Sunday, July 27, 2014

Turning Away

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

The third series of the Doctor Who spinoff show Torchwood was a big departure from the edgy-yet-campy, monster-of-the-week format of the previous two series. “Children Of Earth” was a five-episode miniseries, and its tone was as different as its format. The Torchwood team, now down to just Captain Jack, Gwen, and Ianto, must find a way to save the world’s children from being taken by a sinister alien race.

Although it is set in the Doctor Who universe and is based around a crossover character, the Doctor’s former companion, Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood has virtually nothing to do with its parent show outside of just a few references. It is about a small team of people, armed with advanced (and often alien) technology who work together without outside help (especially from a certain Time Lord) to protect the earth from extra-terrestrial menaces. If you don’t know that it’s a Who spinoff, you might not even make the connection between the two shows - I certainly didn’t until I was well into the second series. Therefore, Gwen’s recorded message to whomever might discover her video, should the world come to an end as they fear it might, makes perfect sense.

"There's one thing I always meant to ask Jack, back in the old days,” she tells the camera. “I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world, except sometimes he doesn't. All those times in history when there was no sign of him. Why not? But I don't need to ask anymore. I know the answer now. Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame."

I have heard variations on this statement espoused by those who do not believe, or struggle to believe, in God - usually it goes something along the lines of, “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world? Where was he when (insert current tragic event) was going on?”

It’s a valid question, and a difficult one to answer at the best of times. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, but what about when your vision is clouded in the moment and you’re not sure you’ll ever make it far enough to be able to look back? I am thankful that neither life nor death, nor rulers, nor future events, nor present troubles, nor distance (physical or otherwise), nor fears and doubts, not even the shameful things we do, individually and collectively, can separate us from the One who loves us and takes care of us whether we are aware of him or not.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

An Experiment

I have an Evernote notebook of ideas for the blog, but deciding what to write about is still often a challenge, especially now that I have finished blogging through The Hobbit. Going by the book gave me a nice structure to follow and left me with at least one thing I didn't have to worry about - the "now what?" question that follows each blog post. To give myself some structure and remove at least one stressor (for me) of blog writing, I have decided to try an experiment. I am going to attempt to let the scripture passages of the Lectionary each week guide my choice of topic, either by drawing me to something I have already made note of, or by leading me to think of appropriate SF examples that fit one of the scripture references. I figure with four choices each week I ought to be able to figure something out!

If it works, great! If not, I'll figure something else out. It very well may be that some weeks the given passages don't give me anything to write about, and that's ok, too - inspiration comes from many places after all. I hope you'll continue to join me on the journey, whichever direction the path may take!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stuck In Traffic

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

The Doctor’s identity as the “Last of the Time Lords” is emphasized throughout the first few series of New Who, the idea that he is the last of his kind, the only one of his race left in existence. He is, he believes, alone in the universe.

This theme is explored on a larger scale in the 3rd series episode, “Gridlock.” The Doctor and Martha Jones find themselves in a very different 15-times-new New York than the bright, white city he had previously visited with Rose Tyler, misadventures with cat nuns notwithstanding. They find dark alleys full of drug sellers and an exhaust-choked motorway full of cars going nowhere, vehicles that, quite literally, have been stuck in traffic for years.

Throughout the episode, the Doctor and Martha meet a variety of denizens of the motorway as they make their way back to each other after Martha is kidnapped. Each small group has made a home in the midst of its isolation, waiting, creeping forward inches at a time, looking forward to the day when they might finally reach an exit and escape the madness. Rarely do they see others. Their radio calls to the police never get a response. They are fending for themselves.

