A Lesson for America from Star Trek

If a 1968 episode of Star Trek contains a lesson for today’s USA, is that lesson from the future, or from the past? I’ll summarize; you can decide!

In the episode “Day of the Dove,” Klingons capture Captain Kirk and his landing party. Irate, the Klingon captain, Kang, accuses Kirk of firing at his ship—which Kirk never did. Now Kang wants Kirk’s ship. Unexpectedly, Ensign Chekhov shouts at the Klingons, accusing them of murdering his brother. The Klingons place an “agonizer” device on Chekhov’s face. To stop the torture, Kirk agrees to surrender and to beam the Klingons up with the humans. However, when he calls the ship to transport up both groups, he includes a secret signal. First Officer Spock understands: he beams up the humans, followed by the Klingons. Security captures the Klingons. Meanwhile, a glowing creature from the planet enters the U.S.S Enterprise undetected. 

Still with me?

The plot thickens…

Aboard ship but invisible, the mystery creature seals most of the Enterprise crew below decks. It also locks the ship’s engine into full speed toward the edge of the galaxy. Then, when the entity changes all modern weapons into antique swords, both humans and Klingons seize the blades. Panicked and furious, humans and Klingons begin battling each other. 

Luckily, good ol’ Mr. Spock is immune to the hatred raging through the two crews. He detects the presence of the alien and realizes it has artificially created the whole battle. The unseen enemy somehow feeds off the rage of both races. When Lt. Sulu informs Kirk that Chekhov never even had a brother, Kirk realizes the creature can even plant false memories in their brains to provoke more intense violence. The mysterious entity has turned them all into its pawns.

Unable to get his crewmen to stop fighting as long as the Klingons press the attack, Kirk tries to convince Kang of their true predicament. But Kang doesn’t believe it. Instead, he attacks. Eventually, though, with the now-glowing entity hovering above the two captains and feeding off their violence, Kirk convinces Kang that their real threat isn’t each other—it’s the alien who’s manipulating their minds to combat. 

When each side stops fighting and joins in laughing at the creature, the entity finally exits the ship. 

Pulling back the curtain

In recent months, tempers in the U.S. have been riding high. Covid-19 had already created nationwide frustration due home quarantine, job losses, business failures, mandatory masks, widespread confusion, fears, and a list of infringements. The powder keg was already set to explode when a police officer’s unwarranted actions resulted in an unnecessary death. Boom

Suddenly, a nation that had been in peace erupted. Some people (not all) reacted violently. The delighted media began feeding us a constant stream of insults, accusations, vandalism, looting, assaults, robbery, arson, destruction of property… The stories act like gasoline being poured on the flames of indignation. Before long, even mild-mannered citizens felt like hurting somebody.

Meanwhile, like on Star Trek, the real enemy has been invisibly hovering among us, feeding off this explosion of human violence and probably laughing his head off. In the Gospel of John (chapter 8, verse 44), Jesus called Satan a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. Is it any wonder that Satan, our invisible foe, manipulates people and situations to spread resentment, false information, division, lawlessness, and anarchy? No doubt, the Devil would love to see Americans at each other’s throats. It’s the old military strategy, “Divide and conquer.”

What? Isn’t Satan a myth? Not at all. The same Bible that teaches us God exists teaches Satan exists, too. But he’s clever. He stays out of sight and encourages us to believe he’s not real. You can’t fight an enemy you don’t think exists. But God’s Word emphasizes he’s dangerous: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). When you ignore him, he wins.

Resisting

The first step to stopping the tide of violence is to realize (as Kirk did) that our neighbors are not our true enemy. When one person—or even hundreds of people—of a particular skin color, or with a particular job, or from a particular nationality, commits a lawless act, that doesn’t mean every person of that color, job, or nationality is evil. The moment you single out any group of citizens and say, “All _______ are bad,” you’re wrong. That kind of thinking is polluted, devilish. 

Friend, there are definitely people who commit outrageous actions. (Some people make inflammatory comments or commit violence specifically to spark violent reactions. For them, it’s like a sport.) However, if our society is going to make progress, we mustn’t fall into the trap of hating whole segments of it based on the actions of a misguided few. We can borrow a page from Mr. Spock’s playbook: We can observe. We can realize we’re being played. And we can reject the temptation to hate our neighbors. 

Does that mean we condone criminal behavior? No. We can’t, because “every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (–Jesus, Matthew 12:25). But neither should we let ourselves be suckered into race-baiting or engineered animosity. The transgressions of the few can be lawfully addressed without us hating everybody who looks like them or talks like them. (Yes, I realize I’m omitting all kinds of politics. That’s intentional.)

