Tag Archives: star trek voyager

Heresies and Drumheads: Evangelicals and Trump through the Lens of Star Trek

galaxy_universe-normal

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”  

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where a scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

themiddle

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Picard

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as 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.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim.

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As 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.” Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

vasily-surikov-christ-healing-the-man-born-blind

“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.”

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion.

They were and many of their theological and ecclesiastical descendants still are true believers. That has been demonstrated over and over again in regards to biblically and theologically challenged yet politically fanatical American Evangelical Christians who have willingly surrendered any pretense of following Christ to paying obeisance to President Trump; a would be dictator who plays to their perpetual sense of victimhood in order to cement his power over them and to use them as his willing foot soldiers.

What Trump has done has turned the Gospel on its head, the Christian faith has become a political bludgeon to support laws and policies that are in diametric opposition to the message of Jesus. Sadly, a large majority of Evangelicals and their leaders have become Trump’s willing accomplices.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a retired admiral who turned an investigation involving a Klingon exchange scientist into a witch hunt aboard the Enterprise. That episode is well worth watching especially because it anticipates what is going on in the United States today, where a President, his party, and a reactionary fear filled cabal of religious followers has declared war on all who oppose them.

At the end of the episode Lieutenant  Worf comes to Captain Picard’s office. He is apologetic about having believed and cooperated with the Admiral. The dialogue is striking and should be heeded, especially by Evangelical Christians and others who have with open eyes sacrificed their faith even as they tear up the Constitution thinking that they are defending it.

WORF: Am I bothering you, Captain?
PICARD: No. Please, Mister Worf. Come in.
WORF: It is over. Admiral Henry has called an end to any more hearings on this matter.
PICARD: That’s good.
WORF: Admiral Satie has left the Enterprise.
PICARD: We think we’ve come so far. The torture of heretics, the burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, it suddenly threatens to start all over again.
WORF: I believed her. I helped her. I did not see what she was.
PICARD: Mister Worf, villains who wear twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.
WORF: I think after yesterday, people will not be as ready to trust her.
PICARD: 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, Mister Worf, that is the price we have to continually pay.

And that is true and despite the certitude of the true believers that we do live in the uncomfortable middle.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion, star trek

Stuck in the Middle: A Lenten Meditation

galaxy_universe-normal1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them” 

I have had a number of instances recently where I have brushed off some rather rude comments of Fundamentalist Christians on both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am always amazed with the certitude of how they judge those with whom they disagree. Such certitude mystifies me because it is usually based on some form of circular logic about the Bible, an example being “the Bible is true because God said it is, and God said it in the Bible, thus it is true. It is a fallacious argument, but one that is very commonly held in Fundamentalist Christian circles but also in other religions and sometimes even in Atheism. What is funny, for the most intensely fundamentalist people is the amount they have to choose to disbelieve in order to believe in what they say. Eric Hoffer noted: “It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.”

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where this topic is explored. A scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as 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.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim. As Hoffer wrote: “We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.”

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As 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.” Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.”

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion. They were and are true believers.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a special investigator who turned an investigation into a witch hunt on the Enterprise. Picard told Worf, who had initially been taken in by the investigator:

“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, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.”

And that is true.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Fallacy of Reductionist Fundamentalism: You Cannot be Competent in God

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Today is a day for something a bit more theological in nature. A couple of days ago I wrote about the dangers of reductionist fundamentalism. One of the issues that fundamentalists of all stripes wrestle with is the issue of certitude. For them life has to be bounded by certainty. For them, whether in the matter of origins, or how life came about, in the matter of faith and morals, how life is lived in the present; or how the world ends, life must be certain. In fact, fundamentalism in all its forms inculcates believers that there is only one way of thinking, one way of knowing, one way of understanding things that are unknowable. 

Because of this need for certitude, Christians, Moslems, Jews and others of various persuasions have attempted to define the beginning and the end, as well as to dictate what is acceptable to believe, or acceptable behavior. However, this actually says more about their insecurity than reflects the strength of their beliefs. I can speak to this need for certitude from a Christian point of view, and from my study of other faiths make what I think is informed commentary.

But for people who supposedly believe in God, the reality is that in presuming certitude in what we think that we know  is actually a denial of faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “a God who would let us prove his existence is an idol.” Bonhoeffer was right, not only do those that presume to know exactly how creation came about, how the universe will end or say with unrequited certitude what constitutes proper belief or behavior in the eyes of God make an idol of their God, they also, whether they intend to or not, put themselves in the place of God.

According to the writer of the Book of Hebrews, “faith is the essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” That writer, who I think is Priscilla (see Acts Priscilla and Aquila) understood that faith was not the same as empirical knowledge, otherwise it would not be faith. To understand faith in a modern sense it means that faith is something that we admittedly cannot prove. That is why it is faith.

