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To Boldly Go for 50 Years!

My father was obsessed with television sets. During the football season, he would have three televisions going at the same time and be listening to a game on his transistor radio. This was long before cable when we could get only three channels way out in the sticks of Blanchard, Louisiana. In 1965, he did something unthinkable. You’ve got to understand our financial situation back then. My mother had a job — not a common thing to have both parents working in 1965. She drove a school bus and my father worked at the post office. We weren’t rich at all. We lived in the country and raised most of our food in my father’s garden. To give you an idea of how poor we were, one year I wanted the newest toy sensation, Creepy Crawlers. You purchased the box and it it was a small “oven” that heated up metal molds with shapes of various insects. The set came with gooey plastic in a bottle you could squirt into the molds in various color combinations. Then, you put the molds in the oven and pressed the timer. In minutes, the opaque colorful liquid would harden into a translucent rubbery substance. You peeled your creepy crawlers out of the mold and you had instant vermin!

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I wanted this for Christmas so bad. My mother and father pooled some money and bought me an expansion pack instead. Four molds and three bottles of goo. But, no oven! The expansion pack was much cheaper than the whole box. So, here I was on Christmas morning holding my little metal molds over the fire in the fireplace to make my creepy crawlers. Over and over, the things would catch on fire! It’s a wonder I didn’t suffer third degree burns!

Back to 1965. My father came home from Sears and Roebuck store with a huge cardboard box in the back of his old green truck. Much to my mother’s dismay, he had spent a pot load of money on something new. Something big! He and my brother loaded the box into the living room and my father revealed a huge console television. But, it wasn’t just any huge television (Only 24 inches screen — a baby compared to today’s monsters) it was a COLOR television!

Over the next few months I was stunned and amazed at the color images that flickered across the screen. Not all shows were in color. Certainly, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was! My favorite show at the time was still in black and white — Lost in Space. I was a science fiction fanatic and couldn’t wait each week to hear those famous words uttered by the robot, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

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In the late summer of 1966, one of my mother’s new TV Guides arrived in the mail. For her, it was a little bit of Hollywood glamour in the red clay and pine hills of northern Louisiana. She loved to do the crossword puzzle which featured the names of famous movie and television stars. This TV Guide carried the image of two men dressed in gold and blue tunics with the title of a new show underneath. “Star Trek”. Star Trek? What was this? A new science fiction show in color! I read about the show set on the starship Enterprise with its leader, Captain Kirk and his alien first Officer Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock? Wasn’t that a famous children’s doctor?

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On a cool September night, September 8, 1966 at the age of 11 I had finished my supper and was settling down on our couch in front of new color television. My mother and father were off doing something around the house. I guess I’m fortunate there were no Westerns on that night or I would have never seen this new show. The screen came to life with vibrant color — reds and golds and blues and exotic planet sets that blew my mind. I watched as this doctor, “Bones” McCoy showed up in coruscating sparks of light along with his Captain Kirk on a lonely planet to meet his long lost girlfriend who had married an extraterrestrial archeologist. The opening of the show was so ordinary and yet so exotic as if it was perfectly normal for someone to “beam” down from a starship onto the surface of an alien planet. There were no silly sayings or rambling robots. This was pure drama, straight to the heart of real characters. In later years, this paradigm shift would be responsible for me leaving behind the childish comic books of DC for the more mature comes of Marvel. I was enthralled, gripped, captured by the story that unfolded before me. The red shirt ensign getting the life sucked out of him by the beautiful woman who was Dr. McCoy’s love. How could SHE be a monster? She looked so normal and so beautiful! And, then the big reveal. At the end of the show when McCoy’s girlfriend is killing his Captain and we see the thing for what it really was! Oh my! I ran and hid behind the couch. I was traumatized but captivated. I could not believe my eyes. This was the most amazing show in the history of shows!

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before!” Then that fantastic fanfare with the warbling vocals almost alien in tone. To this day, it gives me a thrill.

I never missed an episode of Star Trek. I wrote a letter to stop its cancellation. Dr. McCoy would become my role model when I decided to become a doctor. I can say that my life was deeply affected by Star Trek. The three main characters for me represented the three aspects of our personality. Mr. Spock was the cold, calculating intellect, the superego. Captain Kirk was the visceral, go from the gut leaders the id; and Bones was the humanity, the heart that brought the two extremes together. My love for science grew out of Star Trek. My desire to be “just a plain old country doctor” came out of my love for the character of Dr. McCoy.

