Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Star Trek Memories: Learning from Kirk & Co., Pt. 1

My library was having a sale and whaddaya know, I picked up "Star Trek Memories" by William Shatner, he of Captain Kirk fame, for one thin dollar.

When I was growing up, my only relief from the banality of suburban life, schoolwork, bullies and housechores for ungrateful parents was heroic fantasy, especially superheroic and sci-fi fantasy. Like all nerds of the 70's, our "man" we adored and respected was one Captain James T. Kirk, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, who appeared in syndication in our living rooms every day after school at 3:30 p.m.

Kirk was cool under fire, charming, thoughtful and heroic. I will also confess my GREAT admiration for Spock and while the Vulcan was my first hero, I have to be honest and say Kirk was my second and ongoing hero to emulate (since as an Irish lad I lacked the chops to be emotionally distant, cool and calculating ALL the time).

As I have been reading it, I confess I've liked Shatner's irrepressible ego. Though Jewish, Bill Shatner has played an Irishman so long he knows exactly how we are. He's funny, he's flawed and he helped me to see more 'behind the scenes' than I used to know - and now I have the leisure to process the info as a middle-aged adult, not as a prepubescent child.

The insane and health-threatening dedication Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon, along with Bob Justman and Robert Milkiss, gave to this TV series was stunning. Folks, when you burn THAT much midnight oil, you can set anything on fire. Still, mortality has a way of rearing its ugly head and Gene Coon, who was uncredited for many incredible contributions, died within five years of leaving the show. "If you are willing to die, you can do anything," says one button I have in my collection.

Just be careful what you die for, folks.

So I'm reading this, and I realized that my personal SF dream, The Future King, my novel of 600 plus pages, while it can be great, will take a LOT of energy to make happen as a film or TV series, a commitment like unto an obsession in fact. I also realized that I am too old to burn myself out on such a dream. I enjoy jail ministry for the most part simply because it means a REAL impact on a REAL life, and I can watch it happen. An impact that will last for eternity, far beyond meetings at a Science Fiction Convention endlessly repeating what I did umpteen years ago. Now I am going to finish the novel and I will go to such conventions, but that is NOT what my life's work will be about.

We have to decide For What or To Whom we will give our life, and then we can look back as to what it meant. For Roddenberry, it was creating human drama, specifically Star Trek. He got to see Star Trek VI, the Undiscovered Country JUST before he died, effectively the last full voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of James T. Kirk. In other words, he got to see the end of the original series and characters he'd created.

I think God granted him that as a courtesy. I mean that.

Now About Those Trek Women...
Just last night, near the end of finishing Shatner's book, I ended up watching "Elaan of Troyius," a really great episode of ST:TOS, in which "Taming of the Shrew" meets "Barbarella." [Watch Full Episode here on YouTube]

One France Nguyen ('Nuyen' in credits) plays the beautiful black-haired spitfire who's on her way to be married to the leader of another planet. Purpose? To end the hostilities between their worlds. Its her duty, and she hates it. Arrogant and unreasonable, she even knifes her tutor, causing Kirk himself to have to step up and train her in civilized manners and common courtesy.

Unfortunately, there is a reason these women from this world get always what they want: they have tears that act as a fast-acting love potion. You touch their tears and BANG! they got you. And there is no known cure.

Guess what Kirk does when she cries that nobody likes her? Guess what happens next off-screen?

I tell you, I've never seen Kirk look so tired.

Yeah. Being older DOES change the episode for the viewer. You don't have to guess how Kirk reacted - *ahem*. [Side note: that said, I really appreciate the old-time censors unlike so many other creatives. Adults know what happened, the kids don't. That's as it should be. The story's impact is not lost one iota.]

But here's the beauty of the episode: lil Miss Minx is warmed by Kirk. She falls for him too. This is not just one-way. Kirk's command and compassion awaken her mind to a better way of behaving. And then Kirk does something even downright amazing: Before McCoy can find a cure, before Kirk gets this 'love virus' out of his system, he makes a decision.

He's going to let her go. His first duty is to the Enterprise. Her duty is to her new husband.

Now if you have EVER had a passionate love affair and HAD to break it off, you know what it feels like. It does NOT matter how wrong it is, the feelings each person has can be overwhelming, consuming - even maddening.