None of us can force others how to think or behave. But if you’re a fan of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a harmonious society, I invite you to make a personal decision: refuse to hate. Don’t let yourself be provoked by those trying to stir up your hatred. True, we need to defend ourselves from violence and outlaws. But even then, we need not hate a whole people group based on the rhetoric or criminal behavior of individuals.

If everyone lived that way, maybe America really could live long and prosper.

My Grandfather’s Letter

I never knew my father’s father, Theodore L. Barry. He died 5 years before I was born. But a few years back, a distant relative sent me a letter my grandfather penned in 1948. In it, Grandpa Theodore summarized much of his life for a niece. In this letter, I finally “met” my grandfather. I also learned that he nearly committed an act that would’ve prevented me from being born. 

As a young man in southern Indiana, Theodore met and fell in love with a young lady. He writes, “I was in love with Viola [—-], one of the sweetest girls in 100 miles of New Salisbury. I was sure in love with her. Finally we were married. We had two boys, Russell Barry and Ralph D. Barry and Jessie B. and Marie B. I was in love with my children and my wife. She was a dream.”

However, the dream shattered. While Theodore was working on a streetcar in Louisville, his wife was evidently seeing another man. “Then before I knew anything of what was going on, my wife took my 4 children to her folks and she went back in town.” The next time he saw her, she was with her new guy, a large man with a “sandy” complexion. She wouldn’t let Theodore see his own children. 

Theodore felt betrayed, stabbed in the back and kicked to the wayside. When at last his anger and bitterness overflowed, he decided to take revenge: “I stepped on the streetcar and my intention was to kill both.”

However, before he reached his destination, Theodore changed his mind. Regardless of how justified his anger at the other man and his heartbreak over his wife’s betrayal, he couldn’t do it. Perhaps his love for Viola stayed his hand. He simply couldn’t commit such an act. 

“I was heartbroken. I mourned for my children, but I kept my job and stayed in Louisville for quite a while.”

Yet, Louisville held too many painful reminders of the life he’d lost. So, Theodore received a letter of recommendation from Louisville Railway (the streetcar line) and relocated to Detroit, where he began a new life once again working on a streetcar. In time, Theodore met a woman name Violet Lechner, who worked in a store at the turnaround for the streetcar. Friendship grew into love, and Theodore and Violet married. He and his second wife had 6 children, and my father was the youngest of them. (I’m the youngest son of a youngest son of a youngest son.) Theodore eventually launched into successful business ventures, and he and Violet enjoyed many happy years together in Michigan.

Theodore L. Barry in his real estate office in Detroit.

But what if Theodore had acted on his furious impulse to end two lives? He wrote, “Had I shot both of them, I would not have been a free man today, so thank God.” Thank God, indeed. Venting his anger in gunshots would’ve destroyed others, plus the rest of his own life. But by letting go of his anger, by refusing to hate and moving on, he eventually regained peace and enjoyed many happy years as a successful businessman and family man. 

Eventually word reached grandpa that his first wife in southern Indiana had died, so he was at last able to reconnect with his first 4 children. He visited them in Indiana, and they visited him in Michigan. 

Of course, I’m personally glad my grandfather managed to release his anger and start over. If he’d gone to prison, my dad never would’ve been born. Me neither. 

Theodore Barry visiting southern Indiana on his 1909 Indian Motorcycle. (Note the Detroit banner.)

Anger, hatred, and rage are dangerous. If we allow them to sweep us up and we lash out with words or weapons, sure, we can hurt our targets—but we can also hurt ourselves and prevent many future blessings from happening. It’s a truth worth reflection.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Proverbs 15:18

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” Colossians 3:8

Theodore and Violet Barry with Grace, the first of their 6 children.

The Value of Friends

If you could throw your suitcase into the car and take a whirlwind, 5-day vacation, where would you go? 

I recently had that opportunity. First, I considered driving south to the Gulf of Mexico, where I could get relax in a Bed & Breakfast and spend time writing beside the ocean. Instead, I headed north to Indianapolis, where I stayed in one of the apartments maintained by the Christian mission where I worked for years. There, I performed some volunteer labor for the mission and visited local friends, including a Ukrainian couple who, in God’s timing, were visiting the U.S. on behalf of the ministry. 

Next, I headed to Michigan, where I stayed in Dad’s house (and picked up more of my clothing to bring back to Alabama) and visited with him. On my way back south, I swung through Indiana once more, where I enjoyed breakfast with another longtime friend. In Tennessee I paused and enjoyed supper and fellowship with another Ukrainian family I hadn’t seen in years. 