I am admittedly a skeptic. I am. Christian, I do believe, but I doubt as much as I believe. In fact for nearly two years I lived as an agnostic, a priest praying that God still existed, thus is believe but even now doubt. That being said I have seen things that cannot be explained by science or anything rational, and there are physicians that I have worked with that can attest to those things. That being said I think there are a lot of events claimed by some as “miraculous” that are explainable and are not miraculous at all.

The fact is, whether it it about creation and the questions of origins, an exact definition by which to judge absolute truth for living or belief, or the manner of how creation will end; every single statement of such absolutes is contradicted by the fact that we live as Bonhoeffer wrote, and I like to call “the uncomfortable middle. Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Creation, Fall and Temptation that:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them.”  

The reality for Christians is that we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history, traditions as well as limitations in terms of scientific knowledge. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, though some Christian Fundamentalist make that claim. Because of that, the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. The Bible, of we actually believe it, is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring. As Hans Kung so rightly wrote:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

Does that mean that we fully comprehend the nature of Christ, or the doctrinal formulation of the Hypostatic Union which defines Christ as being fully human and fully God? Or does it mean that we fully comprehend or understand the doctrine of the Trinity encapsulated in either the Nicene or Athanasian Creed? Certainly not, none of those doctrines are provable by science, or for that manner even history, for there were and are people who consider themselves Christians who do not believe and who reject those doctrinal formulations. Thus for Christians to attempt to argue such matters as fact to those who do not believe is not productive at all. We must understand that faith in the living Christ is not in a doctrine but  a promise that we believe, by faith, is given given by God through Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than living with difficult questions or honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction “true believers” become even more strident and sometimes even violent when confronted with issues that question immutable doctrine.

I wish it were otherwise but Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. Doctrinal certitude is comforting. It is as 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.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end.

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty and insecurity than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim.

themiddle1

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are at best expressions of faith. We were not there in the beginning  and we will not be present at the end, at least in this mortal state. We do live in the uncomfortable middle. Our faith is not science, nor is it proof. That is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures where as Paul the Apostle says “If Christ is not raised your faith is worthless”  and we “are to be pitied among men.” (1 Cor. 15:17-18)

We are to always seek clarity and understanding. However it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines about God and that is not heresy, it is an admission that God will not allow us to put hi m in our theological box. As 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.”

With that I will close for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Distant Origen: The Danger of Doctrinal Certitude While Living in the Uncomfortable Middle

galaxy_universe-normal

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where a scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:
“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

themiddle

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Picard

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as 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.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim.

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As 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.” Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

vasily-surikov-christ-healing-the-man-born-blind

“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.”

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion. They were and are true believers.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a special investigator who turned an investigation into a witch hunt on the Enterprise. Picard told Worf, who had initially been taken in by the investigator:

“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, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.”

And that is true.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under faith, philosophy, Religion

The Uncomfortable Middle: The Challenge to the Certitude of Unprovable Doctrine

holy-saturday

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I was watching an episode of Star Trek Voyager tonight, one called Distant Origin where a scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is a contrarian to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaberation so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people.

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine. This is the magnetic attraction of funamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As 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.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Muddling Through PTSD Recovery: A Chaplain’s Story of Return from War

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“Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again” Counselor Troi to Captain Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation after his encounter with the Borg.

Coming home from war can be harder than going. At least it was for me. I have always been a hard charger. When I was at war in Iraq I was at the top of my game but when I came back I was broken. I experienced things there that changed me forever and it has taken a long time to find myself again.

I came home with chronic, severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. I suffer severe Tinnitus and pathetic speech comprehension. The ringing in my ears is non-stop and in any kind of group setting or conference I struggle to understand what is going on even though my hearing loss measured in decibels is minimal. The loss is neurological and when tested I measured in the third percentile of people, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me.

I still suffer from chronic insomnia, vivid nightmares and night terrors. I still struggle with agoraphobia, hyper-vigilance and occasional road rage. Thankfully none of them are as bad as they used to be but they are ever present. I have had my ups and downs with prescription medications that were used by my doctors to manage my PTSD symptoms and sleep disorders.  For a while drank too much just to help me make it through the nights. I am told that this is common for many who return from war.

When I came home I felt abandoned, especially by church leaders and many chaplains, many who I had thought were my friends. That is understandable as I was radioactive.  My faith had collapsed and for two years I was an agnostic desperately hoping to find God. As such I have a certain bond with those that struggle with God or even those that do not believe. This makes a lot of religious people uncomfortable, especially ministers. I think the reason for this is that is scares the hell out of people to think that they too might have a crisis of faith because they too have doubts. 