But feelings when in conflict with faithfulness must always fall. Kirk does what he HAS to do: let this woman go. And when he makes that decision - and she knows he HATES it - she is given enough courage by his example to follow suit. She too will accept her duty and save millions of lives.

Its a pretty awesome episode. Her quivering chin as she is transported away hit the little romantic in me pretty hard. If you're a man and have seen that look on a young lady you love, you know what I mean.

Next month it will be 10 years since I broke up with last girlfriend. A woman I loved dearly, yet could not possibly keep. Our lifestyles were just too different. Next to her I felt four inches taller and ten times wiser.

But it was either her or the ministry. I knew it. She knew it. She said to a mutual friend that she did not want to be a pastor's wife, and I was taking seminary courses at the time.

I really have had no one to talk to about this without sounding like I'm whining. I guess I'm wondering 'Was it necessary? Could we have worked it out?' and 'Why was I introduced to someone so fabulous in my eyes if God wanted me to follow Him? Was it some sort of test?'

And the answer I just found out last night was: Yes. It was a test of duty, of loyalty. I had a calling that I couldn't deny. "Many are called but few are chosen," says Jesus.

I think I know what that means now. You only get to lead by sacrifice, by doing what no one else would do. It may get you killed, but that's why you become the leader.

I'm glad I loved her. I love her still, in my mind as I knew her.

But when Jesus said "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me," He meant emotional sacrifices as well as physical.

But if you DO know Jesus - His powerful love and His spiritual gifts - you know WHY you are doing it. You know why I did it.

He's truly worth the sacrifice. He's my Lord and my Savior and my elder Brother. He said the world would hate me but I would know Him. I would know God as my Father. I would not live in darkness if I obeyed Him. "I do not call you servants, but friends- for a servant does not know what his Master is doing."

And as I look back over my memories of the past ten years, I have got to say that is true.

Jesus has ruled me well. He is my best friend. He is worth anything and everything.

Farewell, Elaan.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Latest Lil' Tool

I'm having a spiritually hard week and the Adversary of Mankind is throwing rounds left and right.

So I decided to play a bit.

Here's a Low Earth Orbit Shuttle I made up in Microsoft Word 97. I am laughing at how much graphics use I can get out of this - very similar in some ways to the venerable Aldus Freehand.

I should've used it Saturday night for our gaming group, but just wasn't able.

That's all.

LEO Shuttle

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Giving Tree(s): a memoriam

This past week the last 'trunk' of our beautiful white birch in the back yard fell over - all 45 feet of it landed on the ground - and I did not know it for hours. I stepped outside to grill some chicken and burgers and found it had died peacefully. I then spent the next three hours cutting it up by hand. We knew it was coming, but it was a shock to just find it laid out. It had been a part of the yard for years.

Shel Silverstein wrote a powerful children's book nearly four decades ago entitled "The Giving Tree" which I read as an adult 15 years ago, just as I was discovering God's unconditional love.

The story is heartbreaking, poignant and deep. Using the simplest imagery of a boy and his favorite tree, Silverstein touches the very heart of the child in each of us. The story is direct: the boy loves the tree and the tree loves the boy, but as time passes, the boy finds other things to love beside the tree. The tree is sad to see this is so, but cannot stop loving the boy and whenever the boy asks for something from the tree, the tree gives it, as an act of unconditional love.

Halfway through the book you want to cry for the tree who gives so much to the boy who doesn't seem to be aware he is taking EVERYTHING from the tree. The tree however is content to give, and give and give, for the tree loves the boy.

In the end, when the tree is nothing but a stump, it still offers itself as a place for the boy - now an old man - to rest. So the boy does, and we are told, once again, "the tree is happy."

Many see Silverstein's reference to mothers and women who give and give and give to their families and children and are 'used up' by their service, their only desire to be appreciated in return.

It is convicting for those who have taken much from their loved ones and given so little in return. Seeing the patient love of the tree and the loneliness caused by the boy who callously dismisses the tree's sacrifices year after year would humble even the most selfish, I should think.

But the distance between the two (he is a human being and the tree... well, "she" is not) can also touch our deepest fears of getting into a co-dependent relationship with someone who never moves and has no self-worth except to adore another person and serve them wholly as if they were God. THAT is unhealthy in any relationship.