In 2008, I had the pleasure of meeting Leonard Nimoy at Book Expo America. I snapped a picture of him but did not have the privilege of getting a picture with him, but I did shake his hand and thank him for the character of Spock that so shaped and influenced my life. I missed out on seeing William Shatner during that trip and unfortunately, DeForest Kelley who played Dr. McCoy had passed away a few years before.

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Fifty years have come and gone. I’ve sat through every movie, every animated episode, every spin off. In 1996, I took my son, Sean, to Pasadena California for the 30 year celebration of Star Trek and met many of the stars of Next Generation and Voyager. He dressed in a Star Trek costume that year.

So, to honor Star Trek and its fifty year anniversary, I spent a lot of money and went to Dallas FanExpo in June to meet William Shatner. What a pleasure and a joy to actually meet Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Here is the photo I had made with Willam Shatner and notice the tee shirt I’m wearing.

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Here’s to another 50 years of “boldly going where no man has gone before!”

A Day With the Doctor (And Clara and Missy, too.)

IMG_1491 A day at Dallas FanExpo is like a day on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with any Marvel or DC movie and a lot of comic book characters thrown in. Thank goodness the Dallas Convention Center is as large as the Death Star. It can hold us all!

Friday was a day to remember; a moment frozen in wonder and excitement; a day we will never forget! Sarah Sutton cosplayed (that means dressed up in a costume and pretended to be a character for those of you still living in the 20th century) River Song; Casey cosplayed the Eleventh Doctor; and I WAS the War Doctor. If you don’t know those characters then the rest of this post may not mean as much. All three are from our favorite television experience, Doctor Who.

We spent from noon to 2 PM getting ready to go into the huge, and I really mean ginormous, exhibit hall. With forethought and careful planning, I had brought my father’s scooter with us. Let’s just say by 3 PM I had run the battery down going back and forth from one end of the hall to the other getting in line to exchange tickets and picking up special event tickets. Thankfully, I had purchased a VIP pass to the convention and was able to go to the front of every line. Money well spent. Not to mention getting to hang out in the VIP lounge in the peace and quiet away from the crowd any time of the day with snacks and water provided.

IMG_0002After procuring a large, and by that I mean it really was bigger on the inside, Star Trek themed bag, we went on a short shopping spree and then back to the Lounge to catch our breath. IMG_0001Next, photo op with Freema Agyeman, who portrayed Martha Jones, the Tenth Doctor’s companion after Rose Tyler. Silly me, thinking she might recognize me as the War Doctor, an incarnation of the Doctor coming after she left the show, I said, “I don’t believe we’ve worked together.” She gave me a puzzled look and replied. “I don’t think so.” Snap, flash, move on!

P-PWG-7T2-C8ROur big event for the evening was the “Evening with Doctor Who”. I purchased Gold Tickets for Casey and me. For Sarah, a silver ticket, but not to worry. Shhhh! We saved her a seat on the second row and she got to sit with the Golden Ticket people! Just don’t tell anyone at the convention.

This was the most anticipated event of the day! And, man, we were NOT disappointed. We had seen Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Michelle Gomez from a distance earlier that day as they arrived for autograph sessions. It was surreal seeing them in real life. Very surreal. Now, here we were not 20 feet away from the stage as they were introduced. And, true to her character, Michelle came out wearing a set of cat ears! Yes, furry cat ears.

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IMG_1501Jenna came out second wearing an ensemble that would have worked for any of her appearances on the show. Capaldi appeared wearing a dark gray blazer over dark slacks and a dark gray tee shirt with the Texas Star on it (black, of course — the man does like his dark colors).

The next hour and fifteen minutes were filled with laughter and tears and was just the most delightful evening in my memory. These people were so kind and grateful to the fans and so open and accommodating to questions. No pretentious. No arrogance. Very humble and grateful.

The questions were legion and I’ll try and give some of them justice. Let’s see. If Missy could pick any room in the TARDIS to design, it would be a huge, black leather Gucci purse filled with tea and biscuits (that’s cookies for us Yanks). Her favorite villain of all time? Well, she said, not me, Hillary Clinton. Her most awkward moment? During Dark Water, having to kiss the Doctor while holding Clara’s hand! AWKWARD!

