Dick Staub is a veteran radio interviewer, a blogger, and the director of the Center for Faith and Culture, which takes a Bible-based look at highly influential popular culture products such as the Star Wars saga. Out of that work comes his new book, Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters (Jossey-Bass, 2005).
WORLD: Some of our readers are probably thinking, "Whoa-he's mixing up biblical and Buddhist-based concepts."
STAUB: There is no question that Lucas, under the influence of Joseph Campbell, has ended up with a decidedly Eastern theology and hodge-podge of ideologies and mythologies. As one reviewer said, "Lucas has taken all the religions, put them in a blender and hit the button." I was not attempting to do a theology of Star Wars. My book was born after a conversation with a young Microsoft guy, who after seeing one of the prequels commented that he wanted to go deeper in his faith, but wouldn't ask most boomers for advice. His reason: Members of my generation were idealists in the '60s but sold out and never did the radical Christian deal. I said, "Oh, so you want to be a Jedi Christian and my generation didn't produce a Yoda!" My book picks up on Luke Skywalker's development from a directionless young man to a heroic Jedi knight, who discovered his life purpose only after finding his mentors, Obi-wan and Yoda. This is a rich metaphor for what can happen when a young follower of Jesus finds a worthy mentor.
WORLD: Say we accept your point about our baby boomer generation often failing to mentor, perhaps in a Yoda-like way, would-be Skywalkers. What should churches do to connect the middle-aged and the young?
STAUB: First we need to affirm the intergenerational nature of the church. The church growth movement's emphasis on "homogenous units" has resulted in the splintering of churches into "demographic" segmentations. This may be a worthy "marketing" strategy for evangelism, but it is bad ecclesiology. "In Christ there is no Jew or Greek"-and, I would add, no young or old! The whole flavor of the New Testament is of a rich mutuality of young and old. Second, we need to take seriously the organic, relational nature of mentoring and discipleship-this is not a new program, it is a natural outgrowth of younger people being exposed to adults whose authenticity attracts their interest.
WORLD: With so many twentysomethings having grown up with good movies, poor church teaching, and a vague sense of spirituality, how do Christians show the importance of worshipping a personal God rather than a Force?
STAUB: Today's Christian moviegoer is often culturally literate and biblically illiterate. That means he is unable to do the "dual listening" required to understand faith and culture and interpret each to the other. Early on in my book I draw a clear distinction between "the Force" and a personal God. In Jedi mythology the highest good is achieved by balancing light and dark, whereas Jedi Christians believe the dark side is not just the opposite of light, but is an unequal opponent of God; furthermore the highest good is achieved when darkness is defeated. Ironically one of the easiest ways to illustrate this is to reference another movie, The Lord of the Rings, where there is a ring over the other rings and then there is a LORD of the Rings. Tolkien's title reveals his Christian belief that above all the rings and all manner of powerful wizardry, there is a Lord of the Rings who rules over all, and who will bring history to a just and good conclusion. Applied to Star Wars, this means the Jedi Christian seeks, knows, and serves the LORD of the Force, not the force!
WORLD: Many people seem to be embarked on glib "spiritual journeys." Do you see evidence of radical transformations occurring, or are we left with the kind of glib talk that Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have equated with "cheap grace"?
STAUB: The contemporary "seeker" movement is an expression of legitimate beefs against the failure of organized religion, but it has ended up glamorizing seeking over finding. Jesus told a lot of stories about seeking, but the people always found something! The widow found the coin, the shepherd found the sheep. The best path is still a spiritual journey within organized religion, but that religion must represent a true and deep way to the spiritual. The old word for a person on a spiritual journey within our Christian tradition is pilgrim, and I'd rather be a pilgrim on a journey going somewhere than on a vague nebulous search. One reviewer pointed out to me that over 90 percent of the exemplary Christians I quote in this book are pre-20th century, and I think that says something about the shallow waters in which contemporary people of faith often swim.
WORLD: How should young Christians who want to practice meditation, as you recommend, do it biblically?
STAUB: As Yoda is dying, Luke is worried that his training is not complete and Yoda comforts him saying, "Already know that which you need." In this chaotic, loud, fast-paced age I think young people know what their souls need. To restore his soul, shepherd and Psalmist David spent hours alone, beside still waters and in green pastures, meditating on the Scriptures, remembering, praying, communing with God. Today, young people often think they must turn to Eastern traditions to experience the contemplative life. Trappist monk Thomas Merton discovered this is not so. Having explored the contemplative wisdom of non-Christian mystics, shortly before his death he wrote a letter from Buddhist Thailand and reported that in going to Asia he learned that everything he was seeking had been present in his own Christian tradition all along. In the book I offer some specifics, but I also report what the great mystic A.W. Tozer said to my dad who had asked him the secret to knowing God: "Young man, read the Bible and pray every day and you'll grow like a weed!"
WORLD: You write, "Aspiring Jedi Christian, attend to the least of these; relieve the poor, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, for in doing so we serve Christ." To practice effective compassion that truly serves the needy instead of just making givers feel righteous, what kinds of activities along these lines do you recommend?
STAUB: Compassion starts with a commitment to serve God, not money; to lay up treasures in God's kingdom, not on earth; and to be a steward of our time and resources. Donating money helps, but donating time and talent in ongoing relationships as opposed to random acts of kindness is what makes a lasting difference.
An inventory of our resources is a first step toward serving other people. Depending on our skills, we can tutor kids in after-school programs, help single moms learn basic skills like opening a bank account and balancing it each month, or offer ex-cons a chance to apply for jobs in our family-owned company. Real compassion involves helping people take responsibility for the relationship between the way they think and their actions. Discerning the true need and receptivity to change in "the least of these" can only be done on a case-by-case basis, but in general, underdevelopment is a state of mind and what giver and recipient alike need is the transformed mind that comes through spiritual renewal.