The Conversion of Han Solo

Following the release of the new Star Wars poster and trailer last week, a lot has been made of the various details contained therein.  Most often, questions about the place and role of Luke Skywalker are the ones that rise to the surface.

Han-Solo-changed-view-of-Jedi-and-ForceWhile interesting, there’s a much more intriguing motif running through the preview that has me (and others) thinking.  As you can see in the photo I’ve included here, it has to do with Han Solo.  While in the first Star Wars film he’s a brash young hero ready to reject supernatural beliefs in favor of his own abilities, it seems that his view of the universe has changed.  Now, after his experiences, he readily admits the world is more complicated.  He has embraced a new reality, if you will.

This kind of conversion motif, if you will, also marks the trailer’s conclusion, as a voice speaks to one of the characters, saying: “The Force is calling to you.  Just let it in.”  Likely a call to enter the Jedi life, this invitation was immediately reminiscent of nothing less than an old-school altar call.  Replace just a few words in that invitation and you’ve got a Billy Graham meeting.luminous-beings-we-are-not-this-crude-manner

The first Star Wars trilogy clearly borrowed from Eastern mysticism as well as Gnostic thought.  Dualism, pantheism, etc.: these were all philosophical and religious ideas that George Lucas borrowed (to great effect) in the films.  Though other themes and ideas could likely be perceived (think of Darth Vader’s last minute “salvation” here), the Force was understood deeply though the lens of Eastern thought as per Yoda.

I wonder, though, if the next film will borrow its broadly religious/philosophical ideas more heavily from a Christian or other conversion-based narrative.  Talking about conversion raises some interesting questions–perhaps most notably whether or not people really ever change.  I’m interested in seeing what the filmmakers have put together, and what opportunities for popular reflection and conversation such efforts may entail.

Making Change

I posted some thoughts yesterday about the idea of conversion and change.  As I did, I made the following comment:

“That’s why I think I admire most those individuals who have had the boldness and courage to convert to Christianity as adults and/or radically revise their understanding of Christianity after years in the faith.  Because of the baggage they carry with them and the radical revision of established life and relationships these changes require, theirs is many times the hardest decision of all.”

A friend on Facebook offered some thoughtful rejoinder to my statement, noting that this kind of stance runs the risk of elevating the “extreme” conversion over those who remain obedient their entire lives.  Implying, somehow, that those who face great difficulties in converting may somehow be better than us “normal” Christians.

The Conversion of Saint Paul

I realized that I was running a risk by writing what I did.  While I by no means feel that an adult conversion or drastic life change makes anyone a super-believer, I must reiterate that I really do admire their courage.  Consider the contrast: a eleven-year old homeschooled student deciding to accept what his Christian parents have shared with him about God’s love OR a 40-year old Muslim woman who decides that the claims of Christ mean that she must reject her culture, upbringing, religious traditions and potentially face the wrath of her family, government, and society.  For her, conversion may lead to death.

Theologically, both conversions are legitimate, honest, and infused with God’s grace…but the decisions made by the latter convert are much more fraught with peril.  Her decisions are harder to make because of what they will cost her.  The courage she has to choose anyway–despite the price–is why I admire her so much.  It is just a reality, I think.

I suppose I’ve been considering such matters because of class I’m teaching this month entitled “Modern World Christianity.”  Global encounters of different faiths and the growth of Christianity are all a part of the course.  One of the books we are reading is entitled: Following Jesus in the Hindu Context: The Intriguing Implications of N.V. Tilak’s Life and Thought.  As an upper caste (Brahmin) Hindu believer in India in the late 1800s, Tilak had no necessary–or easy–reasons to choose to follow the Christian faith.  As a matter of fact, his decision to follow Christ created no small amount of problems for his marriage and place in society.

Tilak was not a perfect man, and the full effects of his conversion had to work themselves over a number of years.  Yet as they did he was able to speak powerfully to his countrymen in their own cultural terms about his newfound faith in the love of God in Christ.

Far from implying that Tilak is a super-Christian, ought we not ask ourselves if his sacrifices are perhaps not the more “normal” way?  If so, our own lack of spiritual radicality (however you might like to quantify that) in the here and now might mark us as failing to meet even baseline for a Lord who calls us to “take up our cross” and follow Him.  Food for thought, at least.

People Don’t Change; They Just Get Mad Men

AMC’s brilliant period drama Mad Men returned to television last night, reuniting fans with the inner workings of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce after a 17-month hiatus.  I won’t spend time summarizing the plot here, but suffice it to say that the 1960s were in full swing.

The complicated Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the main character of the series, and he continues to intrigue.  For the past four years, viewers have observed him in all his stoic and secretive ways.  Branded very early on as a liar and serial adulterer, he is the anti-hero if ever there was one.  Surprising, then, that good ol’ Don made it through two hours of screen time last night without cheating on his new wife once.

Has Don changed?  That’s the question of the day.  Unfortunately, the answer is “probably not.”  In the run-up to the Season 5 premiere, Slate.com had an interview with the show’s creator, who said the following:

“What I like is that on our show the characters are really trying to change. I look at Don and I say he really wants to change. And events have happened. I’ve committed to change in a way that TV shows usually don’t…But one of the premises of my show is that people don’t change. Don Draper is certainly a creature of external change. He’s an imposter.”

While this certainly doesn’t bode well for Don, it also opens up the bigger philosophical question of how change really works on a personal, psychological, or spiritual level.  Do people really change?

On the one hand, I believe they do.  The whole Christian message is predicated on the fact that God can bring about some amazing changes in the live of individuals.  Why else would Jesus use the evocative metaphor of being “born again” if not to imply that entrance into the Kingdom of God couldn’t be a more drastic shift?  The Scripture–and history–is replete with stories of great change, and it is something I believe.

Yet at the same time we know that change is not easy.  I know it isn’t for me.  For some it really does seem impossible…and not just at the moment of religious conversion.  In becoming Christians, for instance, some do change their belief systems but seem incapable of moving beyond inherited worldviews or family patterns or patterns of thought.  Conversion happens on a formal level, but the effects of that change do not always work their way into the soul.  Sometimes this inability to change has minor repercussions; other times it runs the risks of upending the whole enterprise.

Further, just as the Scripture relates the stories of those who do change and answer the call, so too we meet others who do not: innumerable Pharisees, a rich young ruler, and–indeed–most of humanity that would rather end Christ’s life than consider his radical life and message.  Harder than going through the eye of needle indeed.

That’s why I think I admire most those individuals who have had the boldness and courage to convert as adults and/or radically revise their understanding of Christianity after years in the faith.  Because of the baggage they carry with them and the radical revision of established life and relationships these changes require, theirs is many times the hardest decision of all.

What do you think?  Is change really that hard?  Is it impossible?  How much to do most people really change?  How much do we?