Category Archives: star trek

Life in the Past, Present, and Future: A Reflection on Life and Faith in the Age of Trump

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Friends at Padre Steve’s World,

I tend to become somewhat reflective as the New Year approaches. I am reminded of Peter Benchley, who wrote, “The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Likewise, St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

Augustine’s question is interesting, but I think that his question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities. We have seen that over the past two years with the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump and how the illusion of a mythical past has driven many ordinary people to support a man who despises them, all because he appeals to certain parts of a shared mythology about the past which sadly is often too racist to imagine. As the conservative writer and historian Max Boot noted today:

“The larger problem of racism in our society was made evident in Donald Trump’s election, despite — or because of — his willingness to dog-whistle toward white nationalists with his pervasive bashing of Mexicans, Muslims, and other minorities. Trump even tried to delegitimize the first African-American president by claiming he wasn’t born in this country, and now he goes after African-American football players who kneel during the playing of the anthem to protest police brutality. (Far from being concerned about police misconduct, which disproportionately targets people of color, Trump actively encourages it.)”

But politics aside, many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He was quite wise, he said to study the past did not say to live in it.

That is something that I have been learning for close to 25 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, using a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter of Time helped me to begin to recognize just how much the past impinged on my own life. In that episode a shadowy visitor claiming to be from the future refuses to help the Captain and crew of the Enterprise, claiming that if he were to help that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally Captain Picard is forced to make a decision and confronts the visitor, who turns out to be, not a historian from the future but a con-artist and thief from the past who was using time travel with a stolen space ship to collect technology to enrich himself. Picard refused the mans help and told him:

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

My residency supervisor suggested to me that my future did not have to be my past, and in doing so opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. I admit that I am. That being said we should indeed learn from from our past but we cannot remain in the past or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Since I am a Christian, at least by profession, my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, star trek

They are Not Just Names: Remembering the Fallen

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in October of 2001 as the United States invaded Afghanistan following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon which killed nearly 3,000 people I began to read the casualty reports. The first name that I knew was Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner, who was killed at the Pentagon on September 11th 2001. She had been a training company commander at the Academy of Health Sciences when I served there as the Brigade Adjutant.

As the war spread following the Bush administration’s misbegotten invasion of Iraq those casualty lists got longer and longer, and I read them because I thought it was the least that I could do to attempt to enshrine their memory as something more than a number. Each year around Memorial Day the various publications of the Military Times, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force Times would publish a center section with the names, pictures and dates of death of these men and women. Some were just eighteen years old, and a few in their fifties, showing the face of an all-volunteer force that few see. Most of the time I didn’t know the individuals, but sometimes I did, and when I did, the war came home.

The other night Judy and I were watching the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode The Siege of AR-558. At the beginning of the episode Captain Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks is looking at the latest casualty list when his executive officer, Colonel Kira walks in on him. He makes a comment that hit home with me, in fact it summed up how I came to see those lists:

“I think that’s what I’m going to remember most about this war – looking through casualty reports. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I do – stare at the names of the dead. When the war started, I read every name. I felt it was the least I could do to honor their sacrifices… But now, the names have begun to blur together.”

Of course I did two combat tours, the second of them in Iraq where I served with our advisers in Al Anbar Province. A couple of times while back in the large base camp at T’Qaddum I was called to the Trauma Platoon, a Navy medical unit designed to try to save the lives of the wounded and evacuate them to higher levels of care in Iraq, Germany, or the United States. Despite all of the protective gear worn by soldiers, the injuries caused by IEDs, bombs, anti-tank rockets, explosions, and bullets are ghastly. I still can vividly remember the faces and the wounds of the young men that I attended to as the surgeons, nurses and corpsmen valiantly tried to save their lives.

Months later I was home but the war was still real. The casualty reports from Iraq and Afghanistan kept coming, and more people I knew were on them. Of course there were others who died later, sometimes by their own hand because of the suffering that they had been through in body, mind, and spirit. I saw many of them in the naval hospitals and medical centers where I served, to see the faces scarred by bombs, bullets, and burns, to see the men and women with artificial limbs struggling down hallways, and to see the pain in their eyes is something that I will never forget.

The last couple of years in my teaching assignment I have been somewhat shielded from revisiting those times. Likewise the number of casualties in the more recent reports has slowed to a trickle, just a few a month most of the time. But I don’t forget, I still check the reports on a daily basis.

Sadly, despite the yellow ribbons bumper stickers that boldly say “I Support the Troops,” for most Americans these wars never were that important, and without the constant reminder of the dead and wounded coming home, they have been forgotten. However, they are still very real, some 6840 American military personnel have died in these wars, and close to 50,000 wounded. Those numbers do not count the contractors, diplomats, or aid-workers killed and wounded, nor those diagnosed with combat related PTSD. Likewise it does it count the losses of our coalition or NATO allies, or those of the Iraqis or Afghanis.

