There is a Hasidic story about the birth of the world. In the beginning, this story goes, there was only darkness, but Ein Sof, the source of life, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. Then there was a terrible accident and the vessel containing the light, which was the wholeness of the world, was scattered into a thousand million fragments of light. These fragments fell into all events and all people where they remain hidden until this very day. But then we humans were created in response to this accident with the capacity to find the hidden light in all people and all situations and events. Our calling, according to this story, is to make the light visible once again, to lift it up, to share it with others and thereby restore wholeness to the world.
This story speaks to something deep within me, especially in these tumultuous times when fear of the other and political and religious polarization is tearing our country apart. There is so much beauty, so much good in all us and the world, and yet there is so much that is evil, wrong, unjust. The ways we treat “the least of these” affects the ways we treat each other and who we are. This is why not just our criminal justice system is broken but our immigration policies are so flawed. When those is power get to decide what is lawful or unlawful not based on guilt or innocence, need or opportunity, just or unjust, but on wealth and power and arbitrary rules, compassion and mercy have no place.
The story of Ein Sof, the birth of the world, speaks to my own experience and my journey in life as well as what we all have been seeing and hearing in the daily news…. families separated, refugees turned away, a lack of civility, blaming and shaming that has taken the place of dialogue or civil conversation. There no longer seems to be a middle ground where we can meet to talk, listen, learn, discern even in our churches. We now define ourselves as Democrat or Republican, for Trump or against, not fellow sojourners, neighbors, friends.
Many of us still have the luxury of living in a fairly safe, sheltered world. Every time I hear this story of Ein Sof with its explanation for the existence of sin, evil, and suffering, deep questions arise for me. As part of a mixed race family with both black and Hispanic children and grandchildren I have been somewhat exposed to that other world where people are assumed lesser, automatically guilty by color of their skin or legal status.
That exposure has been both painful and precious. By adopting and loving these precious children I have been forced to face my own deeply ingrained prejudice and fear. I want to deny those deeply ingrained beliefs and fears, but they are still there. We all have them. We may protest, but they are still there and we need to own them. It takes courage to name them and claim them and then humbly ask God to remove these fears and defects of character. I find myself struggling every day with the question, “what am I doing to lift up my fragment of light?” It is a hard question, but a good one, a life giving one.
Much as we may long to stop the world and get off in a safer, saner place and time, this is where we are. We now live in the world of almost weekly mass shootings, where owning guns seems more important than protecting and saving lives. That’s why this is exactly where we are supposed to be: facing the challenges we are facing, for we are the very ones we’ve been waiting for. We are God’s hands and feet, God’s eyes and ears.
Ours are the arms which hug and hold or push away and reject. We are the ones who can make a difference. We are the ones who get to decide whether or not we step up as faithful followers of our master when he told us to not just love our neighbors as ourselves, but to love the stranger and enemy. We are the ones called to align ourselves with the One who designed the changing seasons, the swirling electrons, the majestic galaxies, the tiniest insect or singing bird, the One Who sent Jesus to show us how to relate to and love each other even when it is dangerous and difficult.
In spite of the way it often feels, you and I are not helpless. Even with our aging failing body parts. What we do matters, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when we feel useless and forgotten. Together we are a mighty force. The healing of the world is not about one person bringing together all the fragments of light, but each of us holding up our little gleam. We become less than what God created us to be when we disengage from the God of the poor, the disenfranchised, the lost and forgotten.
I now believe that what God wants from each of us is to treat others with grace and love just as we want to be treated. God wants us to respond to evil with good, to forgive the unforgivable and above all to practice gratitude, for when we are truly grateful we cannot be selfish and thoughtless. Gratitude opens the heart, gives birth to generosity and compassion. Gratitude helps us truly see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and love with all of our heart. We who have embraced Christ as our Savior and example are called to be little Christs to everyone that comes across our path, sharing and caring, accepting, forgiving, blessing, loving.
And that’s something each of us can do. We can, if we but will, choose to allow nothing in life, no matter how rich or poor, sick or well, old or young, to keep us from practicing daily acts of kindness. Each smile, each apology, each kind word, each act of graciousness, each swallowed criticism, each unspoken grumble or gossiped word sends positive energy swirling into a world longing for love and reassurance.
Jesus said, “he who has eyes, let him see, and he who has ears, let him hear.” If we look for the good around us, listen for the light and the loveliness in life, we will find it precisely so we can pass it on. By deliberately practicing gratitude as our way of not just being in God’s presence, but being God’s presence, we become his hands and feet in the little everyday acts of thoughtfulness and thankfulness that transforms not just us but those we encounter.