So the book has many layers of interpretation - some encouraging, some scary, some very sad. It is a classic for this reason. There is not one message, but several. The grace and patience and love of the tree versus the busy-ness, the desires, the other 'wants' of the boy.

Its rare to find people who give as much as that tree. But I knew a few and both have passed away suddenly leaving a hole in the fabric of their community - like that bright white birch in our backyard.

Ron Teiwes, a gentleman builder who loved fishing - and, as Jesus said 'Fishing for Men' - who served at the Billy Graham Telephone Ministry and had two fantastic sons, passed away suddenly two weeks ago. He was 61, was out walking on the sports track, and fell over. He passed away after a week in a coma.

He'd built orphanages in Costa Rica. He led many to place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and saved their souls for eternity. My landlady Nancy knew him as a personal friend 20 years ago.

He gave and gave. Now he's home.

As I was clearing the last of the birch tree up on Saturday morning, another dear acquaintance - one of the followers of my blog in fact - also passed away: Barry Trowbridge.

Barry was jovial, and kind, had fought obesity and was winning, led worship and sang at Wheaton Bible Church (being blessed with just a GREAT voice), sang the National Anthem at a White Sox game (see clip) and, I just found out, had been helping refugees by having them stay in his home.

He was driving Saturday morning, had a heart attack and went off the road to hit a tree, dying instantly.

Yes, you could say it was a shock.

But Barry Trowbridge was a giver, like Ron Teiwes was because they had both been to THE "Giving Tree."

They had both been to Calvary. They had both been to the cross where Christ was crucified.

You see, the shame in the story "The Giving Tree" is that ONLY the tree gives. The boy merely takes. And when he is old, he is still just a boy who's aged. He never grew up where it counted - on the inside.

Ron and Barry - one 61 and the other 43 (a year younger than me) - had learned to be Givers - they were men who were "Giving Trees." They gave of their time, their talents, their treasures. And it was because they loved the One Who Gave All to Save His Children. This made them strong enough to give and give out of love, not fear.

They were such a blessing to all of us, the only thing we complain about is the sad fact they left us so soon. We do weep, but not as those who have no hope.

We will see them again - and that good era will never end.

But for now, we sit down at the Tree God provided, the place where He gave His only begotten Son, and rest in the truth that He gave them eternal life.

"...and the tree was happy."


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Season One

Season One. Yeah, I finally watched it.Now stop snickering. We don't get cable or Sci-Fi channel or any such thing. We do, however, have a library that will put a few seasons of any popular show up on their shelves. In this fashion, I have watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica the re-imagined series from 2004 sans commercials.

I HAD seen big parts of the premiere miniseries and knew the basic storyline, based on the original series of the 70's: humanity far from Earth grows up, advances, expands to 12 colonies in space (i.e. 12 different worlds), and build self-aware robots to aid them called 'Cylons'. These Cylon robots, like in all cautionary SF tales, finally rebel and attack their masters. In this version, the war ends and the Cylons are given their own planet far away. However, after 40 years of dead silence, the Cylons return to eliminate humanity. Only one other problem - now they can appear perfectly human - down to their very blood cells.

I gotta say I was impressed with the updates. The very reason soon-to-be decommissioned Galactica is useful against the enemy is because its Old-School grit - pilots are never assisted in landing their fighters and Adama flatly refuses to have ANY computerized networks on his ship. This refusal to make things easier and sticking to solid-but-stable tech prevents the Cylons from taking down this Battlestar as they did so many others - with a flick of a switch.

The show takes its cue from so much of our natural fears of technology run amuck, terrorism, sleeper cells and religion. Strangely, it is the Cylons who are monotheistic, while the humans are not. They say some things that would be profound if not coming from the mouths of genocidal beings. [NOTE: we dsicover later that not all Cylons want the humans destroyed... so this strangeness may be foreshadowing a sort of 'God-fearing' ethos.]

Now frankly, the writer is playing on our fears and what can destroy us. What takes down humanity is the very seductive Number Six (played by Victoria's Secret model Tricia Helfer) who uses the "most brilliant mind" on the planet to invade and corrupt the entire defense network, one Gaius Baltar. He's shown to be cowardly, selfish, foolish and an utterly complete cad. Between her psychological taunting of him and the very Fundamentalist words about God coming out of her mouth, you get one eerie psycho robot. Sort of Nine and a Half Weeks meets The Apostle. BRRRRRRRRRRR!