At the end of the Siege of AR-558 Kira gives Sisko the latest casualty list. Their conversation is something that I think that we should remember when we think of those lost in these wars, and the ones who certainly will die in the war against the Islamic State.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI2WTfB0mz4

Colonel Kira: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.

Captain Sisko: How many this time?

Colonel Kira: Including the troops lost at AR-558 – 1730.

Captain Sisko: [whispering] 1730…

Colonel Kira: It’s a lot of names.

Captain Sisko: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under afghanistan, History, iraq, shipmates and veterans, star trek, Tour in Iraq, War on Terrorism

The Present Never Looks as Good…

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Friends at Padre Steve’s World

I tend to become somewhat reflective as the New Year approaches. I am reminded of Peter Benchley, who wrote, “The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Likewise, St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

Augustine’s question is interesting, but I think that his question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities.

Many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He was quite wise, he said to study the past did not say to live in it.

That is something that I have been learning for close to 20 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, using a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter of Time. In the episode a shadowy visitor claiming to be from the future refuses to help claiming that if he were to help that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally Picard is forced to make a decision and confronts the visitor, who turns out to be a thief from the past using time travel to collect technology to enrich himself. Picard responds:

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

It was in telling me that my future did not have to be my past that opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. We should indeed learn from it, but we cannot remain in it or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Since I am a Christian, at least by profession, my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Justice & Faith

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…”

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed. Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders. Thus I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others.

I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes. Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote: “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

No one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to be are either hopelessly deluded, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. When such people gain power they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Faith & Terror

Winn_and_Neela

Faith & Terror

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As couple of days ago I wrote about my own recollections of believing political propaganda. That post was important for me to write, because like I did, many well meaning and idealistic people believe the lies and follow the propaganda of various politicians, pundits and preachers. They often do so without thinking and without examining their claims in light of the knowledge that they already have.

I have been watching my DVDs of Star Trek Deep Space Nine over the past week. I just finished the final episode of the first season entitled In the Hands of the Prophets. The episode, which aired in June of 1993, was about a religious conflict between rival claimants to the head of the Bajoran religious world, which enveloped the Deep Space Nine Space Station.

In the episode, the claimant of the fundamentalist sect, Kai Winn, played by the great actress Louise Fletcher uses her religious authority to subvert the teaching of science on the space station, and then uses violence and terrorism to attempt to rally Bajorans against the Federation. The story is amazing because it is so real. It involves the clash of cultures, fundamentalism versus modernism, and terrorism. The fact that the episode aired over twenty years ago does not make it any less pertinent today.

I think that the most chilling moment is a conversation between Vedek Winn and a young Bajoran officer and follower of her sect on the station. The officer has already killed a Federation officer, and Winn tells her that she needs to commit another murder, this time of the rival, but progressive Bajoran religious leader, Vedek Bereil, even though her means of escape has been lost.

The young officer says, “I have no way to escape.” And Winn tells her, “Then we must accept that as the will of the Prophets.” 
The young officer replies, “But if I go through with this now, I will be caught and executed,” and then Winn says, “The sacrifices the Prophets call on us to make are great sometimes, my dear, but the rewards they give will last through eternity.”

When I read or hear about the demands of some stridently militant religious leaders today, I am reminded of that conversation. The comments of Winn are so banal and so lacking in empathy I cannot get them out of my head. They remind me of words that I heard from various pastors and bishops who served over me when I was younger, men who had no empathy, but only demanded that those under them fulfill their “duty.” The fact is that many religious leaders are the ultimate exploiters of idealistic young people, young men and women who want their lives to count for something and who think that their religious leaders actually speak for God.

Thankfully, I broke away from that, but at the same time the words and actions of those men who I served under for years still haunt me. When I was younger I would have done anything to win their approval, but when I no longer suited their purposes, they turned on me, but thankfully what I did for them before they turned on me was as not bad as what so many others are commanded to do by their religious leaders. Sadly, that is what so many people who follow sociopathic religious leaders never learn until it is too late.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, Political Commentary, Religion, star trek

Your Fear Will Destroy You

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert as Belgium’s government continued its lockdown of Brussels. As this went on the French continued their search for DAESH terrorists who took part in the Paris attacks. Over a week ago the U.S. Government issued an order for military and other government agents to not travel to Paris.