Jenna’s favorite Doctor (besides Peter) David Tennant. Her favorite episode was the Snowmen because it was so much like a fairy tale with the spiral staircase and the TARDIS in the clouds.

Peter’s favorite villain, Dracula. Specifically, Gary Oldman’s Dracula. Whose idea was it to play the guitar? His. Whose idea was it to come in on a tank? I think it was his. Whose idea were the sonic sunglasses? Moffat’s. He said toy companies all over the world groaned when he put on the sonic sunglasses but “Ray-Ban sent me a whole pile of them.” And, he said he would wear sunglasses any time of the day or night.

At one little boy’s request, he did the voice of the Daleks in a terrifying and lengthy monologue. It was awesome. They start shooting in two weeks! His favorite doctors were the first four — the classic Doctors and the dark clothing he prefers as the Doctor were based on One and Two. Although, he acknowledged, “the only reason they wore black and white is because the show was on a black and white television”. But, he went on to praise all of the actors who portrayed the Doctor, some of whom were given poor scripts and little money and he credits their acting skills with making the best of a bad situation and keeping Doctor Who alive for so long. He really was so gracious and thankful for the entire enterprise.

When asked how they felt about fan created media, Capaldi praised it saying it informed them of what the fans expected and wanted out of Doctor Who and made everyone in the business realize how special Doctor Who is to the world. Jenna mentioned the title sequence from series 9 coming from a fan. And, there was so much more.

IMG_1507IMG_1505After the session, Casey and I were whisked away to a photo op. She told Jenna how inspiring her portrayal of Clara had been. I walked straight up to Capaldi and said, “I’m looking for the Doctor” a line from “The Day of the Doctor”. Michelle Gomez said, “He’s right there.” and pointed to Capaldi. Capaldi took my hand, shook it and said, “Wonderful wardrobe.” Jenna tapped me on the shoulder and said, “We’ve met.” Then we posed for the photo. Snap, flash, move on!

IMG_1503Later, at the autograph session Casey thanked Jenna again for being an inspiration to her and to her friend, Sierra. I told Michelle, “You must be so tired.” She smiled, “Honey, we love it. We’ll sleep next week.” I told Peter Capaldi, “Thank you for coming. We love the Doctor here in America. And, you have made the show so special.” He smiled at me and said, “I just wish we had more time. It’s too short, too short.” Move on!

What a fantastic day! And, Saturday, we meet Arthur Darville, also known as Rory and, of course, the Time Master, Captain Rip Hunter.

Bruce meets William Shatner!

They call him the Shat!

I am in Dallas at FanExpo, a massive comic con with over 50000 attendees. Thursday night I had the opportunity to spend an “intimate evening” with William Shatner. I decided to bite the bullet and purchase a ticket to this special event for my upcoming birthday. I’ll soon be 61! 61!!!

But after listening to William Shatner for an hour, who at the age of 85, is more active than I could imagine, I’ve decided 61 is very, very young!

IMG_1474.JPGThis year is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and to celebrate that milestone, William Shatner is appearing at this event. I lined up about an hour before the event with about 15 other people. We entered a good sized conference room and there were eight couches in two rows along the front of the room with about six rows of folding chairs behind them. I got the last couch seat.

We were soon informed we would all line up and trek, get it, trek, down the convention center to the photo area for our photo op with William Shatner. After this, we would return to our room and our seats and he would come and speak to us for about 45 minutes then sign autographs. Ordinarily, a photo op is $100 and an autograph $100 so the evening was a bargain!

I was wearing a shirt with a picture of the original Dr. McCoy and the quote, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not a . . .” Followed by four choices. When I finally walked into the photo booth, I was amazed at how good he looks for a man of 85. He appeared very healthy. He smiled at me and liked my tee shirt. I paused, had my photo snapped and then was whisked out of the booth.

IMG_1478.JPGHe arrived in the room after the photo op and instead of sitting in the appointed chair, hitched himself up on the table on which he would be signing autographs. He immediately talked about how he had never been invited to a typical “Hollywood” party with a rowdy bunch of “naked women”. He said he preferred an intimate get together such as ours and would like to answer a few questions.

