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The Prime Directive

by Reverend Heather Miner

     I was once a great fan of Star Trek, the Next Generation(1).  Although it still entertains, I find my third time through the series I’m irritated by all the judgment in the first season.  One of the most common themes in Star Trek is the judgment of humanity by superior alien races – the members of the omnipotent Q Continuum, for example, whose nature is said to be beyond human comprehension.   The Star Trek crew is also judgmental of the humanity of the people of the “late 20th century” – us.  In one memorable episode, where the crew finds people cryogenically frozen, the ship’s doctor comments, “They were afraid to die” – suggesting that those of the 24th century had moved beyond such fear, that “superior” humanity is a precondition for building star ships and not interfering with the natural development of life on other planets (their “Prime Directive”) and that, back home on Earth, the problems of poverty and possessions, of hunger and disease, have all been solved.

     I wonder by what criteria we would like to be judged.   It seems to me if solving all the troubles of our world is a precondition to being an evolved humanity, we may never reach the stars.  And if death doesn’t make us afraid, at some level, perhaps we’ve become out of touch with ourselves.

     God’s judgment, as seen through Jeremiah, is simple by comparison, based on only two criteria:  how we relate to God and how we relate to people in need.

     God cries out “They have spoken falsely of the Lord, and have said, “He will do nothing (Jeremiah 5:12).”  And, “You know no bounds of wickedness—you do not defend the rights of the needy (Jeremiah 5:1).”

     The scripture’s plain sense is of people ignoring God and others because they are, to use an expression from Jeremiah, “well fed lusty stallions each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.”  Imagine, Jeremiah screams from the page, how this must hurt God.  Do you not care?  Do you not care that your actions can hurt God just as they can hurt another?  How long?  When will you stop?

     This is not judgment.  This is more like the cry of my young daughter to pay attention to her despite all I need to get done that day.

     There’s no suggestion that all the problems of the world can be solved by acts of faith and goodwill.  Indeed, Jeremiah is frustrated when the people seem to repent, to come back to God, and the Chaldeans, the “evil nation from the north,” continue to march southward (Jeremiah 1:14).  The goal of scripture is not an “evolved” humanity but one in an evolving relationship with God. The sign that we are with God is not an easy life but how much we care for others.   Being with God and loving others – is both our “Great Commandment” and our “Prime Directive.”

     There are, of course, those who, as on Star Trek, journey through life without God.  And, for a while, their aspirations and dreams may carry them through.  But I’ll never forget a woman pastor who entered the ministry a long career as a social worker.  “After years of helping people,” she passionately explained, “I finally learned I cannot do it on my own.”    Having faced a continuing stream of people who could not be “fixed,” many of whose lives went the wrong way though she gave her all to help, she found the only way she could continue to care was to be in relationship with God. 

     I, too, when I meet with people have given advice and I continue to do so.  I am a fixer.  But I’ve learned that if someone really seeks change I do better to pray with him or her, to connect them to the Holy One using their own imagination.  Together we seek God’s help, an image, a word, an insight.  Because it comes from God, the light that shines is bright, and lasting change happens.

     So let me suggest an action plan for our Prime Directive.  If you want to love well, if you want to care deeply, if you want to change the world, involve God.

(1) Third Star Trek TV Series (following the Original and Animated Series) from Paramount Studios

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