The first person who asked me about how I was doing spiritually was not anyone from my church or a chaplain, but rather my first shrink, Elmer Maggard. When faith returned around Christmas 2009 it was different and so was I. I tried to express it and began to write about it. For my openness I got in trouble with my old denomination and asked to leave because I was “too liberal.” Thankfully a bishop from the Episcopal Church who knew me recommend that I seek out Bishop Diana Dale of the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. Thanks to that I have a loving new denomination and since we do not have a local parish of the ACOC I have found  St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia as a place of refuge. It is the historically African American parish in the area and I love the people there. They helped me when I was in my deepest times of struggle. 

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My struggle was really hard on my wife Judy. Before I deployed I was the strong one. Afterward my contribution to our marriage was minimal and I was often a complete ass. I was in survival mode and and barely making it. I couldn’t reach out to her, I was collapsing on myself and she felt it as rejection. Our marriage suffered terribly and both of us thought that it might not survive. But over the past 18 months or so it has been getting better. I can share with her again and she has become a source of added strength. We enjoy being together again and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary with many of the friends who helped us make it through the hard times. 

In time I gathered a support network. There are some Chaplains that I can be absolutely honest with, as well as my Command Master Chief, Ed Moreno. Likewise I have friends outside the military, including people I have known for years who still, despite all my flaws care for me. I have found other places of refuge where I have relationships with people, one is Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides Baseball team, another was Grainger Stadium, former home of the Kinston Indians. I have a couple of places as well that are like my real life version of the TV show Cheers

Baseball brings me a great deal of peace, especially when I can go to the ballpark. When I was in dire straits the management of the Tides allowed me to go wander Harbor Park during the off season, just to take it in.  Running on the beach is something that I have come to cherish here in North Carolina, I will miss the easy access that I have here when I return home to Virginia in two weeks. 

Writing on my blog has been good therapy. As an introvert I process information by taking things in. Being constantly around people wears me out. I am good at what I do but it takes a great deal of effort to do it. 

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My unflappable little dog Molly has been a life saver, she insisted on coming to stay with me about halfway through my tour. She helped me recover my humanity and her presence gave me something outside of me to care for and because of that I ended up seeking out people again instead of holing up in my apartment.

My spiritual life still has its ups and downs and I discovered that I am far from perfect, and I hate that sometimes. However, that being said I do feel more connected with God, people and at peace despite my ongoing struggles.

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Picard breaking down

It has not been an easy road, but it has been worth it. I find it interesting that the Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager series help me process many of my feelings, thoughts and emotions. I quoted part of a Next Generation episode at the beginning of this article, one where Captain Picard is recovering from the trauma of being abducted by the Borg. I find the episode compelling on many levels. Part of that episode deals with Picard trying to figure out his life again. After a tumultuous visit with his family he and his older brother engage in a fight, during which he breaks down. Picard’s brother realizing the importance of what was happening said to him “So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek: Into Darkness

I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness yesterday and as I mentioned in my last article about the subject last week I did promise that I would do a review of it when I saw it. So I saw the movie and to sum up my experience in the words of Spock it was “fascinating.”

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Now the “Prime Directive” of writing a movie review of a recently released film is not to give away spoilers and I will not violate the Prime Directive.

I saw the film in its 3D format in a nice theater. I have come to enjoy the 3D experience as the technology continues to improve. Director JJ Abrams has put together one of the best Star Trek films of all time. I have been watching the Star Trek franchise since the very beginning of the original series when I was a kid and continued watching TOS in the early days of syndication before the first film Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in December 1979 when I was a sophomore in college.

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Needless to say I am a big fan of the franchise as a whole and having seen every movie, every episode of TOS, TNG, DS9, most of Voyager I have to consider that I am a Trekkie, Trekker or whatever label that you want to give me. The only series that I have not seen except for a few episodes was Enterprise because I was deployed or traveling on various other military duties around the world through much of its run. The times I was home it was hard to find because the local television stations didn’t carry it.

When I was a teen ager I read most of the TOS novels that came out in paperback and when TNG came out I read quite a few of those as well. Each one kind of expanded my Trek experience, and at one time I think I had most if not all of the TOS and TNG Technical Manuals.

My preferences in the Star Trek franchise have been the TOS, TNG and DS9 series, the last of which I am currently watching in order. I watched every TNG episode in order between the end of the 2012 World Series and Opening Day 2013 before beginning DS9 which I am now into Season 5. I figure that I will get Voyager when I finish DS9. I missed a lot of Voyager episodes due to deployment or working nights in civilian hospitals.

As far as the previous movies they have been a hit or miss affair for me. Of the Original Series films I was not a big fan either of Star Trek the Motion Picture or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was okay for me but the three films that I can watch almost any day of the week are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to which the new film has some interesting connections, as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. However my favorite of these has to be The Wrath of Khan and the TOS episode that is sprung from Space Seed. As for the films associated with Star Trek the Next Generation I found First Contact and Nemesis to be the best, but overall found the television series much better than the films.

