Fatherhood, Responsibility, and Frankenstein

Happy Sunday fellow Christians and Science Fiction fans alike. I have to say this post comes later than usual but I’ve had quite a busy day. This post is also a little different from what you all might be used to at this point because today I’m going to address fatherhood and what God teaches us about the importance of “staying in the picture.” A little history before I begin. My father wasn’t really in the picture after I turned 10. In fact, he rejected me outright because after my parents divorced I chose to live with my mother. The divorce drove a deeper wedge between my father and I, and eventually he disowned me. I don’t think my story is totally unique. There are so many Christians out there who have felt the sting of a fatherless existence, some worse than others.

This reminds me of a story I read repeatedly while doing my undergraduate degree in English, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think ever since Brian Aldiss The Billion Year Spree was published, science fiction scholars all around the world started to consider Frankenstein as the very first legitimate work of science fiction. I’m not going to spend time trying to prove or disprove that fact, but I take it on faith—having read it myself—that Shelley’s masterpiece falls under the category of “proto-science fiction.”

Most people know the story. A brash scientist named Victor Frankenstein wants to understand the mysteries of life and death, turning to science to discover a means to cheat the reaper. His experiments result in a grotesque creature cobbled together from bits and pieces of various cadavers. Frankenstein cannot stomach the sight of his creation and abandons him.

To quickly summarize, the creature leaves Frankenstein’s home, learns about society and mankind, suffers heartbreak and reject, and eventually turns murderous. One by one, Frankenstein’s friends and family are killed by the creature. Frankenstein goes looking for his monster to destroy him but in instead overpowered and forced to hear the creature’s tale. Turns out the creature is just in search of love and acceptance. He blames Frankenstein for his murderous rage.

“I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

Imagine an infant cast out onto the streets and left to fend for itself. Does the analogy surprise you? Shelley made the same connection. Her monster is the abandoned infant, the fatherless child. All the creature ever knows is abandonment. He never knows love, forgiveness, acceptance, let alone knowledge of the Lord, Jesus and the Gospels. Many of us have even just one parent or relative available to teach us about God. What does the creature have?

There are many who claim that the real monster of Frankenstein is Frankenstein himself. A callous man incapable of taking responsibility for his creation, and abandoning his “child” for the sake of his looks. Frankenstein tries to play God and he succeeds in so far as he brings a corpse to life with electricity. However, he fails at emulating God’s most the most quintessential characteristic which is unconditional and unending love. God never abandons his children, Jesus promises us this in the new covenant he formed with us and sealed with his death. With Jesus’ sacrifice we can have a close and intimate relationship with God. God becomes a parent that will never leave us. Only we can turn our backs on God.

Frankenstein is a narcissistic, self-absorbed father and his sin ultimately catches up with him. Frankenstein’s monster demands that his father make him a bride so that he could be happy. He agrees at first but does not uphold his promise. This results in the creature murdering Frankenstein’s wife, Elizabeth, Frankenstein gives chase and eventually dies in the artic aboard Captain Walton’s ship. The creature mourns Frankenstein and later erects a funeral pyre; he then casts himself into the flames with his father’s corpse. The story has many different meanings. You can choose to see it as the dangers of science unburdened by the morality of faith and religion, but I’ve always chosen to Frankenstein as a tale of failed parenthood. Ephesians 6:4 tells us:

fathers do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”

Be better than Frankenstein. Think not only of yourself, for when you bring a child into the world God has made then you are responsible for showing them the ways of the Lord. Love your children unconditionally for in love they were made.

Wow, this post was heavy and long! Sorry things got so intense. I’ve been musing about this for some time now and service today helped me understand that God is a father to us all, especially the fatherless. God bless you all, have a wonderful week.

PS. If you want to check out an amazing Frankenstein film, I’d recommend the 2004 miniseries with William Hurt, Donald Sutherland, and Luke Goss. It’s amazing.