Along the way, I saw plenty of scenery and listened to tons of music and interesting podcasts. But the best part of this trip? Simply spending time with friends and family. In our lives, people come and go. Many of those we call “friends” are actually only acquaintances. But genuine, longtime friends sweeten our lives. We help each other when needed, and we simply take delight in each other, staying in touch despite distance. True friends make this journey through life better, richer. 

Is there a longtime friend or relative you haven’t seen lately? If you can’t go in person, maybe it’s time to drop a card into the mail or to make a phone call. You need not say much. Even a simple, “I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you” is appreciated and worth the time to express it!

“I’m Never Coming Back!”

Picture Joe, a man who realizes he has some sort of problem. Despite drugstore medicines, he isn’t able to cure himself. So, he drops by the local hospital to see if they can help. But after touring the facility, Joe is appalled.

“I don’t want to stay here. Every single patient has a problem. Viruses, appendicitis, broken bones, cancer, diseases, failing kidneys… I don’t want to be like these people. I’m never coming back!”

Instead, Joe signs up for a local gym membership. Maybe exercise will help? However, on his first visit, Joe studies other gym members. He races to the check-in desk.

“I want my money back. I heard this was a good gym. Now I see it’s not.”

“What do you mean?” asks the trainer on duty.

“Just look! All of your members have serious shortcomings. That woman doing leg extensions has flabby arms. The guy on the bench press has a beer belly. And check out those people on the treadmills. Every one is huffing and puffing. From what I’d heard, I thought this gym was full of perfect specimens. I don’t want to be like these people. I’m never coming back!”

As a last resort, Joe visits the local church. Maybe a little religion will help. At first, he’s pleased with the atmosphere. Yet, as time passes, he notices… One man got defensive after a minor criticism. Pride, eh? A woman sitting behind him let slip an unkind remark about another woman. A gossip – in church? And during the service, a couple people had the gall to fall asleep. Wouldn’t they stay awake if they sincerely valued the sermon? 

“I expected these church people to be perfect. But they’re not. I’m never coming back!” 

Dear friend, no reasonable person would imitate the fictional Joe’s reactions to a hospital or a gym. But some people do copy his reaction to church. The truth is, no matter which people you scrutinize, you’ll find flaws. Yep, even in church. But, thank God, He doesn’t require people to become perfect before they worship in His house. In fact, the Bible reveals that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God is perfect. People definitely aren’t. (By the way, not everyone who attends church is actually a born-again child of God. We know they’re among us, and we pray for God to open their eyes to their spiritual need.) 

But the cool truth is that Jesus Christ died to take the punishment for the sins of all people. Placing your faith in Christ won’t suddenly make you faultless. But trusting Christ brings God’s forgiveness of sins and a new relationship with Him. He adopts us into His family. Then, as we worship God and learn more of Him, bit by bit He irons the wrinkles from our lives and makes us more like Himself. Some learn faster than others, but no Christian is 100% flawless. 

So, if you step into church and find a bunch of imperfect people—stick around! There’s room for one more. After all, we gather to worship HIM, not other people.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Delicious Poisons

Years ago, before cell phones (yes, ancient history), I joined a church group on a two-week camping & mountain-climbing trip in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado. After days of hiking, one teen guy discovered some mushrooms. He collected them, fried them, and he and his girlfriend ate them.

When our outdoorsman guide found out, he was appalled. Many mushrooms in Colorado aren’t edible, he reminded. 

“But they tasted good,” objected the boy.

The guide looked him in the eye. “Some of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world taste delicious.” Then, to the rest of us he said, “Please, don’t anybody eat anything you find without checking with me.”

For the rest of that afternoon, we waited to see if that teen guy and girl got sick. (Even if they had, there was no way to summon help so deep in the mountains.) Fortunately, nothing happened. On this occasion, ignorance didn’t prove fatal.

But that guide’s words stick with me. Even things that are tasty can poison us. Recognizing the danger in advance should help us avoid swallowing questionable foods. But do we exercise the same caution concerning things that we allow into our eyes and ears?

Whenever anyone starts gossiping or criticizing someone else, one pastor I know interrupts to ask, “Is this a prayer request?” He will not stomach gossip and trash talk. With a simple question, he shuts it down.