I've been thinking about why the writer went down this path, and I think he wanted to touch a lot of nerves on the audience without really standing firm on one theology. By making the 'heroic survivors' polytheistic, he lays evil at the footstep of the monotheism that will not accept other faiths. The Cylons are on a jihad and frankly, the writer leaves it just open enough that if you have ANY trouble with men and women of faith, you can root for the Colonials to blow the hell out of these soulless, heartless, uncompromising machines.

You see, when I was a liberal (and a bit of a libertine), I had the same view of people of faith. I did not envy them; I thought them to be un-creative, dull, vapid, legalistic, and essentially heartless. They did not comfort me in my pain, I assure you.

But when I sought them AFTER I had had my fill of libertine living - some of which I paid for dearly - I found I was wrong, dead wrong. What I took as coldness was merely patience with my heartless behavior and meanness. What I perceived as legalistic was merely self-discipline and what I thought to be un-creative was merely an appreciation of the common things of life.

I had the jangled nerves, brought forth by my disobedience to God. They did not. I think I despised them for that.

So when I was watching, I found the writer was driving me to like the Colonials despite their stupid polytheism/humanism and to not like the Cylons despite their better theology.

It did remind me that while good theology does bless a person's heart and mind, it makes it challenging to share that goodness if you are viewed as an anti-social destroyer of life. (This is nothing new: early Christians were called by the Roman government 'haters of mankind' by saying men needed Christ to save them. They were called 'atheists' for not having a statue to bow before.)

I think people are afraid of religion in general and specifically anyone active in faith. I think by scrambling up "who's good" and "who knows God" and not letting them be the same group is the reason this series garnered so much praise.

But at the end of the day, I am concerned that the youths we raise with such entertainment will equate faith with violence and monotheism with evil - that 9/11 has colored ALL men and women of faith as dark and menacing. Or that the message of Battlestar Galactica will be such a syncretic mishmash of faiths the kids and youths will throw up their hands and say "Well, who knows what's true?"

Thankfully, Jesus said He was the Truth. He also said "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."

I like the human drama in Battlestar Galactica, and since I already know how it ends, thanks to YouTube, I can watch these episodes with some detachment, appreciating the heroes and their flaws and the sleeper agents who think they are human but are not.

But the real strength of BG is in the human characterizations and relationships we understand. Adama's double-entendre' and terse reconcillation with his son Lee over the tragic death of his brother Zack made me hit PAUSE and go outside to have a good cry: "I want ALL my pilots to come back -understood?" "Yes, sir."

Commander Adama makes it worth watching.In forgiveness and mercy, in wisdom and action, in self-control and patience, the star of Battlestar Galactica is Commander Adama, possibly the most Christian character in the show.

If it wasn't for him, I do not think the show would be worth watching.

May we live our lives as men and women of faith protecting our loved ones from the inhuman, the merciless and genocidal, without worshipping false gods.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fight Club and Death by Suburb

I love seeing new things happen, but I am sometimes weary (and wary) of changes-especially those made by an outside entity who may or may not be concerned with HOW those changes disrupt my life.

I like to think I am bolder and more courageous than the average guy - travel abroad, teach in jail, live daily with no income, etc. Fact is, I'm probably FAR more timid. Give me a schedule and a few meager comforts, and I am content.

Am I ambitious? Not much.

And that saddens me and makes me realize I am just one of the many American underachievers who have very little reason to excel, to change our world.

Like Ed Norton's character in Fight Club, we bemoan the banality of our consumerist existence in America. Buying stuff out of IKEA catalogs to make us more comfortable and, theoretically happier, when in fact, we might need the opposite: challenges and changes.

I'm not suggesting self-abuse as a way of 'toughening up', but rather refusing to 'buy-into' the idea of worldly happiness.

I've noticed that the less stuff I have, the less I have to worry. I accumulate books and clothing like a prince, so I have no fear of going naked.

I guess all I want to do now is obey and use my talents to grow in Christ.

That requires change.

And change requires courage.

Lord, give me the courage and wisdom to change.