31 March 2011

a storyline that isn’t linear

Once again, I’ve been reminded why, of all of the Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine is my favorite.  Over the past few months, I have visited (via DVD) Captain Benjamin Sisko and the rest of the crew.  The writing for the show was consistently superb; there were so many great episodes.

It’s a rare thing in television (forget simply Star Trek) when we’re treated to a storyline with the power of this show.  The evolution of Sisko’s character, played so brilliantly by Avery Brooks, is a joy to behold.  He goes from being a bitter Starfleet officer, anguished by the death of his wife, to accepting his role as the emissary to the Prophets of Bajor.  These Prophets, godlike beings, choose him—against his wishes!—to help the Bajorans restore their planet and culture, after decades of military occupation.

I especially love the episode in season six, “Far Beyond the Stars.”  Sisko receives visions from the Prophets in which his consciousness keeps shifting to the mind of Benny Russell, a black science fiction writer in 1950s America.  Racism prevents the magazine he works for to reveal that he isn’t white.  He authors a story about a space station four hundred years in the future with a black captain.  The publisher refuses to print the story.  The stress is too much for Benny, and he collapses, shouting, “I am a human being, damn it!  You can deny me all you want but you cannot deny Ben Sisko.  He exists.  That future, that space station, all those people, they exist in here, in my mind.”

At the end of the episode, Benjamin is speaking with his father, who has come from Earth to visit him.  He’s reflecting on the vision.  “I have begun to wonder.  What if it wasn’t a dream?  What if this life we’re leading—all of this, you and me, everything—what if all of this…is the illusion?”  His father replies, “That’s a scary thought.”  He agrees, “I know, I know.  But maybe, just maybe, Benny isn’t the dream.  We are.  Maybe we’re nothing more than figments of his imagination.  For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere, far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell…is dreaming of us.” 

For a man who discovers that his life is not linear, that may be some useful insight!

21 March 2011

still a story

Like the rest of us, I knew that the military had used the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman for propaganda purposes.  The former Arizona Cardinals safety was supposedly killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  I had only seen good reviews of the movie, The Tillman Story (2010), so I figured I could spend an hour and a half of my life watching it.  It was even better than I expected.

The movie feels a bit like a murder mystery.  Evidence useful for a forensic investigation disappears or is destroyed.  Mary “Dannie” Tillman, Pat’s mother, goes through a laboriously painstaking process, sifting through reams of documents that the Army dumps on her.

Then-Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, irritated because the Tillman family keeps pushing for more investigation after they know that they have been lied to, offers this explanation:  “These people have a hard time letting it go.  It may be because of their religious beliefs.”  He adds, “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right?  Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to?  Nothing.  You are worm dirt.”

I suppose a “faithful” response would be one that sits down, shuts up, and forgets about discovering the truth.

Speaking of discovering the truth, there’s a great scene of a congressional committee meeting in which we see the Tillman family, a row of generals, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  A frequent refrain among the military guys goes along the lines of “I don’t remember.”  And speaking of Rumsfeld, it’s noted that he personally wrote a letter of congratulations to Pat Tillman when he left the NFL to enlist.  Friend of the family and Special Forces veteran Stan Goff (a man who served with the Rangers and Delta Force) wonders why he didn’t get a letter of congratulations from the Secretary of Defense when he enlisted!

After the fiasco of the congressional hearing, Dannie Tillman sighs, “I feel like I’ve done what I can for him.”

This movie made me mad.  I didn’t realize how badly the Bush administration had manipulated Pat Tillman, his memory, and his family to manufacture a hero in order to sell their war. 

But this movie also made me happy.  It made me laugh.  And as an NFL fan, I was reminded of the one year of Tillman’s career when the Cardinals had a decent season.  They qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card team and knocked off the Cowboys in the first round.  (Watching the movie takes the sting out of that!)

10 March 2011

punk philosophy

“What do you do when your foundation falls apart?  I don’t know.  They don’t teach you that in school.”  Is it too much to say that Matthew Lillard, as Stevo in 1998’s SLC Punk!, utters words that have been the concern of artists, philosophers, and theologians throughout the centuries?  (Probably.)  The psalmist posed the question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:3).  (Although calling any of the characters in this movie “righteous” would likely earn you a punch in the face.)

I have again watched this zany, funny, political, romantic, and heartbreaking movie.  Lillard’s character narrates his life as a punk rocker in the wilderness of Salt Lake City.  The time is 1985—right in the middle of the Reagan era.  His best friend is played by Michael Goorjian, and then there’s the crazy cool Annabeth Gish, who adores them both.

A quick side note:  both Christopher McDonald (Stevo’s dad) and Jennifer Lien (Sandy) are Star Trek veterans.  McDonald appeared in the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” on ST: The Next Generation.  And Lien played the role of Kes in ST: Voyager.

Stevo undergoes a journey of self-discovery and dis-illusionment, so much so that he’s finally forced to say, “F_ck anarchy.”  Anarchy has been his friend—the system, his enemy.  He concludes that he’ll go to Harvard Law School, just like his father, because he can do “a lot more damage in the system than outside of it.” 

I suppose if one wants to walk the path of the punk rocker, that’s the way to look at it.

06 March 2011


“Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17:1-2).  The churches who follow the Revised Common Lectionary recognize today as the Transfiguration of the Lord.

In a moment, Peter, James, and John were confronted by a sight they had never seen­­­—Jesus glowing with a fierce intensity.  Mark says that his garments glimmered with a brightness, “such as no one on earth could bleach them” (9:3).

I suppose it’s only appropriate that we have a less-than-dramatic imitation of transfiguration.  Last night, the weather was warm and rainy.  (By “warm,” I am speaking relatively!)  This morning, we awoke to ice, and now, a steady snowfall.  The whiteness of the landscape doesn’t compare to the glory of God in the face of Christ, but for right now, it’s enough to be a reminder of what today is. 

(The images are of our transfigured—and still transfiguring—part of the world.)

04 March 2011

walking the dog

In the current issue of the Utne Reader, I and my Sheltie, Duncan, have found kindred spirits.  While pondering about “Life, Off the Leash,” John Zeaman sounds some themes about the simple joy of walking with your dog through the snow.  Add to that, walking on a snowy evening.  Anyone who’s ever loved a dog should read the article.  (It isn’t very long!)

Duncan has always found the sight of his green leash an occasion for elation.  He knows that means one thing:  it’s time to go for a walk.  By the way, we’ve learned to either spell that word out or use the word “stroll.”  Unless, of course, we’re serious about taking that walk.