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All that being said I have said almost nothing about the new film as of yet. I loved the first film in the reboot of the series, Star Trek which came out in 2009. I liked the casting, the story line which broke the old time line and paradigm which allowed the new series to take on a life of its own even which keeping connection to other parts of the series. Because to this the possibilities that Abrams and his team have opened up are very “Roddenberry” and the new film has the feel of what I think Gene Roddenberry might have imagined for the future of the series.

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The fact is that Roddenberry was not afraid to break the molds of his own creation. He killed Spock, destroyed the Enterprise and took the story with a different cast to a different century. As the creator of the series he was not afraid to take risks and to take the series to places that many fans could not have imagined. I can only imagine that after 10 feature films involving two separate series and 703 television episodes in one timeline spanning 5 separate series that Roddenberry would approve of the new life that Abrams and his team have give to the series.

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I found that the cast is really beginning to gel as the crew of the Enterprise. Even though they are different actors each has captured the spirit of characters of the Original Series. Chris Pine as Captain Kirk is younger but believable as Kirk. We see the defiant and independent nature of Kirk in his performance. Zachary Quinto as Spock is as close to perfect as to how I imagine Spock could be in the new timeline. The appearances of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime and his interactions with Quinto’s Spock are priceless. My favorites in the other characters brought over from the Original Series are Bones McCoy played by Karl Urban and Scotty played by Simon Pegg. Sulu played by John Cho, Uhura played by Zoe Saldana and Chekov played by Anton Yelchin are all good in their parts but because the characters are only seen briefly in each of the films they are harder to get to know, unlike the cast members of either TOS or TNG who were known to fans through their respective series before they appeared in any of the films.

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As far as the villain of the film, initially known as John Harrison played by Benedict Cumberbatch is as good of villain as you can get in Star Trek, but then he too is reprised from the TOS series, better known as…. No won’t say it, it would violate the Prime Directive, even though you can look it up somewhere else like the the Internet Movie Data Base at www.imdb.com Because of what Abrams does with this part of the story line a whole new set of possibilities remains open regarding this villain in future episodes and Cumberbatch was an excellent villain that I would not mind seeing again should they decide to reprise his role.

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The story line is excellent, especially in light of 12 years of war following the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. I think one think that transcends the terrific action and special effects of the movie is how it is possible for those defending the ideal of freedom to cross the line into tyranny when they believe freedom might be threatened. It really is a fascinating metaphor that is important, because the darkness referred to in the title is not really the outside threats to freedom, but the threat harbored in each of us when we give in to the temptation to not ask the hard questions about the morality of our own actions that we take in the defense of our freedoms.

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Abrams dedicates the film to the post 9-11 veterans and that is something that I appreciate because he backs that up by working with the charity The Mission Continues. Abrams had 6 veterans form the honor guard folding the flag at the somber memorial service scene at the end of the movie, something that most of us who have served over the past 12 years have seen or participated in too many. For me that was especially touching.

Anyway, I don’t think that any fan of Star Trek can go wrong in seeing this film and it may help bring new fans into the fold by sending them back to watch the series that helped begin everything in the Star Trek universe.

Live Long and Prosper,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek God and Me…1966 Until Hopefully Far into the Future

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Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That*is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

I can’t wait. The next installment of the Star Trek franchise Star Trek Into Darkness comes out this week. It is the second episode of the new cinematic re-boot of the franchise and as someone that grew up and matured with the series in its various television forms as well as on the big screen I am rather excited.

When I first saw the hints of the new movie franchise a couple of years before it premiered in 2009 I wondered about it. I wondered how they could pull of the feel of the original series. I heard friends rave about it and every review I read was sweet. The movie was great.  The cast, most of whom I had seen very little of in other roles, had the feel of the old cast.  Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Qunito (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy) and Simon Pegg (Scotty) had great chemistry.  The supporting cast worked well too.  I was simply blown away as they pulled this off and managed to do a “prequel” which worked.

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As a side note, my undergraduate campus, California State University at Northridge served as Starfleet Academy.  All in all it was a very satisfying experience and the crowd applauded loudly as the final credits came up, preceded by Leonard Nimoy  doing a voice over as the Enterprise went by saying; “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life-forms and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.”  This was followed by the theme music of the original series as the credits rolled out.  That was special.

As I said I will see the second installment of this series sometime later this week. From the trailers and reviews it looks quite good. I haven’t seen it but when I do I will review it. From what I have read it does seem to tackle issues that many of us will be familiar with in the post-9-11-2001 world.

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I grew up with Star Trek. I remember as a kid when the original series was still on NBC and when it went into syndication I tried to watch it whenever it was on, or whenever I could get control of the television.  There was something that captured my imagination, a glimpse of a positive future, possibility and adventure.  Since I have always been seeking new frontiers, note my career in the military, Star Trek, the Original Series was an inspiration.  Kirk, Spock, Scottie, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov and Nurse Chapel became part of my life.  When not watching it I was reading Star Trek novels, something that I continued with Star Trek the Next Generation. I was fascinated by the Klingons and Romulans, the though of other planets with other intelligent beings was something that did not frighten me, or cause me to question my Christian faith.  Since I have always believed in a very big God, the fact that God did not have to be limited to just dealing with humans seemed, as Spock would put it “logical.”

