Henri Nouwen vs Star Trek

star trek tosStar Trek has always enthralled me. It was created by Gene Roddenberry as a world exempt from racial strife, injustice, and peace and harmony throughout the galaxy. The tag line was that of continued exploration “To go where no one has gone before.” And in later spin off series, there was still a sense of righting wrongs, seeking to do justice, helping the helpless and the hurting. Technology was their friend. All things could be figured out by some complex technological idea followed by a simple analogy.

But that’s not what Henri Nouwen says “Our own preconceived, concretionary views have caused more hindrance than assistance in our attempts to improve our world and help one another.” (Creative Ministry, pg 78). In other words, we have our own ideas of what people need in order to be alleviated of their pain and suffering and injustice. But in the end, all we do is make things worse.

In Star Treks attempt to right wrongs and help the helpless and to ease the pain of the suffering, they caused sometimes more problems than it was worth. They went up against the Klingons in the original series. And, trying to create peace, caused more strife. Even in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, attempts to make peace with the Klingons caused more problems than it was worth. In the end, Spock told Star Fleet that the human response to be decommissioned was to “Go to hell.” Nothing was fully solved.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there were still attempts to make wrongs righted. And then they met the Borg. All their concrete ideas of peace and helping the helpless and alleviating the hurting all boiled down into Star Trek: First Contact where they had to fight the Borg head on and used non-concrete ways of thinking. The Borg still remained the Borg, still hurting people and not being able to be stopped no matter what the Enterprise did to alleviate the suffering caused by the Borg.

In Deep Space 9, there was the attempt to help the Bajoran people, occupied by the sadistic Cardasians for 60 years. In an attempt to help, they wound up causing a civil war, political unrest and then another war with a more powerful species on the other end of the universe.

star trek badgeStar Trek’s way of helping didn’t help. It made things worse. In our world, our own way of helping sometimes doesn’t always help. We think that if we come in with a program, with food, with blankets, with medicine, then we’re helping. And we will help for a little bit. But in the end, all we do is just enable.

There needs to be a fluidity. A way to help those we’re helping think concretely on their own. A way to help them see what they need and work towards it themselves. This happens while at the same time we work at seeing what we can do asking them to help us help them in concrete ways. Henri Nouwen writes

“The great task of ministry, however, is to live and to help live in the tension between both and search for a synthesis. Christian agents of social change are called upon to be social reformers who do not lose their own souls, to be active and prayerful at the same time.” (Creative Ministry, pg 84)

In other words, do both but do so prayerfully, in tension knowing that only through the power of Jesus can anything be done. That only through working prayerfully can things happen and change exist. Prayerfully the hurting can be helped, the hungry fed, the poor helped.

Jesus said you will always have the poor and you can help them at any time (Mark 14:7). And we ought to do so at every time. But to come to them and ask how we might help them. But more importantly, how we might pray for them.

Star Trek came out with a number of religions. None of them were about helping talked about helping the least of these.

Star Trek thought concretely, that if we worked hard enough we can change not just the world, but the galaxy. But even their own movies and episodes showed that they couldn’t even do that.

With Jesus, we can change the world. We will always have the hungry, the hurting. We will always have pain and impoverishment. This will stay with us until Jesus himself returns. But until then, we can alleviate the pain and suffering the best that we can, seeking to work together, helping one another along the way, bearing each others’ burdens.

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