As all of this is going on I am thinking about an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine entitled, Paradise Lost that deals with suspected Dominion shape shifters infiltrating Earth that conducted a terror attack in Antwerp. The fact that the episode premiered in 1996 only underscores the fact that human nature is very consistent. We cannot forget the many times in history where peoples and nations have sacrificed essential liberty for the illusion of security.

In the episode Starfleet command declares martial law on Earth, and everyone is a potential terror suspect. Troops were deployed; citizens were subject to random blood tests to determine if they were really human, and false flag operations were conducted to instill even more fear, and for a time the plan worked, people submitted to the measures because of fear.

However, Captain Sisko, of Deep Space Nine who was called back to Earth to head security operations, discovers the plot. In a talk with the commander of Starfleet Captain Sisko asks why he has been brought back to Earth, the conversation is interesting in light of recent events:

SISKO: Then why did you bring me here?

LEYTON: Because I needed someone who knew how to fight shape-shifters, and that’s you. And I suppose on some level I hoped that when you saw what we were accomplishing, you’d join us. You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

SISKO: My duty is to protect the Federation. 


LEYTON: That’s what we’re trying to do. 


SISKO: What you’re trying to do is to seize control of Earth and place it under military rule.

LEYTON: If that’s what it takes to stop the Dominion. 


SISKO: So you’re willing to destroy paradise in order to save it.

In light of the threat posed by DAESH, with real, suspected and imagined terrorist attacks in Europe, in the Middle East, and potentially in the United States, the conversation is quite relevant.

As the episode unfolds a shape shifter impersonating Chief O’Brien confronts Captain Sisko:

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?

Captain Sisko: I’m not going to play any guessing games with you.

Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it – just four of us. And look at the havoc we’ve wrought.

Captain Sisko: How do I know you’re telling me the truth? 


Changeling: Four is more than enough. We’re smarter than solids. We’re better than you. And most importantly, we do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.

The fact is that the numbers of DAESH terrorists are extremely small, and yes they are capable of doing a lot of damage. But at the same time what are we willing to sacrifice to ensure our security? It seems that we are becoming ever more willing to sacrifice liberty in the name of security and to cast suspicion, and on an entire religion, including loyal citizens due to the actions of some. If that happens, DAESH wins, no matter how secure we think we are; but do not get me wrong, security is important, but sacrificing liberty in the name of security has seldom been effective, and once surrendered, liberty seldom returns.

I think the very last line of the spoken by the changeling is the most important. In the end, it is our fear that will destroy us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Belief in a Devil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Hatred is an amazing emotion. I noticed a lot of it comments of a number of people on my Facebook page following the DAESH attack on Paris and their threats against the United States. The bulk of it consisted of meme and statements which demonize Moslems, immigrants, and American liberals. Right now, Moslems, Arabs, immigrants, liberals and homosexuals are the devil to many people. Facebook and other social media platforms allows us to see into the hearts of people that we never would have thought capable of such beliefs. That my friends is the scary part.

Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” History shows us how demagogues can, and do find a convenient devil and then stir the seeds of fear in the hearts of their followers. The tipping point comes when the people that the demagogues demonize become less than human in the eyes of the population.

Sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and we are just one crisis from pogroms, ethnic and religious cleansing, concentration camps and genocide. Just one attack on the United States by DAESH and the politicians, pundits and preachers, especially of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, will decide that their “devils” must be exterminated.

When they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.

In a Star Trek the Next Generation episode, one called The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. An Enterprise crewman has his career destroyed because his paternal grandfather was Romulan. As the prosecutor damns him for that and accuses him of being part of a plot that never existed, Picard makes the comment, “Have we become so… fearful, have we become so cowardly… that we must extinguish a man? Because he carries the blood of a current enemy?”

During the investigation, Picard is approached by his security officer Lt. Worf, who wholeheartedly supported the investigation. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.” 

Picard pauses and then notes:

“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

As the investigation continued, Worf too was accused of being a traitor, because of his Klingon ancestry. When the prosecutor was send home in disgrace, Worf returns to Captain Picard. The conversation is enlightening.

“Am I bothering you, Captain?”
“No, please Mr. Worf, come in.”
“It is over. Admiral Henry has called an end to any more hearings on this matter.”
“That’s good.”
“Admiral Satie has left the Enterprise.”
“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. And then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”
“I believed her. I-I HELPED her! I did not see what she was.”
“Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.”
“I think, after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.”
“Maybe. But she or someone like her will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish–spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay.”

As I look at the memes and and statements that I see on social media. As I listen to politicians and media pundits sow more suspicion, and incite fear in the people, and as I hear supposedly Christian preachers, demonize people for nothing more than their religious and ethic heritage, I wonder what we have become. To claim Picard’s words for myself I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under national security, Political Commentary, star trek