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No I know that some people could be offended by this, or could give me some flak for what I just said.  But I see no reason why God couldn’t be working in all of the gazillion galaxies, solar systems, planets and maybe even parallel or alternate universes.  Why not?  What if there was a planet where there was no fall and the inhabitants didn’t screw it up?  I think it would be cool.  My God is big, in fact the Bible and the Christian tradition is pretty clear that God is like really super duper powerful and capable of handling a whole lot of stuff all at once.

In fact we Christians like to call God omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and a bunch of other “oms” most of which are not even biblical concepts, but we have borrowed and used them so much to explain the God that we believe in that you would thing that they are.  Likewise, at least some of us believe that God is a creative God and if we do really believe all of those “om” descriptions that we ascribe to God why should we be threatened that there might be other live, other civilizations out there?

So why would we look out and see this vast universe and say: “Nope Clem, just us out here.” So since I am backed up by the testimony of Scripture and Tradition about some of the attributes of God I think it is safe to say that God indeed could well be working elsewhere in the universe.  If I believe that God is who Scripture state him to be, then I have to at least give some thought to this possibility.  Can I positively say this is the case? No, but I can infer it from what the faith teaches me about God and by what science has revealed to us over the past couple of hundred years.  None  of this takes anything away from God working his plan of redemption through Christ with humanity.

Anyway that rabbit chased back into the woods, I continue. I followed the Star Trek movies, with The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home being my favorites.  Not long after I learned to drive in high school a friend and I went to a Halloween party.  I had made me a Mr. Scott uniform and my friend was dressed as an alien.  After the party we headed home. We had just gotten on I-5 and I looked at him and said  “set course 010 Warp 8” and being young and dumb took my 1966 Buick LeSabre 400 with a twin barrel carburetor up to about 90 MPH. I noticed a pair of headlights coming up behind me.  I slowed down for the Benjamin Holt Drive exit and exited the freeway where a stoplight was red.  Beside me pulled a CHP cruiser.  The trooper looked at us, me with my Star Trek uniform and my friend in his alien suit, laughed and waved.  I watched my speedometer like a hawk the rest of the way home and prayed that the trooper would not turn around to get me.

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Later in Germany I was driving my first German “beater” a 1976 faded and rusted powder blue Ford Escort nicknamed “the Blue Max” to my base on a Saturday with Judy.  Ahead of us a Mercedes crept along going well under the speed limit of 100 km/h and it was driving both of us crazy. People that do the same here in my post-Iraq PTSD world and I wish I had phasers or something to blast them out of my way, perhaps a transporter or tractor beam would be maybe a tad less violent.

Since we were on a two lane state highway going through the hills of the Saarland along the bank of the Nahe River there was no way to get around this guy.  My little car known as the “Blue Max” had its emergency flasher located on the center of the dashboard. It was a red button about an in round.  I looked at Judy and said “fire phasers.”  I reached down pushed the button of and on and in front of us the strangest thing happened.  There was a boom, a flash and the guy’s muffler and tail pipe dropped off.  I avoided the debris and he coasted to a halt alongside the road.  Judy and I both looked at each other with looks of shock and disbelief.  Yet it had happened.  I have tried this again on every other car that I have owned with no effect.  I guess phasers are not standard on this side of the Atlantic.

When Star Trek, the Next Generation, or TNG came out in 1987 I was a young Army Captain getting ready to go to seminary the following year.  I fell in love with TNG and its cast.  In fact during my clinical pastoral education residency my supervisor was able to use analogies from the TNG characters, Lieutenant Worf and Lieutenant Commander Data to help me gain insights into what was going on in me.

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I have a lot of affinity for both of these characters as someone who wrestled with where I fit in life and the world, and where was home. I shared that with these characters, particularly Picard and Worf.  There were a couple of episodes dealing with Captain Picard entitled “Family” and “Tapestry” which actually woke me up to a couple of things in my life. I think I can say that the Deity Herself used them to help me through that time when I was still sorting through my life, vocation and issues of home and heart. I thought that the character development in TNG was great and I still will watch TNG whenever I come across it or want to pull out one of my DVDs.

I liked the darkness of Deep Space Nine and the fact that baseball was a part of it. DS9 fascinates me, like TNG it is quite complex in the way it is written and in the way that the characters were developed. The carry over of certain characters and story lines from TNG made it especially interesting. I like the fact that the bulk of the story centers on a Star Base and that you never always know who the good guys and the bad guys are. It kind of reminds me of my service in Iraq. Distrustful political factions, religion, power struggles, competing powers and terrorist groups of various kinds make DS9 a lot like real life, the live that I have lived and continue to live in.