IMG_1486.JPGThe first question was about how he and Leonard Nimoy met. He talked about Nimoy and their first work together on the Man from UNCLE and how he had no recollection. Then, he talked about working with Nimoy on Star Trek. He went on to discuss how deeply he missed Leonard Nimoy, his best friend. He talked about the day Nimoy died on a Friday and his funeral would be on Sunday morning. He said he was committed to a Red Cross event in Boston and would have to decide what to do. He then went on to talk about how quickly people are forgotten and how the pain from loss fades over time. But, Leonard Nimoy would not be forgotten. And, he talked about how Leonard would understand the importance of doing something that would make the world a better place such as helping to raise millions of dollars for Red Cross.

Another question led him into a long discussion of the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Story. Characters. He talked about how Star Wars was a “ride” and Star Trek was more story and character development. He then talked about story originating from a bunch of us “sitting around a campfire talking about how one of them stabbed a dinosaur in the eye” and Story was born. He then said in 10000 years we will be talking about UFOs and how we will tell the story of being probed “by a purple alien and having its baby”.

He was then asked if J. J. Abrams offered him a role in the original Star Trek reboot. He said he met with J. J. and read the script and it “was awful”. I realized he had given him another script other than the one that was shot. He told J. J. he would only be interested in a role if it “made an impact on the story and wasn’t just a cameo”. When he found out Leonard Nimoy was in the movie he called him and told him “Your realize that you are old and when you go back in time, you will still be old!”

He then talked more about Star Trek versus Star Wars and said that the first seven movies he was in made about $100 million and cost about $30 million to produce. And then, the next generation movies were supposed to make more money and they didn’t. I think where he was headed with this discussion was the idea that Star Trek works better as a television show because it can concentrate on story and character development. Star Wars is “a ride” and J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies were “rides”.

The last question was “Do you regret not taking a role you were offered.” He then talked about his past four weeks. He traveled all over the world doing various events and appearances and I don’t know how a man his age could do this! It was incredible. He ended up by talking about flying to Dallas Wednesday night for this event. He said he has had the opportunity to make a difference in the world like “ripples going out and coming back” and he wouldn’t trade any of that for a big movie role.

He said he has his immediate family in Los Angeles and has everyone over for Sunday dinner so he couldn’t be happier or healthier. He talked about feeling the pressure of time and how quickly life can be gone but he wanted to continue to live and make a difference as long as his health would let him.

A few short notes of some things he said. He talked about his appearance on the original Twilight Zone and the “little furry monster” on the wing. He talked about how in the “old days” in Hollywood a movie would have 10000 extras. How did you feed them? All those people “today are computer generated”. He mentioned his horse riding events and how he was a top championship horse rider and his events for charity raises lots of money.

He told an amusing story about flying to Dallas and having a bad cough. He was sitting beside “a little Asian girl” who had no idea he was Captain Kirk because she probably only knows Chris Pine and she thought “I might be dying”. At this point, he started coughing quite a bit and waxed profound about phlegm. “You’ll never forget tonight. See how intimate we are. We can talk about my phlegm.”

IMG_1490.JPGWe then lined up and he signed and personalized autographs. I had a Star Trek Manga that came out in 2008 with a collectible poster of the illustrated version of the original cast. He signed it for me and once again said he liked my tee shirt.

I packed up my stuff and walked back to the room through a misting rain. Tomorrow, Doctor Who!!!!

Aliens in Disguise

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Those who accept the authority of the Bible and embrace a Christian worldview take different positions on whether God might have created intelligent life on other planets. This question has been debated at least since Thomas Aquinas discussed it nine centuries ago.

Scholars who believe extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) physically exists see it as a display of God’s creativity and power. They argue that a God who so obviously enjoys creating, a God of unimaginable power, should not be expected to limit His creative expression to just one planet and its one species of spiritual beings.

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In my post on May 14th I talked about UFOs and my fascination with them. In my last post I talked about the death of my future. Today, I want to talk about the death of evolution in my writing.

Let me explain.

