What the Church can learn from Star Trek
I admit it…I’m a nerd. I’ve loved Star Trek since before the “cool” reboot of this summer. It’s in my blood: my father was hooked as a star-gazing teenager.
I thoroughly enjoyed the summer movie, though, and I began thinking about what made it an excellent movie, and what promises it made for revitalizing the franchise. (Caution: spoilers ahead!) Here’s a few ways in which I believe the Church can learn from Star Trek:
Re-connecting at a deep level with people
Take the opening scene, with the famous James T Kirk’s parents aboard the ill-fated USS Kelvin. The build of interest, engagement, and emotional connection to everything that was about to happen in the movie was kicked off with a vengeance in the first few minutes. George and Winona Kirk are believably real as they are separated, Winona gives birth, and George spends the last 2 minutes of his life listening to his son and picking a name, before he says a final “I love you” to his wife, defending her and the rest of the escaping crew to the death. At the end, as you watch the Kelvin annihilated in a self-sacrificial burst of light as the Kirk family continues in the new baby, you cannot help but be drawn into the narrative.
We rarely narrate our own “origin story” with the same emotive content. Our preaching is either irrelevant to the gospel and/or people’s lives, or it gives no reason to actually touch the lives of the hearers. The same with Bible study and evangelism efforts. Recapturing the emotive heart of faith and coupling it with a robust re-telling of the Story of God that is in the Bible and Christian history must be at the center of any church renewal.
What a great cast! A few seasoned veterans like Karl Urban (Bones) and Bruce Greenwood (Pike)…and of course Leonard Nimoy’s extended cameo as Spock Prime…but a number of new faces from TV or obscurity. And they acted superbly–which is the most important thing. No wooden Anakin Skywalker-like portrayals in this universe. If you were a huge fan and could remember Kirk and Co. as they were originated by Shatner et al., you could really believe that these folks were just their younger version. If you were new, then the acting stacked up favorably against Wolverine, Angels & Demons, and other new releases in May/June.
Passion and youth have a great deal to contribute to the revival of the church. Things may not be done in the same way, but the intensity, homage to tradition, and skill brought to bear by the new actors of Star Trek ’09 cannot be denied. Young Christians, young clergy would do well to bring the same balance of respect, excellence, and freshness to the faith today. (And many of them are doing so: check out UMCYoungClergy as a great example of this!)
The Star Trek that burst onto the scene in 1966 was a rabid counter-cultural force, in some ways not unlike the early church as recorded in Acts. Building a loyal community centered around a different vision, a different way of doing things didn’t ensure the original TV series a traditional version of success. It did create an out-of-the-mainstream cultural phenomenon that is more than 40 years old and has been a significant influence upon American society, the vision of space exploration, peaceful international relationships, and more. It is now poised with the promise to reach new people, tell engaging and timely stories (that are really about who WE are), and spark the imaginations of 21st century Terrans.
The church has the same promise. We may have made many mistakes over the past few years (centuries?) but we have an even bigger potential. We aren’t in the business of creating consumers for tie-ins or fans to line up for conventions, but in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. True inspiration comes from the movement of the Holy Spirit, and it is my hope that we will watch for the “reboot” opportunites afforded us in the church. Can we harness our passionate youth, our traditional elders, our emotions and our stories, our counter-cultural power so that the Spirit will truly “renew the face of the earth”? It’s a challenge worth spending your life for, much as James T. discovers when he takes an old friend of his father’s up on the offer to make something of himself in Starfleet.
I don’t want to stretch the analogy to its breaking point, but if you haven’t gone and seen the movie, go while it’s still in the theaters! (JJ Abrams has not paid me off to push ticket sales…) It’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I wonder: can those who encounter Christians and the Church say the same thing about us?