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One of the things that I really liked about DS9 was the way that the writers incorporated religion and faith into the script. I know that some people don’t like the fact that they did not incorporate Christianity into it and saw that as an affront but the themes brought out with the Bajorans, Cardassians and even the Ferengi in terms of faith, theology, religious structure and philosophy have a lot in common with many religions that we know here on earth. The fact that it does not deal with any religion practiced here makes it a wonderful vehicle for religious discussion for anyone of faith.

Another thing that the writers of DS9 did was to bring back the alternate universe first shown in TOS in the episode Mirror Mirror. To me the whole concept of alternate universes and possibly other versions of me is fascinating. To wonder what I might be like in some alternate reality is quite fascinating to think about.

I did not take as well to Voyager or Enterprise as my life was getting really busy with military deployments and operations. When I am done with DS9 I will probably start doing Voyager. As was the case I ended up collecting the entire TNG series on DVD and am well on my way to collecting all of DS9. In fact I have watched every TNG episode back to back between last years 2012 World Series and Opening Day 2013 and I am a bit over two thirds of the way through season IV of DS9.

I have a jacket similar to the TNG jacket in Science/Medical Blue with the communicator badge and Lieutenant Commander collar insignia. I also have a very rare Starfleet Chaplain pin with a white Greek Cross on it.  This came out of one of the old TOS Technical Manuals dealing with rank and branches of Starfleet.

So I guess I am a Trekkie, or Trekker, depending on which Star Trek sect I belong, but nonetheless, Star Trek has been, and will remain part of my life.  Thanks Gene Roddenberry, and all who over the years have brought the Star Trek universe to us.

Live long, and prosper my friends.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion, star trek

Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek Deep Space Nine and the Less than Sexy Command of Military Bases

Note: I write this after Judy and I did something that we never normally do…no not that, whatever that is in your dirty minds.  For us this was to watch a movie in a theater a second time.  We did this tonight.  We went and saw the Star Trek movie again and enjoyed it as much as the first time.  As I thought about us seeing it this afternoon I was writing on another topic, but it was much too involved for my brain at this moment in time.  So I saved it and went back to Star Trek.  This is the first in a series about Star Trek Captains and deals with the only Captain on a Star Trek series who is not Captain of a Star Ship, but rather a Star Base. In this case, Captain Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine.  In some ways I dedicate this to those fine officers who do not get the commands at sea, or if they are in the Army or Marines those who command bases or garrisons rather than maneuver units.  I dedicate this particular post to Colonel Tom Allmon, US Army Retired who I served with at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania and who later commanded Fort Meyer Virginia.  This will be a first of a series that will appear periodically dealing with characters from the various Star Trek series and films and work them into what commanders and staff officers in the U.S. Military deal with on a daily basis.

“There is more to baseball than physical strength. It’s, uh… it’s about courage; and it’s also about faith; and it is also about heart. And if there’s one thing our Vulcan friends lack, it’s heart.” Captain Benjamin Sisko

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Star Trek Commanding Officers are interesting to compare and contrast and usually have a lot to do with how each Star Trek series was received.  I know a lot of people who like Captain Kirk over Captain Picard or Picard over Kirk.  There are those who prefer Kathryn Janeway to any of the men.  Of course all of these were the Captains of Federation starships.  Like any naval service it is the Captains of warships that have the “sexy” jobs.  Commanding officers of service vessels, auxiliaries or bases tend not to be the commanders who are being groomed for Flag rank.  The newer and more powerful the vessel is, the more likely that the skipper is being groomed for a higher level command.    This is true in any Navy and is certainly true in the world of Star Trek.  Thus we have the unusual situation for a us to deal with and perhaps the reason that some people do not care for Deep Space Nine as much as for the series involving Starships as the setting for the show.  Captain Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine doesn’t command a ship. In fact he is the survivor of the USS Saratoga, a ship lost when the Federation fleet was decimated by the Borg at Wolf 359 in which his wife is killed in action.

Having served at sea and ashore I can say that the divide between commanders of warships and those of bases is deep.  This is not a pejorative statement at all, but a recognition that the services tend to weigh command of a warship higher than that of a base.  Both situations require men and women of certain temperament and ability.  Good commanders can function and adapt anywhere but may because of the needs of the service find themselves in assignments that are less glamorous and maybe even less desirable from a career point of view.  Such is the case with Benjamin Sisko.  He is sent to an important but remote base with a small Federation staff off the planet Bejor which recently gained its independence from the Cardassian Empire.  The space station had previously been a Cardassian station.

