Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Star Trek: 50 Years & Counting–to Eternity

Oh how I loved K-Mart for having Megos!
[Man, the faces look FIERCE, don't they?]
It was 50 years ago Captain Kirk and his stalwart crew graced our living room TV screens for the first time, bringing us morality tales and social adventures featuring alien beings, gods, mad computers and split personalities, all hurtling through warped space fueled by anti-matter and raw courage.

Shatner's Kirk was perfectly balanced by Nimoy's Spock, with the kind and affable Kelly constantly stirring the emotional pot and the ever-elegant Nichols framed perfectly over Kirk's right shoulder calmly announcing that hailing frequencies were open.

So much has been written about the social norms Star Trek broke or challenged, there is no need to repeat them. What no one has ever acknowledged is that they were course-correcting an ungodly attitude towards race and women's roles, not inventing a better one.

Gene Roddenberry's moral idealism for humanity's future was attractive, even beloved, by many a Southerner and disenfranchised youth of my era. My school district of Southaven, Mississippi was very new in 1972, just four short years after Dr. King was shot and killed in Memphis, and it was fully “integrated” from day one. I grew up with black teachers and white teachers, black students and white students. My mother despised racism and the Jim Crow laws of the Old South. We were the New South, and we were to be Christ-like about it.

My mother loved Star Trek, but was wise enough to see its flaws I imagine. She was a creative person, given to agoraphobia and mood changes. If you think of Erma Bombeck meets Lucille Ball, you got a good idea of her personality and style. If you are too young to understand that reference, I am sorry.

So hating racism, and being a creative, she embraced creative stories and wrote poems and painted and let her 10 year old son love Star Trek. She saw that I was different from my brother and liked inside more than outside and all things imaginative. In 1975 I was 10 years old, watching Trek as re-runs on WHBQ, channel 13. From 3:30 in the afternoon to 4:30 we were mesmerized. I would get off the school bus, running as fast as I could, hurl myself through our front door and turn on our Magnavox color TV. She would make us two ice-cold glasses of Lipton Instant Tea [with sugar and lemon already added] and together, mother and son would dream of a better world, where so many of humanity's flaws had been overcome and the stars were in our reach.

The Enterprise. It was mine, all mine. *sigh*
We bonded. My mother approved. That next Christmas, Santa Claus made sure I had an all-Trek extravaganza. I have a picture [somewhere] with me clad my Spock pyjamas, holding a flashlight phaser at the camera, with my Mego U.S.S. Enterprise playset behind me on the table. Even my silken dark brown hair is cut like Mr. Spock's. When I say I am a geek, I mean Old School, baby.

Of course I collected the books. All of them. Of course I memorized the episode titles and numbers. All of them. Of course I had the models—er, most of them. I was not good with the patience needed for gluing them together.

But at the same time, we were going to our nice gentle Presbyterian church in Whitehaven—the part of Memphis where Elvis lived, just north of us. My mother and father had found their limits and even personal failures in raising my older brother. I was 10; he was 18. He was fighting and losing battles internally. I was too young to know why, but I do remember my mother establishing something new in our home, which my father, a truck driver and Marine, complied with: we began having nightly Bible readings.

From the age of ten to the age of seventeen, my family had a time to intentionally sit down and hear what the Bible said. This was as non-negotiable as putting on pants. One chapter from the Old Testament, one chapter from the New, roughly five nights a week.

I seem to recall it being faded out over time. I only have a handful of memorable events to recall. But it made an impact on me and I listened, though I was confused.

I could not articulate it at the time, but I loved reason and the cool rationality of Mr. Spock. I also knew intuitively that the Bible was story—like Trek was—but unlike Trek it featured some truly messed-up heroes. I caught on that being a Christian meant that we were preparing for a New Universe because this Old Universe was deeply flawed. Jesus said it, so it must be true.

I found myself squirming as I heard over and over again how bad humanity was—to each other, to their spouses, to their children, to God and even going so far as to kill Jesus.

"Surprise!" was the story; it
was Nichelle Nichols sweet
epilogue that undid me.
I have never wanted to be religious, following a set of rules. But I have always loved the stars and wanted to explore. I wanted humanity to be good, not bad. I have a distinct memory of reading a heart-warming story from “Star Trek: The New Voyages 2” and walking outside to look up at the stars.

I choked up. A huge sense of melancholy hit me. I wanted to be a part of their family, their crew, traveling through the stars, with kindness and compassion for each other. I did not want to go to school the next day and face bullies and homework and being called a fag behind my back.

I wanted the heavens. I was stuck on Earth. And because Spock was my hero, I enjoyed logic. I was an effortless student, getting B's and B+'s with minimal prep.

I realized that I would never, ever get to the stars. We simply did not have the technology. Even if we did, it would not be as Star Trek presented it. Differing evolutionary changes and societal forces would make the aliens most certainly our enemies first. Our human history proved that. The magic wrought by the dream of Star Trek began to fade. Fast forward 10 years; I am a young man of twenty now.

My mother is dying of cancer. Her hope is no longer in social justice or humanity being able to travel to the stars. It is in the promises of the Bible. It is in the “new heavens and new Earth” Jesus talks about.

Fast forward another 10 years. My marriage is over. My dream job gone. My hopes of happiness ended.

I am in church. I am hearing the timeless tale that God had Jewish son gone through the Kobayashi-Maru to save us. I hear Amazing Grace. I hear that being saved from this world is an unearned gift, given by God. Suddenly I can see why all the “bad heroes” of the Bible were presented: they are not heroes; they are victims, being rescued from themselves. They are fools learning God is good.

In a flash, I realize I am not just lost; I have been a rebel. I fall to my knees in a speed that would have made a pleading Captain Kirk proud.

Something changes in my soul. I can see why I loved what I loved, but could never obtain it. God has given me what I wanted.

I have eternity now to figure it out. I will die. I will be raised to life.

I will trek through the stars.