Friday, January 11, 2008

Shooting for the Stars

I love the Star Trek movies and TV series. Whether it’s the original Star Trek from the 60’s to the most recent series like Star Trek Next Generation, Voyager, or Deep Space Nine—I just couldn’t get enough of these Sci-Fi fantasy shows. Now I wouldn’t consider myself a Trekkie, per say, but I would pay to see a Star Trek celebrity if I had the chance. I think my favorite character of all of them, however, is Jean Luc Picard. And during this Epiphany season following our holidays I think it is appropriate for Jean-Luc to sing you his version of a favorite Christmas carol.

Star Trek Carol by Jean-Luc Picard (to the tune of ''Let It Snow'')
Oh, the vacuum outside is endless,
Unforgiving, cold, and friendless,
But still we must boldly go--
Make it so, make it so, make it so!

Okay…that was my only bad joke in this blog. But think about the something with me if you will. Knowing what we know today about Science and the cosmos…just how do we interpret the story of the magi and the star they followed to the Christ child?

A theologian and an astronomer were talking together one day about their different understandings about how the universe works. The astronomer said that after reading widely in the field of religion, he had concluded that all religion could be summed up in a single phrase. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," he said, with a bit of smugness, knowing that his field of astronomy is so much more complex.

After a brief pause, the theologian replied that after reading widely in the area of astronomy he had concluded that all of it could be summed up in a single phrase also. "Oh, and what is that?" the astronaut inquired.

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are!"
If there is one thing we do know today about the vast Universe, it is the fact there is more empty space out there than there is filled. And that empty space is pretty dark and mysterious. We just don’t know too much about it. What we do know comes to us in small glimpses and flickers.

Light shining in the darkness is a central image in the story of Jesus’ birth. It is most obvious in the star of Matthew's Gospel, shining in the night sky and leading the wise men of the gentiles to the place of Jesus' birth. One of my favorite authors and theologians, Marcus Borg suggests that the symbolism of light and darkness is ancient, prototypical and cross - cultural. It has many rich meanings. Darkness is associated with blindness, night, sleep, cold, gloom, despair, lostness, chaos, death, danger and yearning for the dawn. It is a striking image of the human condition. Light is seen as the antidote to the above, and is thus an image of salvation. In the light, one is awake, able to see and find one's way; it is associated with relief and rejoicing that the night is over; in the light one is safe and warm. In the light there is life.

For Matthew, and for Christians ever since, Jesus is the light shining in the darkness. The author of John's Gospel makes the same affirmation: "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." Jesus is the light who brings enlightenment; indeed, he is "the light of the world." This is the truth of this theme of the birth stories. And it is still true independent of their historical factuality. (reflections from

And speaking of ancient history, as a boy I used to look forward to my camp outs as a “Royal Ranger,” the Pentecostal equivalent of the Boy Scouts. I loved going deep into the woods of the Hocking Hills where the sky was clear and there were no city lights to spoil the view of the night stars. Our trips always started with cramming into trucks and vans, which we rode in for what seemed hours and hours. The ride was always long and boring. Sometimes we would joke and tell stories. Sometimes look at the scenery out of the window. Sometimes we would try to sleep using our jackets as pillows. After a stop to get food and gas, we made our way to the winding roads leading into the national park’s entrance. The scenery got darker and darker and the road began to wind back and forth. Sometimes we younger boys got a little scared. The taller boys could see the white lines on the road with the headlights. But all of us knew one thing—we were out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.

Suddenly, we could see a few lights on the side of the road. The vans and trucks would turn onto a gravel road. The lights would illumine a small campground and the vehicles would stop. We would then unload our gear, and set up camp. After dinner, our leader announced we would hike to out to see the stars. I was excited to learn about the constellations and all the large lights in the sky. We would hike deeper into the woods to the top of the tallest hill. Then the leader would announce, "Lay down and look up at the stars."

One by one, we grew quiet as we looked at the thousands of stars in the sky. The leader would describe the position of stars and the images of constellations. Eventually the sky would cease to look like sand, and began to look like a puzzle with pieces that fit together. Some of us began to see animals and faces. Sometimes I thought I could see a familiar face looking back at me. Those nights changed me. I began see how big the universe really was and how great God's creation was. I could see God look back at me.

My camping trips must have been like the experience of the wise men. They could see the stars, like me. They studied the stars, like me. They even traveled to see a star, like me. And like me, their travels changed their lives. But, they saw, for the first time, someone I started seeing a lot—the Christ.

I believe that God has created us to also light up the world. There's a great movie that came out on video just a few weeks ago called, "Stardust." It reflects a great image of what we can do when our hearts are aligned with the Star maker. We too can shine in those dark places. We too can be a source of warmth and embrace for all people who are surrounded by darkness and emptiness. And perhaps you are one of those folks—cold, empty and barely able to shine.

How do you find that inner light? How can a relationship with God centered in the teachings of Jesus bring back your glow? How can you burn brightly with the light of God?

I propose three ways—I call them the three wise minutes. For three minutes reflect on ways that you can shine brighter the light that is already within you. Categorize these three ways in three columns labeled body, mind and spirit.

Under the Body column write down just one physical activity that you can do for yourself that will make you feel better. Something you can do everyday. It might be going to the gym to work out, walking around the block, dancing to a song, exercising, running, even stretching. It doesn’t matter how long, just that you do something everyday. Start with 3 minutes, 3 times a day…and build up to more as you are able. And during these 3 minutes put your entire attention on God during the activity. Focus on the light that is within you and imagine it growing inside of you with each second of activity. Okay…simple enough?

Under the second column for Mind, decide that you will do something for 3 minutes, 3 times a day that renews your mind. Have you seen those latest video games for the Nintendo DS called Brain Power? These are simple games that sharpen your intellectual acuity. Engage in mind exercises that focus on building things like concentration, perception, insight or sharpness. Just learning something new is an easy task. Read a book that stretches your knowledge base. Learn some new words—read the dictionary! Just 3 minutes, 3 times a day is all it takes.

The final column is for activities that feed your soul. These are spiritual, God centered actions that turn ordinary experiences into sacred moments. It can be anything creative that involves making God the central focus in the moment. Things like meditation, prayer, attending a small spiritual group discussion, being still, sharing acts of kindness, lending a listening ear, reflective breathing. Whatever the activity, do it for 3 minutes, 3 times a day.

If you follow these three wise minutes of growing your light you will have spent almost half an hour each day becoming compatible with your creator. It’s that easy…and it is fun too! Shoot for the stars this new year, and become one yourself!