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Being Angry With God, and Seeing the Signs

Hey All, praise God and praise Jesus on this blessed Sunday. I’m afraid family matters made posting last week near impossible for me. Thankfully, by the grace of God I was able to squeeze in some time before heading over to service this morning to post something I had been thinking about all week. As Christians we often talk about being happy, shouting our praises, and expressing our joy and love for God… but we never talk about being angry with him. So, is it okay to be mad at God? That’s a really good question. Here’s a better one. Is it okay to hate God, sometimes? This is kind of cheating, but I have an excellent Sci-Fi thriller in mind that deals with this very issue. M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. The film is arguably one of Shyamalan’s best work by my standards at least, and it forces us to use our analytical skills to the fullest when piecing together its overall meaning. Mel Gibson is also, arguably, at his best when performing the part of a character who has lost his faith and makes it feel believable.

I’ll make the summary of the film brief, as I must be at church in just a half hour. The film’s action picks up as Mel Gibson’s character, Graham Hess (an ex-priest who gave up the cloth after losing his wife in a terrible automobile accident), finds elaborate crop circles in his corn fields. Animals start losing their minds and people are even forced to shoot their dogs. Later, Graham begins to spot horrifying creatures in the corn field as he is under the impression that neighbourhood hooligans are making these circles to mess with him. After fleeing from one of these “monsters” and seeing another leap to the roof we begin to learn from a news broadcast that Aliens have begun to invade Earth. Yep, Aliens.

Merrill and Graham’s two other children start to wear tinfoil hats so they wont fall under the influence of “mind control”. Graham begins boarding up the house to keep the invading Aliens out. They manage to break in through the attic (silly Graham didn’t think of boarding up that entrance), so the family heads to the basement for protection. Unfortunately, one of the Aliens made it behind a coal chute. One of the Aliens manages to grab Graham’s youngest son Morgan, who suffers from asthma. Graham frees Morgan from the Alien’s grip but the resulting shock causes Morgan to suffer a severe asthma attack and his inhaler is nowhere to be found. Now this is probably one of the most powerful moments in the film and it is critical to our understanding of a person’s anger towards God. But let’s take just one step back into a scene just before this one, when the family sat down to enjoy a feast—they assumed it was the end of the world, so why not. When Morgan suggests they say grace Graham snaps.

“I am not wasting one more minute of my life on prayer. Not one more minute, understood?”

Mel Gibson delivers his lines with stern conviction, the tone and emotion of a man who isn’t indifferent to God but is filled with such anger and contempt for the Lord one can only shudder. Now, back to the basement and Morgan’s Asthma. Graham is sure his son could die, and in that moment, he curses god.

“Don’t do this to me again. Not again. I hate you”, he says, “I HATE you!”

Graham is talking to God. His hatred is intense. He’s beyond anger, he’s furious, but most of all he is afraid. Terrified to lose another person that he loves, Graham talks to Morgan, asking him to believe that his airways will open and that he will stabilize.

“The fear is feeding him. Don’t be afraid of what’s happening. Believe it’s going to pass. Believe it. Just wait. Don’t be afraid. The air is coming. Believe. We don’t have to be afraid. It’s about to pass. Here it comes. Don’t be afraid. Here comes the air. Don’t be afraid, Morgan. Feel my chest. Breathe with me. Together. The air is going in our lungs. Together. We’re the same. We’re the same.”

Powerful dialogue, and you can almost feel that Graham’s faith isn’t entirely gone and that somewhere deep inside despite blaming him for everything he still counts on God. Morgan partially recovers from his asthma and the family returns to the main floor of the house. Graham leaves Morgan on the couch while he and the rest of the family search for his inhaler. When they return Morgan is being held by one of the Aliens. Frozen with fear the family watches as the Alien begins to spray Morgan with a lethal poison mist. It is at this moment that Graham recalls the memory of his wife’s death.