I was ecstatic when I heard the announcement way back in 1986 that Gene Roddenberry was bringing a brand new version of Star Trek back to television. Star Trek: The Next Generation promised to fulfill all of my nerdy science fiction dreams. Granted, the first season was rocky thanks to a writer’s strike. But, the following seasons were profound. And, the best cliffhanger of all times in television occurred at the end of the third season when Captain Picard appeared on the Enterprise view screen and said, “I am Locutus of Borg”. Read the rest of this entry

I Want to Believe!

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I’m old enough to say I totally geeked out over the X-Files television show back in the 90’s. In fact, I would put myself right up there with Spooky Mulder in saying, “I want to Believe!”. I grew up in the countryside outside of the tiny hamlet of Blanchard, Louisiana and my night skies were brilliant and clear. There were many nights I would take an old blanket out and place it on the ground, recline and just watch the stars go by. Many times, I would see meteorites falling to the Earth streaking across the sky in brief brilliance. I watched as satellites blinked and slowly made their way across the darkness. One night, in coordination with a broadcast on network television, I watched one of the Gemini spacecraft soar across the heavens, a tiny blinking white dot against the cosmos.

I yearned, I longed, I even prayed to see a UFO. Just once, I wanted a flying saucer to land on my front lawn. Back then, aliens were not quite as hostile in their fictional depiction. It was the age of Progress, a time enlightened by the success of the American space program. Our hope was the stars. Our future lay beyond the solar system. Star Trek promised a future Utopian society where racism, sexism, disease, hunger, and strife were a thing of the past. If we could only get out there! And, in our unyielding optimism, we knew that friendly, highly educated aliens were just waiting for us to mature to a level that could withstand the truth of their existence.

Read the rest of this entry

A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

Sometime in the fall of my senior year in high school, I channeled Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy. In 1972, Star Trek had been off the air for three years. But, thanks to syndication, it was showing in the afternoons on my local television station. And, there was a brand new Star Trek cartoon on Saturday mornings.

When I first started watching Star Trek in September, 1966 I was 11 years old. I know. I’m getting up there. But, when I reach the age of 80, I’ll officially call myself a “senior adult”. And, then, maybe not. William Shatner is still going strong and he’ll be 84 this month. And, his best friend, Leonard Nimoy — well more on that later.

At the age of 11, I could not understand the nuanced messages hidden in the Star Trek story lines. I totally did not get the significance of the first televised interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. But, by the time I was 17 and a senior in high school, I got it! Watching the original series as an older teenager was like watching an entirely new show!

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Read the rest of this entry

A New Star Trek Series?

While I am waiting for the availability of “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” around November 20th (I’ll give all of you a firm date once I find out) I thought I’d share something just for fun. In the past couple of months there has been rumors and suggestions for a new Star Trek television series. The movies have proven successful and now the writers of these two movies think it is time for a television show. Star Trek was made for episodic series. Only then can it deal with pithy and difficult social and humane issues as it did in the 1960’s. You can’t dig that deeply into a movie.

But, we can’t simply go back to the original world of Star Trek, can we? Now, we have two parallel time lines so what do we do? What and WHEN would be the focus of the next series? So, if you are a Trekker, then read on. If not, then come back soon for more information on my book.

So, here is an idea. It may already have been used in the spin off games, comic books, or novels but a suggestion:

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It is the far future and the Borg eventually overran the Federation. All but a few worlds were assimilated. Quadrillions of sentient beings became Borg. Earth became an outlying Borg world with an underground rebellion preventing the planet from total conversion. With over 95% of the Federation worlds under Borg control, the Borg grew tired of the rebellion on Earth and withdrew from a devastated and depopulated Earth.

 

But, the Borg’s greatest strength proved to be their undoing. With so many minds now linked in the Borg collective, the Borg began to splinter. Twelve factions within the collective mind began to strive for dominance. Soon, these sub-consciousnesses drew apart and so began the Borg Civil War. Such battles and such clashes were unparalleled by any in the history of the galaxy. Great war machines were built that dwarfed entire solar systems. Energies were deployed that tore holes in the very fabric of space. Biological and genetic weapons decimated normal genomes and created horrific spawn of the Borg. Entire regions of the galaxy became uninhabitable filled with unspeakable pervasions of space time.

