“…show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” -2 Corinthians 3:3
One of the first large youth ministry events I organized was a youth rally meant to bring together the young people from several parishes in the Edmonton area. We titled it “Hearts of Stone and Flesh” in reference to the above scripture passage. Among other exciting things, we promised to give out free t-shirts to all who registered for this rally, and we wound up having 250 shirts printed with the following emblazoned across the front of the shirt in big, bold letters:
“ARE YOU STONE?”
This, of course, looked an awful lot like “are you stoned,” and reflects the first and last time I was ever allowed to design youth event t-shirts. In spite of these t-shirts, the rally was a great success (and is now headed into its thirteenth year) – and the theme is one that has stayed close to me in the years that have passed. Simply put, someone with a stony heart, is someone who, for a variety of reasons (usually sin or pain) has closed themselves off from loving others and being loved by them. Ezekiel explains that God intends to heal us of this condition:
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” -Ezekiel 36:26
There is perhaps no place we see this play out more quickly than in the story of Luke Skywalker and his father, Darth Vader, in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Father Mike “Catfish” Mireau, the biggest Star Wars fan I ever knew, spoke of the Jedi Knights as the coolest part of Star Wars. Why wouldn’t he? This select group of heroes (and villians) tap into a seemingly infinite power that gives them some incredible abilities. Jedi are known for their skills with a lightsaber, their ability to move objects both large and small with their minds, along with various Jedi mind tricks.
To train to be a Jedi is to master not only these abilities, but also to master oneself… involving a particular detachment from exclusive or intimate human relationships. Jedi are asked to accept a lonely life – living in the galaxy with others, but valuing no other person as particularly unique or valuable above any others. There is no room for a Jedi to love (romantically or otherwise)… and this detachment is meant to make them more objective, and therefore more able to serve and protect those under their care. But what can also result from this sort of detachment is an inability to love and be loved… basically, a stony heart.
In the six Star Wars movies released (so far), on Jedi understood this “detachment” better than any other: Darth Vader. Vader so embraced his duty to put down the rebellion that he didn’t care who he hurt – or at what level he hurt them – in the process of bringing that peace. Father Mike wrote that “Darth Vader is the man who has become his uniform; become his job, become the archetype that he represents, at the expense of his own humanness…” – you might say that, in the process of becoming a Jedi, Vader/Anakin Skywalker allowed his heart to become so hard that his mission/job/goal became more important than everything and everyone else.
This is why, for Christians, we see love as the motivation for all things (whether it be detachment or sacrifice). We detach from things because we love them and recognize that love involves a surrender of control (but a total gift of oneself). The detachment involved here requires us to care more about the needs of others than our own well-being. And Luke understood this better than any other Jedi in the series. We see this at the moment of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death (Episode 4), when he hears his friends are in danger (Episode 5), and in his rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hut (Episode 6). Luke allows his love for others to be his consistent motivation for doing good – and that love keeps his heart from becoming hardened. When Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father, he can’t shake the belief that his heart may not be completely hardened. This leads to the climactic scene in the entire story (so far):
It is Luke’s refusal to allow his heart to become hardened which decides the fate of everyone in the Star Wars universe: his own, Vader’s, and the Emperor’s, certainly; but many more as well. Luke’s willingness to show compassion to his father – even if it had meant his death – seems to awaken the heart of Anakin Skywalker from beneath the suit and the machine… replacing that heart which had been stony for so long with one that was (finally) capable of loving again.
While it doesn’t make him an ideal Jedi, the love and care shown by Luke Skywalker stand as a clear reminder to us as Christians to the way we are supposed to regard others. There are always those whom we will find it easy to love and care about (for Luke, this is Obi-Wan, Leia, Han, et al); but our love isn’t to remain limited to them in easy moments. We are called to love even when it puts us in danger, as it did for Luke on numerous occasions; and we are also called to love even those who don’t seem to deserve it.
Star Wars can teach us many lessons, but at the heart of them is this simple and basic truth. We are created and called to live and love precisely as Luke Skywalker did… even when it’s inconvenient and doesn’t make sense. This is how Christ loved us… and how those of us who love Him are supposed to witness that we are His.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:34-35