What if they have been abandoned to the motorway, what if there are no exits to greener pastures after all? “We’re not abandoned,” Brannigan tells the Doctor, “not while we have each other.” Brannigan is referring to his wife and their kittens, but the daily radio broadcast reminds each car load that there are many others listening in many other cars at the same time. It never really provides new information, but it always ends with an ancient song so well-known to everyone that they all stop to sing along, something that has become somewhat of an anthem for all of them. It is neither a great work of classical music nor an iconic pop song that has survived the millions of years and millions of light years. It is a far more interesting choice - the old familiar hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”

I wonder what the people of New...New York make of the words, or if they even look beyond the comforting familiarity to examine them. Regardless of Russell T. Davies’ intentions, though, the hymn is a potent reminder to Christians that we are never alone. Even when we are stuck in the rat race of life, unable to exit the endless traffic jam and choking, poisonous air, and all of our cries for help seem to go unanswered, we “cherish the Old Rugged Cross” because of the one who died there and rose again, the one who goes with us every step of the way and reminds us that we are never abandoned.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Never Alone

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

This is not the type of speculative fiction story that I usually base these blog entries around. This is the true story of NASA astronaut Michael Massimino and what happened one day in 2009 when he went on a spacewalk to repair a part of the Hubble Space Telescope.

I would encourage you to go read his entire account here, but this is the gist of what happened: Massimino was tasked with removing 117 screws on an access panel so that a bad power supply unit could be replaced. He and his team trained for years to learn the task, learn the tools, and know their roles in the spacewalk cold, so that they could do the job quickly, safely, efficiently. When they finally got to Hubble and began the job, they were stopped by one screw that just wouldn't let go, in a handrail that blocked the access panel. It was the start of what seemed like a looming disaster to Mass. He couldn’t do his job, and it made him feel discouraged and alone. His spacewalk partner had his own tasks to do. No one on the shuttle had a spacesuit on, so they couldn’t come running out to give assistance. In Massimino's own words:

They couldn’t come out here and help me. And then I actually looked at the Earth; I looked at our planet, and I thought, There are billions of people down there, but there’s no way I’m gonna get a house call on this one. No one can help me.

I felt this deep loneliness. And it wasn’t just a Saturday-afternoon-with-a-book alone. I felt detached from the Earth. I felt that I was by myself, and everything that I knew and loved and that made me feel comfortable was far away. And then it started getting dark and cold.

What he didn’t realize until later, after the job was done (with a great deal of help from his team both in space and in mission control), was that he was never alone. In addition to his teammate inside the shuttle and the NASA folks on the ground, he learned later that his wife and so many other friends and family members were thinking about him at that moment. He may have been on his own, in a self-contained suit, floating in space with only a thin tether connecting him to anything else, but he was never alone.

In the article, Massimino never mentions what kind of faith he might or might not have. He did have family and friends and coworkers helping him and thinking of him and supporting him every step of the way, whether he realized it at the time or not.

I don’t always recognize the presence of God when I’m feeling abandoned in the middle of a difficult situation, either, but I am grateful for friends and family who point the way to Him and remind me that I will never be alone, no matter what.

“A View of the Earth. From the Hubble Space Telescope. Which I Nearly Broke.” by Michael Massimino, August 31, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2014.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Rarely do people return from long journeys to find they are completely the same as when they left. On his journey There and Back Again, Bilbo Baggins discovers courage, faith, resourcefulness, and friendship. He brings back to Hobbiton a great deal of treasure as well. But after the dust settles and most Hobbits are satisfied that he is not, in fact, dead, and after the auctioned-off furniture is repurchased and his sword is hung over the mantle, there is something else different about him:

Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons - he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighborhood to be 'queer' - except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.

Some people set great store by reputation, both their own and others’. But really, isn’t reputation, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? Tolkien tells us that in general, Hobbits set great store by being stodgy homebodies, predictable in every way, so by those standards Bilbo has lost his reputation. Yet one Hobbit’s dodgy reputation as one who goes on adventures with dwarves (oh, the horror!) is another person’s set of admirable personality traits, to be admired and emulated.

Paul recognized this as well, and said as much to the Philippians. The things the world values are trash in the eyes of Christ, but if his reputation because of his faith is trashy in the eyes of the world, well, so be it, because the world’s opinion is not the one that really counts. Besides, I rather like the sound of “queer old elf-friend,” don’t you?