I do my best to raise my children in the Christian faith. As a good Anglican, I dutifully instructed my kids about Advent and the coming of the child who would be king. I even managed to sneak in a discussion of the Second Advent when Jesus shall come again to swallow up death forever.
But if I want my son’s eyes to glimmer with expectation, I need only mention Star Wars. He has as much faith as a seven-year-old can muster, but he longs to see Hans Solo. Martin Luther King Jr. is wonderful, but sometimes little boys want to fly.
We were in the midst of yet another discussion of Star Wars when I asked him which character he liked best. I assumed he would choose Luke Skywalker. Although I named him after the gospel writer, the bearer of the light saber has often gained the upper hand. He exclaimed that he wanted to be Finn because, “he looks like me.” This declaration led to a victory dance that climaxed with a “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
Then, once again, my son thrust me back in time to my childhood. I went through my catalog of heroes searching for another ‘Finn.’ There was Storm from the X-men, but she was rarely the lead. The X-men belonged to Wolverine and Cyclops. Every now and then our sports heroes were transformed into cartoons. I recall Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan showing up to save the day, but the real world saving belonged to the professionals. None of them led me to engage in a celebratory dance of identification.
These days the question of race and my kids’ place in the world is a daily conversation. I do not have to raise it; they bring the questions home. One day I was asked about whether there are more brown people in the world than white (They thought yes, I contended no). Another I was asked about God’s skin color. Once my daughter asked me why the children don’t rush over as quickly to pick her up when she falls down. She wondered whether or not it was because of her skin. On yet another, my son asked if only brown people were slaves. A thousand experiences and images, real and imagined, are thrust upon them. I am thankful that one of those images is a brown person as a hero light saber in hand with all the forces of the dark side quivering in fear.
The Christian artist often struggles to find his or her place in literature and cinema. Too often our stories are reduced to moralism or thinly veiled tools for evangelism. Maybe the vocation of the artist of theological conviction is to create stories for all of God’s children (boys and girls, Blacks, Whites, Asians, and Hispanics) in which they could see themselves as participants in events of great import. Maybe one function of the artist could be to inculcate in the still forming minds of youth or the hardened minds of adults an inarticulate appreciation of the role that all God’s people play in the great story of our redemption.