 

Eventually, two factions remained, the Red Borg and the Gray Borg. These two remaining collective “minds” could have recombined and saved the Borg, but soon the Gray Borg lost ground. In a final desperate move, the Gray Borg unleashed the ultimate doomsday device. Arcane energies rippled through the remaining Borg collective, reducing all living matter to goo and disintegrating every Borg circuit.

 

Silence fell across the known galaxy. Borg ships and war machines drifted in cold, harsh space and peace filled the devastated territory of the Alpha Quadrant.

 

On Earth, a remnant of Starfleet had been biding its time, rebuilding quietly within the very wreckage of the Borg machinery and the tortured Earth. Salvaging Federation starships and merging them with Borg technology, Starfleet’s weakening pulse grew stronger. Once the Borg mind fell silent and was no more, this ragtag group of sentient beings emerged from the shadows to rebuild the Federation.

 

And so, the new Federation of Planets was created built upon the ashes of the dead and decaying worlds of the Borg collective. It was time to rebuild civilization by reaching out to worlds once prosperous and powerful. It was time to boldly go into an unknown universe far more dangerous than ever before. What remnants of the Borg Civil War await our intrepid starships? What horrors born from the great war machines and biological weapons await discovery?

 

This could be the new Star Trek!

What do you think? Where would you like to see a new Star Trek television go?

Father of Steel!

My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98. This will be my first Father’s Day without him. I just recently had a birthday reaching the venerable age of 58. 58! When did that happen? But, this birthday was bittersweet because I was born on my father’s 41st birthday. This was my father’s first birthday without him. He would have been 99. So, birthday and Father’s Day have always had a very special meaning for me. They arrive almost simultaneously each year and in the past, this has meant a blow out party mainly focused on my father. At 98, his last birthday should be properly celebrated! This year, no celebration.

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To say I am sad is an understatement. To say I am wistful is a given. But, I want to talk about something entirely different. Movie critics. Now that we have the internet, movie critics are coming out of our pores! If you want to see a movie and want to search diligently, you can find a positive review somewhere, even if the movie is horrendous. Conversely, the “mainstream” critics seem to have an unspoken agreement and routinely pan or praise movies in tandem. Case in point was “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Most of the mainstream critics praised the movie. And yet, according to detractors, this movie has NOT met the financial goals of the studios. Great reviews; poor box office returns. Certainly not on the same scale as “After Earth” which was universally panned by mainstream critics and fanboy critics.

What is interesting is that both of these movies touch on fathers. In After Earth, the father son relationship is at the center of the story. In Star Trek, it is the fatherly relationship between Kirk and Pike that drives Kirk to become the man he must become in order to be an effective captain to his crew. I have not seen After Earth. I will not see After Earth. But, I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness 4 times. Okay, so I’m a Trekker. I have been since I watched the very first televised episode on network television way back in 1966.

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Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see “Man of Steel”. I checked out the mainstream critics. They were unimpressed with the movie calling it “dour”, “deadpan”, “lacking chemistry”, “tedious”, and “boring”. Even the fanboy/geek sights were unimpressed. Not on the scale of “After Earth” but for a movie with this much anticipation, the criticism was worrisome. I went into the movie expecting to be disappointed. I was not.

First, let me say that this movie has so much emotion, I cried at least three times. Yes, I am a man. And, yes, I cry sometimes at movies. It has to be a really, really effective movie to make me cry. I am a writer. I am getting older. I have seen every movie trope there is. It takes a lot to impress me. It takes a lot to make me cry. Both Star Trek movies made me cry at very unexpected times. I did NOT see those moments coming and for me, that is the best “thumbs up” a movie can get from Bruce Hennigan.

In “Man of Steel”, I was so moved by key scenes. The artists behind this movie were brilliant in their use of flashbacks and set pieces that spoke volumes without a single word being uttered. Watch for the “rebellion” scene in the truck between Clark and Jonathan Kent. I dare you to NOT hold your breath! Don’t miss the simple, quiet flashback at the end of the story where not a word is uttered but the scene beneath a clothesline is the single most moving moment in a movie I have experienced in years!