You and I are called to let our light shine, tiny as each of our fragments may be.. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, the ones chosen to set the example for others, to show the way toward graciousness and civility, toward acceptance and tolerance. We are the one who can set this country on the path to a less divisive and prejudiced society. We are the ones we have been waiting for, the ones God’s been waiting for to hold up His light of love and acceptance. We are the ones created by our loving Creator to be agents of goodness and gratitude.Sermon by Joyce Musselman Shutt
Everyone’s favorite death story at the Fairfield Mennonite Church, however, is the time I fell into a grave. It happened early in my ministry when there was still a great flap about ordaining women. It was March and it had rained for weeks. As I began the graveside service , the ground collapsed under me and I slid into the grave. Calmly, the mortician (who looked like someone out of the Adams Family) pulled me out by my coat collar. Covered in red clay, trying to keep a straight face, I conducted the interment service, hearing in my head the words “in the name of the Father, the Son, and into the hole she goes!”
Once home I said to my husband. “You’ll never believe what happened to me today. I fell into the grave.” He just looked at me, then quipped,” well, that should take care of any critics of women’s ordination. After all, who can challenge one who has returned from the grave!”Excerpt from a Sermon by Joyce Shutt
There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish – so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
~Sam Walter Foss
As a follow-up to my last note on Star Trek, I just discovered a speech given by Gene Roddenberry around the time of the release of the first Star Trek movie. This here is the heart I was talking about.
The Star Trek Philosophy
A Speech by Gene Roddenberry
“I think probably the most often asked question about the show is: ”Why the Star Trek Phenomenon?‘ And it could be an important question because you can ask: ”How can a simple space opera with blinking lights and zap-guns and a goblin with pointy ears reach out and touch the hearts and minds of literally millions of people and become a cult in some cases?‘ Obviously, what this means is, that television has incredible power. They‘re saying that if Star Trek can do this, then perhaps another carefully calculated show could move people in other directions as to keep selfish interest to creating other cults for selfish purposes – industrial cartels, political parties, governments. Ultimate power in this world, as you know, has always been one simple thing: the control and manipulation of minds.
Fortunately, in the attempt however to manipulate people through any “so called Star Trek Formula” is doomed to failure, and I‘ll tell you why in just a moment.
First of all, our show did not reach and affect all these people because it was deep and great literature. Star Trek was not Ibsen or Shakespeare. To get a prime time show…network show…on the air and to keep it there, you must attract and hold a minimum of 18 million people every week. You have to do that in order to move people away from Gomer Pyle, Bonanza, Beverly Hill Billies and so on. And we tried to do this with entertainment, action, adventure, conflict and so on.
But once we got on the air, and within the limits of those accident ratio limits, we did not accept the myth, that the television audience has an infantile mind. We had an idea, and we had a premise, and we still believe that. As a matter of fact we decided to risk the whole show on that premise. We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all it‘s old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond most petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided. So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in Star Trek. It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television too.
The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. We tried to say that the worst possible thing that can happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mould, where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there. And I think that this is what people responded to.
The result of that was that seven years after being dropped by the network of saying those things, there are now more people watching it than ever before. And if you ascribe those things to any mystic or scriptural brilliance in Star Trek, you miss the entire point. For Star Trek proves, as faulty as individual episodes could be, is that the much-maligned common man and common woman has an enormous hunger for brotherhood. They are ready for the 23rd century now, and they are light-years ahead of their petty governments and their visionless leaders.”
In 2005 Orson Scott Card wrote an opinion piece for the LA Times celebrating the overdue “death” of Star Trek. Thick with the condensation that has sadly become one of his defining character traits he lambasted the series and it’s fans.
So why did the Trekkies throw themselves into this poorly imagined, weakly written, badly acted television series with such commitment and dedication? Why did it last so long?
Here’s what I think: Most people weren’t reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most people weren’t reading at all. So when they saw “Star Trek,” primitive as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction. It was grade school for those who had let the whole science fiction revolution pass them by.
A new reincarnation of Star Trek is only a few days away and it seems an apt time to contemplate if Star Trek deserved to die…again?
Tentatively I would say yes.
After a magnificent run and evolution The Next Generation ended on a dull self-absorbed note.
Deep Space Nine was a wonderful series for Trekkies to follow but it didn’t capture the broad interest that The Next Generation had.
Voyager was a lackluster series which relied far too heavily on sensationalism and failed to live up to that which had come before. It was sleazy, racy, and ultimately uninspiring.
Enterprise… Does anything actually need to be said?
The last of the movies to impress me was The Voyage Home. Not all of those that followed were terrible but none of them shone.
Corporate Star Trek lost its momentum, floundered, and died. It did deserve to die. The answer was not to make the franchise darker, sexier, or even look to the past.
Not that I agree with Card in the slightest who writes off the most influential science fiction franchise in history as primitive uninspired rubbish.
In a broader sense though the heart of Star Trek has never stopped beating. It has become ingrained in who we are as a culture. Star Trek is more than a space opera series of adventures with themes touching on thought-provoking issues. Star Trek is an obtainable vision of the future. I know, transporters and warp drives are obtainable? No, the vision is a societal one. After ages of poverty and plague, of bloody war and needless waste, humanity will finally unite in the peaceful pursuit of progress and reach out into the stars.
Much of science fiction is meant to prepare us for possible threats to life as we know it. It is to arm us with the understanding necessary to protect our way of living. It prepares us for rebellions – against artificial lifeforms, aliens, mind control, genetic modification, the ultimate consequences of the patriot act, etc.