Sisko’s assignment like that of any overseas base commander is an interesting weave of station commander, quasi-ambassador to the Bejoran government, small town mayor and overseer of security in the sector which becomes much more important with the discovery of a “worm hole” in space nearby.  In the process he must deal with the ever present Cardassians who through Gul Dukat the former station commander continually attempt to re-assert their dominance and authority over both the station a Bajor.  As the series moves along he is forced more onto a war footing as a race from a sector of the galaxy connected through the worm hole attempts to invade the sector which Deep Space Nine serves as the outpost and tripwire.

All through this Sisco must deal with a multiplicity of problems, not unlike commanders of US Naval bases in sensitive and potentially volatile regions do on a daily basis today.  Sisko must deal with the unique history, culture and religion of the Bajorans.  Likewise he has to deal with the divides between moderate and fundamentalists in the Bajoran religion. He also must deal with tensions between the religious Bajorans and Bejoran secularists all the while trying to heal the scars of the Cardassian occupation, physical, physiological and spiritual to the people of Bajor.

As if this were not enough he has a host of potential problems on his station.  The station has a strong presence of people who in today’s parlance would be called Third Country Nationals, or TCNs.  These individuals and their families run shops, bars and restaurants on the station, sometimes within not quite within the margins of legality, in particular the Bartender Quark and tailor Garak.  Captain Sisko deals with all of this in addition to normal issues that any commander would face dealing with his own personnel, operations and logistics functions.  While he is the base commander he has a Bajoran as his deputy and Bajoran personnel throughout the station who have to work with Starfleet personnel.

It would similar situation to that faced by US commanders of bases in the Middle East who have to deal with very similar issues today.  That is what makes Sisko for me such an interesting character.  His job is not the wide ranging, high visibility “sexy” star ship Captain assignment.  This as well as the more dark underlying tone of the show makes it more of a mystery.  Sisko, who brings with him a love of Jazz, New Orleans cuisine and baseball is an interesting character, if nothing else from my perspective the subject of baseball.   He introduces baseball to the station, even forming a team which plays the Vulcans who are surprisingly good ballplayers.  It could be that baseball is a game that the analytical Vulcans would find an affinity.  Baseball is filled with intricate nuances and statistical probabilities that would numb the mind of a Klingon, who are most likely Football fans, but which are the delight of Vulcans.  If the Romulans were to take up the game they would probably play it with a harder edge and more emotion than the Vulcans but would appreciate the logic of the game.  Even still Benjamin Sisko and the ever present baseball on his desk are something that I appreciate.

The commanders of bases on the edge of empire that Sisko represents and the complexities of their commands are seldom recognized.  Their jobs are not sexy, and most do not get picked to be Flag or General Officers.  Those picks generally are reserved for those who command at sea or command maneuver units or if in the Air Force those who command Fighter or Bomber Wings.  The men and women who command bases both in the United States and overseas fill an important role. While not glamorous they are the people that tend to be the face of the United States military and government wherever they are stationed.  When they do their jobs well they go unnoticed, because what they do is not sexy.  At the same time if they screw up it can be damaging for the country if overseas, or for the services if in the United States.

God bless all the Tom Allmon’s and Benjamin Sisko’s who deal with complex situations often in obscurity who through their patience, diplomacy and people skills care for their people, accomplish the mission and balance all within the confines of dealing with local communities and political nuances that most people cannot fathom.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, philosophy, Religion, star trek

Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009

star-trek tos castThe Original Series Crew

I grew up with Star Trek.  I remember as a kid when the original series was still on NBC and when it went into syndication I tried to watch it whenever it was on, or whenever I could get control of the television.  There was something that captured my imagination, a glimpse of a positive future, possibility and adventure.  Since I have always been seeking new frontiers, note my career in the military, Star Trek, the Original Series was an inspiration.  Kirk, Spock, Scottie, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov and Nurse Chapel became part of my life.  When not watching it I was reading Star Trek novels, something that I countinued with the Next Generation. I was fascinated by the Klingons and Romulans, the though of other planets with other intelligent beings was something that did not frighten me, or casue me to question my Christian faith.  Since I have always believed in a very big God, the fact that God did not have to be limited to just dealing with humans seemed, as Spock would put it “logical.”

No I know that some people could be offended by this, or could give me some flak for what I just said.  But I see no reason why God couldn’t be working in all of the gazillion galaxies, solar systems, planets and maybe even parallel or alternate universes.  Why not?  What if there was a planet where there was no fall and the inhabitants didn’t screw it up?  I think it would be cool.  My God is big, in fact the Bible and the Christian tradition is pretty clear that God is like really super duper powerful and capable of handling a whole lot of stuff all at once.  In fact we like to call God omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and a bunch of other om’s.  Likewise, we believe that God is a creative God.  So why would we look out and see this vast universe and say: “Nope Clem, just us out here.”  So since I am backed up by the testimony of Scripture and Tradition about some of the attributes of God I think it is safe to say that God indeed could well be working elsewhere in the universe.  If I believe that God is who Scripture state him to be, then I have to at least give some thought to this possibility.  Can I positively say this is the case? No, but I can infer it from what the faith teaches me about God and by what science has revealed to us over the past couple of hundred years.  None  of this takes anything away from God working his plan of redemption through Christ with humanity.