What about the books and magazines we read, the TV shows and movies we watch, or the Internet sites we click to visit? Do we refuse to allow unwholesome sights and sounds into our brain? There’s a battle raging for your mind. Even a spell-binding story can dress up evil as good, can deliver carefully crafted immorality in a way that makes it look enticing, tantalizing…

The Bible agrees there is pleasure in sin—but only “for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). Satan knows how to make sin look slick and enjoyable. But he doesn’t show you the flip side—the damaged relationships, the broken homes, the emotional baggage, venereal diseases… The list goes on.

“I know it’s wrong, but it feels so right,” some object.

Sure, it does. Just like the tastiest mushrooms can be deadly.

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

“I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Psalm 101:3

“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.” Psalm 119:9-10

The Conversations that Count Most

Warning: When you and a friend chat in a restaurant, a writer might be listening. It’s not that writers are nosey. The problem is that writers of fiction must constantly come up with fresh tidbits to sprinkle into their pages. When we find ourselves in public places, our antennae are up. Interesting snippets might get jotted down for later consideration.

But have you ever noticed that most conversations are less than gripping? While writing in coffee shops, I’ve often paused to listen to chatty neighbors. People discuss their pets, their pet peeves, their jobs, Aunt Mildred’s gall bladder, their classes… Few conversations touch truly vital topics. Yet, we as human beings are social creatures. We long to share thoughts with others. Short of capital punishment, one of the worst penalties is solitary confinement—isolation from fellow humans.

No wonder we long to connect. God Himself placed that quality inside humans. The Bible tells reveals that God created humans in His own image. He used to talk with Adam and Eve in the garden. As Alex and Stephen Kendrick point out in their Defined Bible study, “All human beings from Adam and Eve onward are created to know and relate to God.”* That was our meaning for existence, to know and enjoy a relationship with God. But the first couple rebelled against God’s one taboo and became sinners. They broke that close fellowship with the Creator. 

We could not restore the fellowship on our own. The barrier of sin in each life is too tall and thick for us to remove. So, God manifested Jesus Christ in the womb of a virgin, to live a sinless life and to voluntarily die, taking upon Himself the penalty for the sins of all who will accept His ultimate sacrifice. Faith in Christ provides forgiveness of sin and restoration to fellowship with Him. Accepting Christ actually transfers us into the family of God! 

As the apostle Paul described it in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Wow. Adopted by GOD into His family.

What a privilege believers have, but too often take for granted—the ability to fellowship with our Creator, our Heavenly Father, in prayer. He, too, doesn’t require us to bring earth-shaking topics to the table. But He enjoys hearing from us, His children, with whatever is on our hearts.

As Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

Do you know God? Have you talked with Him today? If the answer to either question is No, He’d love to hear from you!

*Defined. Nashville: Lifeway Press, 2019, p. 17.

Defending Friends in Need

In September of 1940, Nazi bombers and fighter planes regularly appeared over England. One day, Kathleen Rainer was working in a field in Sussex when enemy planes appeared. Fascinated, Kathleen watched as British fighters raced to engage the enemy. British Spitfires and German airplanes battled back and forth in deadly dogfights. Then, as Kathleen watched, a British plane took a deadly hit. The pilot bailed out. Kathleen sighed in relief when the parachute billowed open. Her countryman was safe. But then some German planes did the unthinkable – they flew straight at the dangling man, attempting to machine gun him as he hung defenseless in his harness! But moments later, Kathleen’s horror transformed into admiration:

“The other Spitfires began to circle the parachute, protecting the pilot from the German attack. As the pilot descended down, the rest of his squadron would spiral down with him, guiding him to the ground and protecting him.” *

World War II is long over, but life is still full of attacks. In this struggle, we can take “hits” from attackers, whether at work, on the ball court, even in the home. There are two ways to respond. We can live by the motto, “Every man for himself,” or we can imitate those brave Spitfire pilots who saw their sinking friend and rallied to his aid, even though they themselves became more vulnerable.

In this Christmas season, someone you know may be under attack by enemies. Sickness, loneliness, and heartbreak can hurt even more during holidays. Rather than shutting our eyes to enjoy our own holly jolly season, let’s be on the alert for those are sinking in silence. Your encouragement might be exactly what they need to survive!

*Kathleen Rainer, “Downed Pilots in Sussex,” www.bbc.co.uk.

Keep Looking Up!

In the city of Pontiac, Michigan (where I was born), the tallest building since 1929 was once called the Pontiac State Bank Building. Since construction, various banks have purchased it, and now a private investor owns it. Its new name is Oakland Towne Center, but a lot of us still call it “the old Pontiac State Bank Building.”

Not so long ago, I was reminiscing with friends about that building and I mentioned the statues on top of it. 