Star Trek and some others also show us another way of living. They arm us with the vision of a different society. They prepare us for revolutions – for true equality, sustainable peace, strong freedom, unified progress, etc.
Societies stagnate and decline when they fight to preserve themselves but they flourish when they struggle to achieve a greater vision.
Because it existed Star Trek has moved the future towards its ideals, as happened when young Whoopi Goldberg saw Uhura, a competent black woman, treated as an equal on television for the first time in her life. In her own words, “Momma! There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid!” That fictional character inspired Goldberg to become an actress so she could pass on the validation she felt as a child. When Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Uhura, decided to leave Star Trek after the first season she was convinced to stay on by Martin Luther King Jr who stated that she was a role model for the black community.
Star Trek had remarkable characters working together in a remarkable way because of its era. Instead of looking to a future where East and West had eradicated each other with nuclear weapons, Star Trek looked to a future where all of humanity, even Russians, were united in a peaceful enterprise.
In my opinion that is a significant part of what was missing from Voyager and Enterprise. It’s also what I believe will be missing from the new Star Trek movie. The lasting appeal of Star Trek doesn’t stem from its crazy adventures, characters, or even philosophical moments but rather from its overarching vision. It’s obtainable and, in fact, we’ve already obtained a large portion of it. It’s served as a self-fulfilling prophecy and it can’t do so in the same way again. Which is what this reboot will miss – Star Trek needs a new updated vision not to continue trying to rehash Roddenberry’s old “formula”.
I believe that the world is hungry for a Star Trek, but I’m not even remotely convinced that a reboot of the old Star Trek will fill that need. We need a vision of an achievable optimistic future that gives us the hope to challenge ourselves. I think the new Star Trek will be a great movie but I’m not expecting to be challenged by it. Paramount is attempting once again to salvage its franchise by boldly going where man has gone before instead of seeking out a vision that reinvigorates the franchise. It’s not about phasers, holodecks, photon torpedoes, Kirk, or even the Enterprise. It’s about the future and boldly looking towards one that we could obtain but haven’t yet.
All that said I’ll still be watching it as soon as possible.
But all this is very selfish, I have heard some of my townsmen say. I confess that I have hitherto indulged very little in philanthropic enterprises. I have made some sacrifices to a sense of duty, and among others have sacrificed this pleasure also. There are those who have used all their arts to persuade me to undertake the support of some poor family in the town; and if I had nothing to do — for the devil finds employment for the idle — I might try my hand at some such pastime as that. However, when I have thought to indulge myself in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obligation by maintaining certain poor persons in all respects as comfortably as I maintain myself, and have even ventured so far as to make them the offer, they have one and all unhesitatingly preferred to remain poor. While my townsmen and women are devoted in so many ways to the good of their fellows, I trust that one at least may be spared to other and less humane pursuits. You must have a genius for charity as well as for anything else. As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution. Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands of me, to save the universe from annihilation; and I believe that a like but infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now preserves it. But I would not stand between any man and his genius; and to him who does this work, which I decline, with his whole heart and soul and life, I would say, Persevere, even if the world call it doing evil, as it is most likely they will.
I am far from supposing that my case is a peculiar one; no doubt many of my readers would make a similar defence. At doing something — I will not engage that my neighbors shall pronounce it good — I do not hesitate to say that I should be a capital fellow to hire; but what that is, it is for my employer to find out. What good I do, in the common sense of that word, must be aside from my main path, and for the most part wholly unintended. Men say, practically, Begin where you are and such as you are, without aiming mainly to become of more worth, and with kindness aforethought go about doing good. If I were to preach at all in this strain, I should say rather, Set about being good. As if the sun should stop when he had kindled his fires up to the splendor of a moon or a star of the sixth magnitude, and go about like a Robin Goodfellow, peeping in at every cottage window, inspiring lunatics, and tainting meats, and making darkness visible, instead of steadily increasing his genial heat and beneficence till he is of such brightness that no mortal can look him in the face, and then, and in the meanwhile too, going about the world in his own orbit, doing it good, or rather, as a truer philosophy has discovered, the world going about him getting good. When Phaeton, wishing to prove his heavenly birth by his beneficence, had the sun’s chariot but one day, and drove out of the beaten track, he burned several blocks of houses in the lower streets of heaven, and scorched the surface of the earth, and dried up every spring, and made the great desert of Sahara, till at length Jupiter hurled him headlong to the earth with a thunderbolt, and the sun, through grief at his death, did not shine for a year.
There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me — some of its virus mingled with my blood. No — in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way. A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy is not love for one’s fellow-man in the broadest sense. Howard was no doubt an exceedingly kind and worthy man in his way, and has his reward; but, comparatively speaking, what are a hundred Howards to us, if their philanthropy do not help us in our best estate, when we are most worthy to be helped? I never heard of a philanthropic meeting in which it was sincerely proposed to do any good to me, or the like of me.