Star-Trekking in the Ministry

I haven’t seen the latest “Star Trek” movie. It’s on my agenda, but I’ve not had the time and don’t see when I will for the next couple of weeks. Friends say it’s a good one, however.

The newspaper this Friday morning says that movie has been beamed to the astronauts circling the globe in the International Space Station. Previously — a year or more ago, I think — all the Star Trek movies had been teleported (sorry, couldn’t resist) up to these global-circuit-riders in the stratosphere.

Most of the current crop of astronauts say their interest in space exploration was whetted by the television show “Star Trek,” either the original with William Shatner (Captain Kirk) or the “next generation” bunch.

A writer for a more recent televised version of these explorers who “go where no one has ever gone before” has let us in on inside information which I find fascinating.

Over forty years, the six TV series of Star Trek comprise 726 episodes. For the 198 episodes in the series this writer was part of, 155 writers — a staggering number — were employed. So much for continuity, uniformity, theme development, character consistency.

The fact that trekkies soak up episode after episode and live and die by this stuff I find amazing. And more than a little depressing.

Bill Shatner got it right early on, although he caused an uproar in saying it. At a news conference someone asked what he thought of the trekkies who are so devoted to all things Star Trek, talking the lingo, pretending they are crewmembers on the Enterprise, that sort of thing. “I think they ought to get a life,” he said. Wow. Blasphemy, thought the faithful. Shatner was to repent in time, when he began making a small fortune from appearing at conventions and signing autographs.

Vulcans do not smile. That bit of advice to writers came down from the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry himself. This former bomber pilot in World War II had other insights on what human evolution by the 24th century will have caused. By then, he said, mankind will have evolved to the point that personal acrimony (meanspiritedness) will have been conquered. Therefore, Roddenberry instructed his writers, the scripts for the show could contain no conflict between crewmembers.

No conflict? Are you serious? The writer whose article I am quoting, his name is Leonard Mlodinow, says, “I was pretty sure that unless lobotomies had become routine neonatal procedures, people would be as nasty to each other in the 24th century as they are today.”

Hard to argue with that. If we’ve not “evolved” past selfishness and pettiness in the million years (thousands of years? Okay, whatever) man has been on the planet, it seems far-fetched to think we will grow out of these traits in 300 or less years. It’s a safe bet that the kind of human being Holy Scripture addressed in the First Century, which texts our generation read as a mirror and find so accurate, man will be much the same hundreds of years from now. Depressing, it is, to be sure.

I find it funny that the creator of the Star Trek legend wanted no conflict between crew. I mean, you can only find so many three-headed monsters and mutant-celestial-dictators to butt lasers with.

A novelist lets us in on her technique for creating conflict in the plots of her stories. An index card taped above her computer reads: “Things get worse.”

That’s one reason the Bible is such a fascinating read. From the serpent in the Garden to Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery after initially considering killing him on down to Moses confrontation with Pharaoh, the Old Testament is filled with conflict. In the New Testament, the tyrant Herod tries to kill Baby Jesus, the religious leaders try to kill the Adult Jesus (and finally do), and the disciples bicker and squabble from start to finish. It’s true to human nature from beginning to the end, unlike a lot of other religious literature — some of it Christian, but especially from the competition — which is filled with pious platitudes and boring lectures.

The only people who think the Holy Bible is boring is those who have never made an honest attempt to read it.

The great thing about Star Trek, Mlodinow asserts, is not its science or pseudo-science or the characters; rather its uniqueness is the culture of creativity the show spawned. A huge number of electronic gadgets and ideas now all the rage in tec circles were introduced on Star Trek. “Gene Roddenberry’s real creation is a franchise culture dedicated, like his fictional characters, to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.'”

Imagination. What a concept.

In 1965, a Presbyterian preacher named Frederick Speakman published “God and Jack Wilson.” In this novel-like book, Jack Wilson is a preacher with a gift for encountering the culture around him and speaking the Gospel to it in fresh ways. On the morning of his 46th birthday, the parson stares at himself in the mirror while shaving and considers how little one can know about himself by use of a mirror. He is so much more than what can be seen on the outside. Man has the Creator’s stamp throughout his being.

“There is a family resemblance,” Jack Wilson thought, “to the Father who created us.”

Man is unlike the tiger, the gorilla, the horse, the dog, the bird. Man frets and grows anxious. He worries about the future. He struggles between right and wrong, feels remorse when he hurts someone, knows a satisfaction when something he does encourages another. Man invents and writes, he thinks and works, he does things no other part of creation does.

Man is never more godlike than when he gets creative.

I’m going to make a contradictory statement here, but both of which halves are true.

“No field of endeavor is more creative than the ministry of a pastor. No field of endeavor seems to have so little creativity as the pastorate.”

Considering that ministers come up with several sermons a week, often over decades without a break, creativity would seem to be their middle name. On the other hand, the average pastor goes through a weekly routine that varies little from year to year, enslaved to the calendar, with almost no creativity anywhere in sight.

The most exciting churches I know are led by creative men and women who are constantly looking for ways to say their message clearer, do their work better, grow their people sharper. “There has to be a better way than this” would seem to be their mantra.

I suggest to my preacher brethren they do two things one afternoon soon. Go see the new Star Trek movie. Then, sit in the mall food court, surrounded by a hundred teenagers who are killing time, open up your notebook or laptop and work on next Sunday’s sermon. See what happens.

It can’t hurt and it might make a world of difference.

3 thoughts on “Star-Trekking in the Ministry

  1. The theme of this article expresses what God is doing in my heart at this time in life. Desirng to sharpen the focus for God’s people where I serve is burning within. Thank you Dr. Mckeever for your numerous creative articles that are often a God-gift to this preacher-pastor.

  2. I did watch the Star Trek movie last weekend with my family–a truly rare event. I watched the series as a child, and as a young adult. Never quite got into the Star Wars series, but Star Trek has some nostalgia for me. Yes, one can get too excited, head in the stars. But to try to get something good out of it– what struck me from the movie was the sense of the characters we knew from childhood being portrayed as larger-than-life, yet still very human. I think that kind of admiration from us believers can be applied to missionaries (thinking about Dr. McKeever’s article on missions), who go “where no Christian has gone before.” The faith, battles, the courage, the risks. Thanks–it was fun to see “Star Trek” mentioned here, and to consider the connections to real life.

  3. Bro. Joe,

    Your statement: The fact that trekkies soak up episode after episode and live and die by this stuff I find amazing. And more than a little depressing.

    My response: Before there was Star Trek there was Hop-A-Long Cassidy and Roy Rogers. We soaked up every episode and lived and died in thousands of childhood games. Star Trek is just a western set in space – good guys versus the bad guys. Save the ranch, save the starship (or even the planet!) Shooting Outlaws, shooting Aliens.

    Of course, we were always the good guys. Weren’t you and your brothers?


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