Anyone familiar with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” will recall the Borg, a race of cyborgs who roamed the universe in a brutish cube that looked like a nightmare that had been run through a trash compacter. The Borg overwhelmed and assimilated cultures after issuing their signature warning, “Resistance is futile.”
“Star Trek” and the importance of resisting came up the day after I posted my last blog, and in the most unlikely of places. Who’d have thought you might find answers to the financial crisis in the first century AD?
I was invited to participate in a workshop recently at Columbia Theological Seminary in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. One of the speakers was Stan Saunders, an associate professor of New Testament, and before I go any further, a caveat.
It’s not my intention to promote a particular religion. The password here is change — stories about those who have chosen positive change rather than settling for the ordinary and conventional. My experience is that the most powerful and lasting change is usually spiritually driven, and in this particular case, Saunders talks about Christianity. If he’d been discussing the Old Testament, you’d be reading about Judaism Several centuries later, Islam. And so forth.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming….
The Wrong Theory
Saunders is a big, balding, middle-aged guy about 6-foot-4 who wore brown Carhartt jeans – new, from the looks of them – a bright blue shirt and lightweight hiking boots.
Glowing with enthusiasm, he rolled up his sleeves as he began his lecture. Then he removed his wristwatch, and encouraged his listeners to do likewise. Until capitalist entrepreneurs needed factory workers, he said with an air of disapproval, humans told time by the quadrant of the sky the sun occupied, and by the noteworthy events of their era.
Saunders’ first scholarly reference, as it were, came not from the Bible, but from “Star Trek” and the frequent references on the show to the space-time continuum.
“We locate ourselves by what time it is and what kind of world we’re in,” Saunders said. “If you think bankers own the world, you’ve got some confusion in the space-time continuum. You’ve got your life ordered around the wrong theory.”
A Different Story
The right theory, as you might imagine at an institution that trains ministers, is an orientation to the Creator and things eternal. And Saunders explained how a group of spiritually-minded people challenged the prevailing reality of their times.
Early Christians were members of a “counter-culture” who identified with “a different story” than their contemporaries. That story, of course, centered on Jesus of Nazareth.
They also believed that God was not far away, but with them in the everyday world. That notion, Saunders said, “…changes how you discern the world.” And because of their perspective, “Christians were contrarians.”
The apostle Paul espoused two ethical principles: love and renunciation of self. Neither allows much room for greed, self-righteousness or manipulation of others.
Early Christians were also known for giving aid to the sick during epidemics. Whether their frequent exposure to disease fortified their immune systems is not clear, but Saunders said that Christians typically lived longer than non-Christians.
Whose World Is It?
Saunders said the very act of worship itself was – and still is – “resistance to the world’s order. We are called to push back. Not through war, but in a form of resistance to the world. Empires don’t like the little people to gather; [worship] names another power in the world.”
The rampant wealth and profligate spending of our times has been so excessive it’s tempting to wonder if, perhaps, materialism might not be the Borg of our times. And, indeed, if we are witnessing the end-game of that dynamic.
If so, and if you’ve been assimilated into the dizzying excess of the past years or the recent near-panic, Saunders says, “You’ve lost control of time. You have to remember whose world it is and what kind of time it is. You need to be resistant to the modern capitalist society.”
The alternative, he suggests, is the spiritual life, and it looks something like this: renunciation (giving up self-righteousness), forgiveness (of others and yourself) and reconciliation (with enemies).
Personally, Saunders’ Rx is not very appealing; it’s the behavioral equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. I’ve invested a lifetime in self-righteousness and resentment, and it’s not easy to give that up. But I must also acknowledge that he’s correct. There’s a wonderful saying in 12-step programs that sums it up: “Do you want to be right, or would you rather be happy?”
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