Graham’s wife is pinned between a car and a tree, and the two share a tearful goodbye. Before she passes, Graham’s wife makes this statement.

“Tell Morgan to play games, it’s okay to be silly. Tell Bo to listen to her brother. He’ll always take care of her. And tell Graham… Tell Graham… see. Tell him to see. And tell Merrill to swing away.”

The lines are eerie, but they carry the films main message. Graham’s wife is talking to him and asking him, in the third person, to “see.” See what? The “signs.” Turns out Graham’s wife had a vision from God before passing. The silly games that Bo and Morgan play, like placing water cups around the house, turned out to be important when facing the Alien invader. Water burns their skin. Oh, and asking Merrill to “swing away” meant grabbing that baseball bat and giving the Alien a whooping he won’t soon forget. But the greatest miracle is that Morgan’s lungs were closed due to the asthma attack, so no poison went in. Morgan lives, and Graham, putting all the pieces together, finally “sees” the “signs.” He returns to being a priest, realizing that the tragedies in his life only prepared him for this moment. That God does everything for a reason, not simply to make us suffer, but to help us grow, evolve, and be better Christians. It’s so hard sometimes to trust in God’s plan, but we often must let him take the wheel and trust fully to really begin to “see” his work in our lives.

That’s all for this week. I’m off to church. God bless you!

Q, Picard, and the Faithfulness of God.

Any fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation would be loathe to call the omnipotent Q an example of God, the almighty. His character and motivations make him worthier of the mantle of Loki or Satan than of being likened to the love and joy that flows from God. Q was a Star Trek character that audiences loved to hate. How he toyed with the minds of the Enterprise crew. How he continuously tormented Jean Luc Picard. Q was the quintessential trickster God, no one would contest that. But what if I told you that Q wasn’t just a representation of Loki, or some omnipotent being getting kicks out of our suffering. What if Q also demonstrated qualities that could very well be likened to the Lord? I know I’m saying this at the cost of upsetting both Christians and fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation but bear with me for a moment. How many times has Q shown an almost devoted sense of fascination with Picard? How his games have always represented thinly veiled life lessons that helped the captain or a member of his crew to grow and mature? Q said it best in the final episode of the series, entitled “All Good Things…”, “the trial never ends.”

That’s the role Q occupies throughout the series. He is the trial master, testing the occupants of the Enterprise to see if humanity has the potential to exceed their limits and transcend their existence. To a degree, whenever we are called to hear the word of God we are asked to transcend the limits of our being and be filled to the very brim with the nectar of the holy spirit. For many Christians this is easy, but for the rest of humanity becoming enlightened is just “silly.” Q sees such potential in Picard and returns time and time again to teach and to test him.

One example that comes to mind is the episode entitled “Tapestry.” During the episode Picard is injured and lying on Dr. Crusher’s operating table. His artificial heart suffered severe damages and Picard’s fate looks all but grim. The scene suddenly changes to an all white and bright room where Picard meets with Q, and the two begin to discuss how Picard got an artificial heart in the first place, demonstrated that he was stabbed in the back as an ensign during a bar fight with two Nausicaans. After lamenting how foolish he was during his youth, Picard is given a second chance by Q to change his fate. Picard then returns to the past, prevents the fight, and returns to find a present not at all to his liking. Because of his decision to change the past he finds that he is still an ensign, never having taken any risks that would lead to him becoming captain of the Enterprise. This present is too much for Picard to bear that he begs Q to return him to the life he remembered, even if it meant dying. Picard states, “I would rather die as the man I was… than live the life I just saw.” Q doesn’t seem to be the malevolent trickster we remembered him to be. Instead, he comes as a teacher and offers Picard a valuable lesson about life and the choices we make, and to a degree “the divine plan.”

“You’re right, Q. You gave me the chance to change, and I took the opportunity. But I admit now – it was a mistake!”