“What statues?” replied one. “I don’t remember any statues up there.”

Other friends questioned my memory, too, because they didn’t recall any statues on it, either. 

“You know—the statues of Chief Pontiac and other Indians.”

They thought I was nuts. However, a quick Internet search pulled up photographic evidence of my sanity. The designer of the building graced the top with Gothic artwork of Native Americans in tribute to the Ottawa tribe and to Chief Pontiac, the 1700s leader for whom the city was named. (No, the city was not named after an automobile!) 

The reactions from my friends surprised me. “Well, what do you know!” “All these years, and I never even noticed those!”

How fascinating that the images of Native Americans have looked down from on high for 90 years, and even local people are sometimes unaware of them. Perhaps, in people’s day to day lives, many never bother to raise their eyes higher than the first few floors, assuming there isn’t anything worth seeing up higher. 

Reflecting on this exchange reminded me of God. The Creator of Heaven and earth is ever present, and He takes an interest in the earth 24/7. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Yet, many residents of earth—even those who know His name—rarely pause to look up or think about Him. Of course, that’s a pity, because unlike the statuary in Pontiac, God is alive. When we leave this earth, He is the One who determines where our soul will spend eternity. For those who have accepted His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, this is a blessed truth and not fearful at all. 

Do you know Him? If so, keep looking up! Your God is watching over you and looking forward to spending eternity with you. But if you don’t know Him, then start looking up. It’s time to realize He exists, He’s alive, and He wants you to join His family through faith in Jesus! 

“But to all who did receive him [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6

The “Wrong” Place Can Be the Right Place

Ever get perturbed when your carefully laid plans don’t go the way you wanted? In World War II, that happened to Captain Alvin Carlson in a dramatic way. Carlson served as chaplain to the 134th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Division in Europe. He wrote…

“One Sunday evening about sundown I had gathered with a large group of replacements (later called reinforcements) in our marshaling area, which was approximately six miles from the front lines. We had assembled in an orchard well protected by apple trees and other foliage. The service of worship was in progress when, without warning, ‘Bed-check Charlie’ started to strafe and hurl bombs at us. One of the men, detecting the first plane, shouted, ‘Enemy planes!’ and we ran for the foxholes. A short time before this I had dug a special foxhole which I could use when I remained in the area overnight, but I could not reach it. I jumped into another hole which was near. Suddenly someone shouted, ‘They got the chaplain.’ I rushed out of my foxhole and shouted, ‘No, here I am!’ A bomb had fallen in my hole – but no one was in it.” 

Friend, you may lay your plans, and God might allow those plans to work as you hope, and He might not. But for those who love the Lord, even the “wrong” place – the unplanned place – can be the right place to be when God is working behind the scenes.

Source: He Is Able, by Chaplain Alvin O. Carlson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1945), pp. 35-36.

The Blessings We Overlook…

Photo by Kiy Turk

A friend named Larry worked in a store. Larry enjoyed the job, and in general he liked his coworkers. But one coworker always sounded depressed. The man regularly complained about one thing or another. To listen to him, Larry said, you would think absolutely nothing ever went right in the man’s life.

So, Larry decided to offer the coworker some advice. “Don’t always focus on the negative things. You’ll be happier if you count your blessings.”

“Blessings?” the coworker replied. “What blessings? I don’t have any!”

“Oh, no? Come with me.” Larry led the coworker to the large window at the front of the store. “Look out there. Tell me what you see.”

The man frowned but did as Larry asked. “I don’t see anything special. Just a parking lot. Cars. People walking. Buildings. The sky. And that airplane.”

“Exactly,” Larry replied. “Those things may not be special, but do you have any idea how many people in the world would give anything to see what you see? But they never will, because they’re blind.”

That negative-mind coworker rejected the advice with a “Bah” and walked away.

But Larry’s point is on target. If you live on the planet earth, it’s absolutely guaranteed some things in life aren’t the way you wish. Yet, if we focus on the negative, we totally miss a world of blessings, starting with eyes that see, ears that hear, a brain that functions, a warm bed with a soft pillow… All of these are blessings that not everyone has.

There’s a temptation to look at others and wish we had what they have. Don’t. After all, even the rich and famous get depressed. Some people own so much—but end up committing suicide. So, instead of focusing on what we don’t have or on how we wish life were different, let’s give thanks for the blessings we do have, no matter how simple.

That one decision can transform Thanksgiving into more than a once-a-year holiday. We can make it a lifestyle.

“Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: his mercy endureth forever.” Psalm 106:1 

 “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18