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CULTURE DIGEST: ‘Star Wars’ is basis for Bible study; Global Day of Prayer unites nations; family cited as most important to most Americans polled

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Star Wars” can serve as a vehicle for sharing the Gospel with younger Americans in a language they comprehend, a Cincinnati minister says, citing parallels between the cinematic classic’s good vs. evil scenes and the obstacles Christians face in pursuing godly lives.

Jeffrey Perkins, 34, of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, leads “The Gospel According to Star Wars,” speaking the movie language of a younger generation to explain biblical concepts like truth, beauty and goodness, according to a feature in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The 12-week study focuses on the original trilogy — Episodes IV, V and VI — and Perkins said the entire story is essentially the redemption of Darth Vader.

John Brolley, director of a religious studies program at the University of Cincinnati, told The Enquirer the Bible study represents an evangelism tool similar to what the Apostle Paul used in his day. As Paul visited communities in the ancient world, Brolley noted, he used concepts and images from the dominant culture to teach the Gospel.

“Popular culture is something that many religions, Christianity in particular, either sets itself up against or tries to incorporate,” Brolley said. “Churches try to make the principles of religion that may be too abstract or too dull to the average person more accessible.”

Phil Boatwright, a movie reviewer who often writes for Baptist Press, recommends people see the final installment of the Star Wars series, “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” when it opens May 19, but he also warns of director George Lucas’ dabblings in religions far from Christianity.

“I have been told that George Lucas is a student of Eastern religions and that he includes many Zen Buddhist and Taoist ideas in his Star Wars movies, especially with his presentation of the force as an example of light and dark dualism,” Boatwright said. “Still, I don’t think Star Wars is going to lead people into Eastern religions. I maintain that these movies are simply parables.”

GLOBAL DAY OF PRAYER UNITES NATIONS — More than 12,000 people gathered in Dallas’ Reunion Arena May 15 as part of the Global Day of Prayer, aimed at uniting believers on four continents across racial, social and denominational lines.

Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in nearby Plano joined T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, in leading the North American portion of the worldwide event. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas were among additional leaders who gathered to lead in prayer.

“So many of our churches look like our communities,” divided along racial and social lines, Graham said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “But tonight we look a whole lot like heaven in this place.”

The Global Day of Prayer began in Africa five years ago and spread across the globe. This year marked the first U.S.-based participation in the event, as some 150 sites in 37 states and one overseas military post took part. More than 70 gatherings similar to the Dallas event were held throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

Graham told The Dallas Morning News he hoped the event would renew an effort to bring people together for worship despite their differences.

“We’re not anywhere near where we need to be,” he said.

During the three-hour multicultural service, people sang songs of devotion, read Scripture and prayed together in small groups, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Following the prayer gathering, Christians across the world are expected to express Christ’s love through compassion projects in their respective cities, according to event organizers. In Dallas, the “90 Days of Blessing” extending until Aug. 15 includes building homes with Habitat for Humanity, cleaning up a neighborhood, distributing school supplies, painting nonprofit clinics, beautifying schools and reaching out to prisoners.

FAMILY TOPS PRIORITY LIST FOR MANY AMERICANS — The most recent Barna Research Poll asked Americans what they perceive their purpose in life to be, in light of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” selling more than 22 million copies. Nearly half of the respondents said their top priority in life is having a satisfying family life.

Besides the 44 percent who cited family, 18 percent in the random survey listed understanding and carrying out the principles of their faith as their chief purpose in life, and 10 percent said having good friends is most important.

Other priorities not named by at least one out of every 10 adults but still given as top answers by some included earning a comfortable living, consistently having significant influence on other people’s lives, achieving success and enjoying leisure experiences, according to a May 17 Barna news release.

Evangelicals were the only faith segment to place personal consistency with their faith principles as their highest priority, hence just 19 percent of evangelicals rated family highest. Catholic adults were nine times more likely to name family life as they were to identify spiritual consistency as their top priority, the study found. The latter ranked a distant fifth.

“It’s wonderful that family and faith were the top ranked priorities listed by Americans,” George Barna said. “The survey results raise some questions, however, about the faith commitment of many church-going and born again adults. One must wonder if the struggles evident in so many marriages and parent-child relationships are connected to the fact that people are generally more interested in pursuing a fulfilling family life than in understanding the principles for meaningful living that may help shape such a family experience.”

For more information about the study, visit www.barna.org.

CELL PHONES MAY ALTER POLLING PRACTICES — Now that the number of households using only a cell phone has doubled in less than two years, public opinion poll researchers are rethinking their polling methods. Typical surveying techniques, which have long been based heavily on telephone interviews of people with traditional landline phones, could soon be outdated.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Stephen Blumberg, a senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned something must be done in the near future.

“The polling community needs to come up with a strategy sooner rather than later,” he said, according to the Associated Press May 15.

Blumberg led a study of 37,476 face-to-face interviews with adults during the second half of 2004 to determine that just over 6 percent of households currently lack a traditional landline phone but do have at least one wireless phone. And about 5.5 percent of adults have only a cell phone.

Public opinion poll administrators cite four main obstacles in dealing with those Americans who possess only wireless phones: legal restrictions on use of automated dialing equipment, difficulty contacting a mobile group of people, cell phone owners’ concerns about using up costly minutes in their calling plans and how to statistically blend cell phone results into traditional polls, the AP reported.

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  • Erin Curry