Picard realizes now that the chooses he made in life led him to become captain of the Enterprise. It was the risks he embraced throughout his career that would ultimately make him one of the most influential captains in Star Trek history; he has Q to thank for teaching him to be grateful for the path he chose to take.

Q has also taken center stage in episodes like “Deja Q”. Having been kicked out of the Q continuum, Q is made human and forced to live among the Enterprise crew for the rest of his days. During the episode he learns what it means to be human, takes on human tasks, eats, drinks, and so forth. Sound familiar? God did the same thing in the form of Jesus. Now hold on. Q is no Jesus, he’s selfish, vain, cruel and annoying. All the things Jesus is not, but what makes this episode so profound is how Q manages to put his selfish desires aside and sacrifice himself to protect the Enterprise from a Calamarain attack. Stealing a shuttle, Q attempts to distract the Calamarain attackers, who are really after him in the first place for having tormented their species. However, right before the Calamarains can exact their revenge on Q, he is welcomed back into the Q Continuum, and made a God again. Once again, Q is no Jesus, but one can’t help but link Jesus’ self-sacrifice and return to God from death to what happens to Q.

Finally, there is the final episode of the series, “All Good Things…” Here, Q throws Picard back and forth in time to try and prevent the annihilation of humanity. As the episode progresses, Picard learns that Q and the rest of the Q Continuum have judged human beings as inferior, and that he and the crew of the enterprise are responsible for mankind’s extinction. Picard eventually discovers (albeit with Q’s help), that in the future he creates an anti-time anomaly that prevents life from forming on Earth in the distant past. Picard stops this anomaly by uniting with other temporal versions of himself within the anti-time anomaly. One by one the other Enterprises within the anomaly begin to explode, with the future Picard’s being the very last, but not before collapsing the anti-time anomaly for good. Picard immediately awakens in a courtroom with Q floating beside him. There he learns that Q was responsible for helping Picard stop the destruction of humanity. He tells Picard his was responsible for the whole fiasco, stating.

“I was the one that got you into it; a directive from the continuum. The part about the helping hand… was my idea.”

Q may have thrust Picard and the Enterprise crew into their toughest mission yet; even the Continuum was ready to turn its back on humanity, but Q remained. It was Q, who despite all his seemingly malicious treatment of the Enterprise crew and Picard, never gave up believing in them. In that respect, Q has a lot in common with God and Jesus. Our God is, after all, a faithful god. God never forgets, always forgives, and is always ready to welcome us back into his loving embrace despite our past sins, our “inferior nature” as Q puts it so well. God loves us unconditionally, and while it might sometimes seem like he is so far away, he’s always right around the corner, giving us a hand.

God bless all of you on this holy Sunday. Till next week.

Faith and Mental Fight

I didn’t feel like writing this post. I didn’t feel like writing, period. Usually I put out these faith centered posts on Sunday after service concludes to show my devotion to Jesus and God, but I didn’t. Not this past Sunday. Not when I was supposed to be thankful for the life God breathed into me from the day I was born. I felt yucky about the whole thing and mused for hours on what made me go astray. Was it all the preparation I had to do in my apartment to host 13 people for Thanksgiving? Was it my ADHD distracting me from my work yet again? Was it my newborn puppy that takes up a great deal of my time and attention? Well, if I am going to be totally honest I just didn’t feel like it. Guess what, I’m not the only believer who feels this way when, of all things, they try to do what their faith requires of them. I am no expert, I am no authority on faith, as a good friend from church once told me, but I have some experience dealing with going astray. And as this is a Sci-Fi blog, I’m going to use an AWESOME 80’s flick to illustrate my point.