star-trek uss enterpriseUSS Enterprise NCC 1701

Anyway that rabbit chased back into the woods, I continue.  I followed the Star Trek movies, with The Wrath of Khan and the Voyage Home being my favorites.  Not long after I learned to drive in high school a friend and I went to a Halloween party.  I had made me a Mr. Scott uniform and my friend was dressed as an alien.  After the party we headed home. We had just gotten on I-5 and I looked at him and said  “set course 010 Warp 8” and being young and dumb took my 1966 Buick LeSabre 400 with a twin barrel carburetor up to about 90 MPH.  I noticed a pair of headlights coming up behind me.  I slowed down for the Benjamin Holt Drive exit and exited the freeway where a stoplight was red.  Beside me pulled a CHP cruiser.  The trooper looked at us, me with my Star Trek uniform and my friend in his alien suit, laughed and waved.  I watched my speedometer like a hawk the rest of the way home and prayed that the trooper would not turn around to get me.  Later in Germany I was driving my first German “beater” a 1976 faded powder blue Ford Escort, to my base on a Saturday with Judy.  Ahead of us a Mercedes crept along.  Since we were on a two lane state highway going through the hills of the Saarland along the bank of the Nahe River there was no way to get around this guy.  I have never been patient when people clog the road by driving well below the posted speed limit, which in this case was 100 KM or 62 MPH.  My little car known as the “Blue Max” had its emergency flasher located on the center of the dashboard. It was a red button about an in round.  I looked at Judy and said “fire phasers.”  I reached down pushed the button of and on and in front of us the strangest thing happened.  There was a boom, a flash and the guy’s muffler and tail pipe dropped off.  I avoided the debris and he coasted to a halt alongside the road.  Judy and I both looked at each other with looks of shock and disbelief.  Yet it had happened.  I have tried this again on every other car that I have owned with no effect.  I guess phasers are not standard on this side of the Atlantic.

tng_crew_season3The Bext Generation Crew

When Star Trek, the Next Generation, or TNG came out in 1987 I was a young Army Captain getting ready to go to seminary the following year.   I fell in love with TNG and its cast.  In fact during my clinical pastoral education residency my supervisor was able to use analogies from the TNG characters, Lieutenant Worf and Lieutenant Commander Data to help me gain insights into what was going on in me.  I had a lot of affinity for both of these characters as someone who wrestled with where I fit and where was home.  Something I shared with these characters.  Likewise there were a couple of episodes dealing with Captain Picard entitled “Family” and “Tapestry” which actually woke me up to a couple of things in my life.  I think I can say that the Deity Herself used them to help me through that time when I was still sorting through my life, vocation and issues of home and heart. I thought that the character development in TNG was great and I still will watch TNG whenever I come across it or want to pull out one of my DVDs.  I liked the darkness of Deep Space Nine and the fact that baseball was a part of it.  I did not take as well to Voyager or Enterprise as my life was getting really busy with military deployments and operations.  As was the case I ended up collecting the entire TNG series on DVD.  I also have a jacket similar to the TNG jacket in Science/Medical Blue with the communicator badge and Lieutenant Commander colar insignia. I also have a very rare Starfleet Chaplain pin with a white Greek Cross on it.  This came out of one of the old TOS Technical Manuals dealing with rank and branches of Starfleet.

niners_pennantDeep Space Nine “Niners” Pennant

When I first saw the hints of the new movie a couple of years ago I wondered about it.  I wondered how they could pull of the feel of the original series. I heard friends rave about it and every review I read was sweet.  So since there were no ball games in the local area, though the Tides continued their winning was with a 13-2 victory in Columbus against the Clippers, we decided to go to dinner and a movie.  We headed over to Gordon Biersch and had a nice dinner with great beer and went to the theater a couple of blocks away.  The movie was great.  The cast, most of whom I had seen very little of in other roles, had the feel of the old cast.  Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Qunito (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy) and Simon Pegg (Scotty) had great chemistry.  The supporting cast worked well too.  I was simply blown away as they pulled this off and managed to do a “prequel” which worked.  As a side note, my undergraduate campus, California State University at Northridge served as Starfleet Academy.   All in all it was a very satisfying experience and the crowd applauded loudly as the final credits came up, preceded by Leonard Nimoy  doing a voice over as the Enterprise went by saying; “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life-forms and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.”  This was followed by the theme music of the original series as the credits rolled out.  That was special.

So I guess I am a Trekkie, or Trekker, depending on which Star Trek sect I belong, but nonetheless, Star Trek has been, and will reamin part of my life.  Thanks Gene Roddenberry, and all who over the years have brought the Star Trek universe to us.

Live long, and prosper my friends.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion, star trek