was pierced and blood and water flowed. For us to be present at the heart of the practice of our faith is not some modern innovation. It’s not artificial or forced, but part of the story’s truth.

We look to the great myths and religious narratives to tell us where we belong and for women, too often we’re left on the margin of the story. The Last Jedi may be simply a popular film—a mediocre one, even—but it taps into the mythic structures that form our sense of ourselves. It points me towards the same assurance I find in the gospel narratives: You have a place. This is where you belong. Right here, at the heart of things.


Reprinted from Rebecca Bratten Weiss is a writer, lecturer, and gardener.