John Carpenter is the Mr. Christy of movies. He gets how to make an amazing film, especially when it comes to pumping out science fiction masterpieces. One of those films is They Live, a film starring Roddy Piper and Keith David and centers around a strange pair of sunglasses that reveal the truth about the world we live in. Let me summarize quickly. Roddy Piper’s character, a drifter sometimes called John Nada, movies into Los Angeles looking for work in construction, but as he doesn’t have much money to his name he camps with a few strangers in a homeless community. There he meets two men watching an old television set rigged to pick up broadcasts. They accidentally manage to pick up a secret broadcast being sent from a priest from within a church warning the world that they have been put to “sleep” by malevolent forces. The broadcast abruptly stops, and life continues. Later, John enters a suspicious looking church and is stopped by a blind preacher telling him that while he has been blinded the “lord has helped him see” and that John will “be back.”

John flees the church only to find that later that day the police have surrounded the homeless community and attacked the church goers. They later bulldoze the huts the homeless have built to run them out of town. John stays behind and re-enters the church only to find it empty but happens upon a box of sunglasses. At first, he doesn’t make much of them but takes a pair and leaves. Now, the following scenes are probably the most critical of the film and are what have given this film such a renowned following. John takes a walk down a busy Los Angeles avenue and tries on the glasses.

I just must take a moment and acknowledge the creative genius that God has seen fit to grace John Carpenter with. He has truly constructed a thought-provoking film and invites us to scrutinize every detail of its execution. First, the glasses allow John to see a black and white world. This detail is not superficial by any means, it connects to the films central theme. Setting aside the bull and getting to the truth; to see the world as “black and white”. When John looks at a billboard on the side of a building with the glasses off it shows an advertisement for a new computer station. Put the glasses on, the sign reads “obey”. John has many more instances like this, including looking at a street vendor holding money, that when looked at through the lens of these glasses says, “this is your god.” Powerful stuff.

The film is a gripping social satire, but it also reminds the faithful of just how crazy our society has become. We, as human beings are hardwired by God to worship. Unfortunately, we have the tendency to worship things rather than the one who made us. This is the conclusion of that vain form of worship, we have now come to worship greed. That’s right folks, money has become God to many. But a larger question remains. How come we can’t see this “truth”, this “reality” without the help of these “glasses” found in the house of the Lord? Aliens. No, seriously, nasty looking aliens. Oh, and they’re all rich and powerful.

Let’s take a step back. John looks at a rich man buying a magazine at the same street vendor and is stunned. He sees something inhuman. It’s an Alien. It turns out that these extraterrestrials have come to Earth to invade and conquer humanity. They form a secret society, an “illuminatus” of sorts that makes all the decisions and keeps all the money. See the parallels? Once again, this is great social satire, but it harbors a message of faith too. It’s no surprise the glasses that show the truth are hidden in a church. To a degree, we are living in a world where we are constantly tempted to turn from Jesus and run to the comforts of the material world. We have been put to sleep and close our eyes to the truth of our worsening condition. As we continue to embrace greed we trample on the lives of others, we destroy homes, we become cold and callous, and we forget the love Jesus gave us and the love he expects us to have for one another.

As the film progresses John tries to convince his friend, Frank Armitage (Keith David) to put on the glasses and see as he does. The exchange brakes out into a five-minute fight sequence where John tries to forcefully put the glasses on Frank. He eventually succeeds, and Frank joins the struggle against these malicious aliens. There are many important scenes in this film, but this is the most important by far. This fight is not just physical, it is mental. It is a mental struggle to change someone’s point of view. When it comes to faith, keeping it, turning away from worshiping the material world and running to Jesus, it can sometimes feel a lot like a battle in our minds. There is a great line from Blake that I think fits this situation perfectly: “I will not cease from mental fight.”

As Christians trying to keep to our faith and the right way to live we must constantly engage in mental fight. We must pull ourselves away from identifying with our careers, our money, and ourselves. That way lies narcissism, self-adoration, pride and the worship of things that are empty. Only Jesus, only God almighty is permanent. Only through our worship of God can we be made to feel whole and full. They live is an excellent testament to mental fight and the war we must wage within ourselves to stay true to the “truth” of God. When we overcome our own selfish desires, cast aside all excuses, can we see with eyes uncovered.

