Friday, May 08, 2009

Faith Works 5-9-09
Jeff Gill

Engage Thrusters, Helm; Chaplain To the Bridge

Yes, I am a Trekkie.

It’s said that hard-core fans of Star Trek prefer “Trekker,” but i’ve never heard anyone use that term for themselves, and I have trouble believing I’m not hard-core enough.

When “Star Trek” was a TV show (now, with so many later elements of the franchise, that is known as TOS for “The Original Series”), I saw it first in black and white. It was made in color, of course, but I may have seen one of the four or five I saw as a kid on a color set.

Then it went into syndicated reruns, but the basement TV was black and white, so I had a pretty shaky sense of who wore what color – for instance, I was slow on picking up the fact that a red shirt, unless your name was Scotty, meant you were plot filling dead meat, waiting for Bones McCoy, ship’s doctor, to look up and (never) say “He’s dead, Jim.”

I knew where my crew berth was, on Deck 8, aft portside, sector 24 on the TOS USS Enterprise NCC-1701, on Deck 13 (they aren’t superstitious in the 23rd century, or the 24th) on TNG’s NCC-1701D. It looked out from the underside of the saucer section towards the prow of the port nacelle, with an external bulkhead that sloped inwards towards the deck.

Is that Trekkie enough for you?

What I didn’t see a place for in the Star Trek universe was my faith. This was, obviously, no accident; the crew was certainly multicultural enough, with Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov, and more than multiracial with Spock on TOS and Worf on TNG. So presenting any kind of religious perspective would have been challenging, but should have made sense.

Anyone who has ever known a chaplain in any branch of the military would understand the challenge, and have stories about how you work past and around and through them.

But Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek universe, saw from the traumas of World War II and in the optimism of the 60’s where it all began, a future where science would give everyone a rational, reasonable, evidence-based, faith-free world.

He couldn’t resist giving Spock a coldly rational kind of spirituality that hinted at . . . something, but for the rest of the crew . . .

It didn’t matter to me, since I always inferred for myself a chaplain and a chapel just around one of those endlessly curving corridors, just out of sight. After my call to ministry came and I went to seminary, one of my papers was written essentially as a story, only vaguely disguised as the Trek universe, with the protagonist a chaplain on board a ship that wasn’t quite the Enterprise. (Actually, it was a Miranda class starship called the USS Bozeman, but that’s another story.)

The professor found the basic elements of what the paper was supposed to contain, graded that, and then added a note “but what happens next?” That’s what makes the Trekkie experience what it is, I guess – it doesn’t end when we leave the theater or turn off the TV.

Our family went Thursday night to see the new, “rebooted” Star Trek movie, and I’ve blogged about it as a movie at the website. There’s still no chaplain, unless you count Bones, who strikes me as a doctor whose grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister just outside of Atlanta and has issues, but still questions that take him back to that childhood congregation, where . . .*

See? We just can’t let it alone. Where else do you see faith at work and at play just under the surface, and how does your own faith weave into those imaginary pictures?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he holds the rank of Lt. Commander in Starfleet on a Cultural Contact Mitigation team (in his imagination). Tell him your story, true or imaginary, at, or follow “Knapsack” at

*DeForest Kelley's father was, in fact, a Baptist preacher.

[After ". . .turn off the TV." and before "Our family went . . ." were supposed to be these paragraphs, deleted by my hasty cut-n-pasting, in my rush to get an after-deadline column turned in after watching the Trek premiere Thursday night:

Science fiction doesn't always ditch the clergy or religious context of life in the future. Orson Scott Card, a committed and active Mormon, always shows the life of faith in his novels; not always the Latter Day Saints, either. The best example (from my point of view, anyhow) may be in "The Mote in God's Eye" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, where an obvious homage to the Trek universe can be seen in the descriptions of the bridge of the INSS MacArthur.

The CoDominium Navy in this future history has chaplains, and in the "first contact" at the center of this book, an Anglican clergyman and linguist is sent along on the voyage, shown performing both roles in the narrative; another ship in the novel, crewed largely by ethnic Russians, is the INSS Lenin, which has an icon corner on their bridge with a nearby samovar of tea bubbling away.

Many science fiction authors, if not Gene Roddenberry, see a lively and vital role for a robust faith when they look into the future through their unique lenses.] [Return above to "Our family went . . ."]

No comments:

Post a Comment