I apologize for being late this week, I will not cease from mental fight to ensure that my next post arrives on time. God bless all of you and happy thanksgiving. Be thankful that God has given you life today and that he has blessed you with his world and with his presence.

Amen.

Faith and the Importance of Trust

Faith in God, or rather faith in what we have been taught of God, Jesus and their remarkable love and affection for us has always been a matter of trust. To be more precise, faith in God’s love is dependent upon our trusting that his love is real and that he is real and walks amongst us. Many times, my faith in Jesus, and those of my loved ones has been tested. On many occasions we have lost our faith and went astray only to return to Jesus’ loving embrace. But what does any of this have to do with science fiction? Well, according to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, entitled “Rightful Heir”, quite a lot. Let me briefly summarize the episode.

Kahless is considered the founding patriarch of the Klingons. As the greatest warrior of all he unites the Klingon tribes into a single empire and instructs them to record and keep sacred the laws of honor. Once he defeated his enemies–one being the evil warlord Molor– and united his people, he died and went to Sto-Vo-Kor (Heaven), promising he would someday return to lead his people to peace. Now, Kahless is no Jesus, but by Klingon standards he might as well be. Those who are faithful to Kahless await his return on Boreth; it is here that Worf goes to have a vision of his savior. At first Worf struggles to have a vision of Kahless and it takes him several tribes until, at the end of the episodes first act, Kahless appears in the flesh. Kahless returns… or does he?

Those who believe in Kahless are stunned by his return to the mortal world while others, like the new Klingon ruler Gowron are skeptical. As the episode goes on Kahless is every bit the wise teacher he is expected to be: wise, humble, and honorable. He appeals to Worf’s faith and even submits himself to testing with a Tricorder in order to prove that he is real. Worf rejoices as the savior of the Klingons has returned, but the truth has yet to be revealed. Kahless battles a rambunctious Gowron who refuses to accept the return of Kahless, who would spell certain doom for his government. Kahless proves a powerful warrior, but Gowron bests him in the end reveling in his victory and proclaiming that the real Kahless would never have lost.

It is revealed that the priests on Boreth used DNA of the real Kahless to create a clone. They wanted to stage Kahless’ return to bring peace to the Klingon Empire and restore honor and dignity to their race. Worf becomes disenchanted with the idea of Kahless and turns his back on his faith and Boreth, but as the episode progresses he returns to support the clone for the greater good. The episode ends with Worf saying goodbye to the clone of Kahless, who acknowledging his own artificiality says,

Kahless left us, all of us, a powerful legacy. A way of thinking and acting that makes us Klingon. If his words hold wisdom and his philosophy is honorable, what does it matter if he returns? What is important is that we follow his teachings. Perhaps the words are more important than the man.”

Powerful sermon, but what does this have to do with Jesus? First it is important to acknowledge that Kahless is fiction and Jesus is fact. This quotation from the episode is not to suggest that Jesus’ return is not important, or that his words are greater than he is. What is important is the faith we, as Christians, place in his words even though Jesus is not around to speak them today. As faithful Christians we need to accept that those “teachings” “philosophy”, and “way of thinking” are evidence of the living reality of Jesus in our life; of his presence in our every day. That is the wisdom of the Kahless clone’s speach to Worf. Faith in Kahless is more than seeing him return, it is about maintaining a belief in his promise and following his lessons. The word of Jesus is no different. Some of us seem to only believe when we can physically see the work of God in our lives or receive some sort of sign to accept that he is present. The truth is, in the very word of God, Jesus is here with us right now. Jesus is in our hearts with every breath we take, whenever we follow his example, and whenever we humble ourselves to his lessons. We are all like Worf, losing our way only to return to having faith in what we cannot see or measure. In the end we give our hearts over to the promises that our saviors have given.

This will be the first in a weekly entry of science fiction and Christianity parallels. I want to share my faith and my love of science fiction with anyone who will listen. Enjoy.