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Secondly, this movie was a believable story. I had the privilege of experiencing the first Superman movie in the theaters. I was amazed that a man could fly. Christopher Reeves nailed the character of Superman and the Kent farm scenes were beautifully filmed and moving. But, all of these films were filled with campy, tongue in cheek moments. The assumption was while you may believe a man can fly, Superman could never really exist in our world. He is a comic book character. The reason “Man of Steel” has been labeled as “dour” and “boring” is because it dares to tell a story that is REAL. I believed that Clark Kent could have existed and that somewhere out there he waits to put on the cape and save the world. This movie was never as dark as the Batman movies. But, it carried a serious tone that just worked. Period. Was it filled with comedic moments? No. Was it moving and satisfying as a cohesive, believable story? You bet you!

Third, this movie was about a father and a son. For the first time in all the years I have read comics and watched movies, Jor-El was a real character filled with bravado and idealism and a love for his son that transcended the world in which he lived. Jor-El fought for his son’s future. Jor-El was a true father — wise, strong, and willing to fight for what he believed even if it cost him his life. Russell Crowe has never been better. Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner was perfect. His conflicted fatherhood was obvious — torn between protecting his son from the ridicule of a world that saw him as different with the desire to let his son beat the crap out of a bunch of bullies. Jonathan Kent’s soft spoken, spare words of wisdom were just right. And that scene — oh that scene in the truck. Wait for it and I dare you to not be moved!

Which brings me back to my own father. Experiencing “Man of Steel” brought back so many memories of my father. Like Clark, I grew up on a farm. Like Jonathan Kent, my father was a man of few words to me. He spoke eloquently from the pulpit and sang wondrous songs and was a true ham when it came to showmanship. But, his relationship with me was at best tentative in my early years. Like Clark, I rebelled against my father and the most painful moment of my teenage years was the day I made him cry because of my behavior. In my mind’s eye, I see my father standing on the edge of eternity, with so many years of life behind him and now facing the brink of darkness and he nods at me as if to say, “I hope I taught you well, son. Go change the world.”

One last note. There has been a huge swell of interest in the possibility that Superman in “Man of Steel” was deliberately patterned after Jesus. In fact, I read where the movie studio was hoping that Christians would think this also and go see the movie. But, as usual, the media, the internet movie critics, and the Hollywood “story” machine just don’t get it. Clark Kent, Kal-El is mortal. He is a man of flesh and is given in to temptation and the desire to do harm to others. The telling final battle between Superman and Zod define it all and Superman’s inevitable solution is very, very human.

Let me be very clear here. Jesus Christ was a real person not a comic book character. He existed and history does not dispute this. Some think that Jesus was the product of our imagination; our desire as a primitive people to create transcendent heroes to give meaning to our paltry lives. No, that would be true of Superman, but never of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, we see elements of the character of Jesus in Clark Kent. But, that is true of any human being. Each of us has the capacity and the desire for altruism, for forgiveness, for love, and yes, for self sacrifice. That does not make anyone of us Jesus. It does mean that those characteristics are there for a reason. We are made in the image of God. God who is creator, sustainer, lover of humanity, and capable of great sacrifice. And yes, capable of the gentle, and sometimes harsh hand of fatherly discipline. Jesus was God in man form. The attributes we see in “Christ” figures are very poor reflections of the true character of Christ. He was without wrong doing. He was without failure. His every word and deed were carefully planned and thought out. His life was the ultimate Story that gives our lives meaning. This cannot be said of Superman.

jesus

What we see in Superman and the Doctor and a myriad of “super heroes” is our need for a savior. Can someone please save us? Please? Save us from what, you ask? Ourselves!

For this father’s day, go see “Man of Steel”. For the day after, seek the true Father Son relationship in the person of Jesus Christ. Find your Savior!

He’s Dead Jim!

“I’m a doctor, not a mechanic!”

That particular bit of universal wisdom has come true for me time after time. When I open the hood of a car, I see large, dark, greasy shapes. My wife, on the other hand, looking over my shoulder as I interpret an MRI sees the same thing — large, dark, greasy shapes. One man’s Rorschach is another man’s blueprint for disease detection.

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy was the originator of that quote. Throughout his appearances on the original “Star Trek” and subsequent animated series and movies, Bones was well known for his curmudgeonly manner. But, what Bones never lost was his “humanity”. Time after time, Bones would butt heads with Mr. Spock in the classic emotion versus logic debate.

For a young boy fascinated with the prospect of a shining, interstellar future, I was attracted more to Bones than any of the three men comprising the triad of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. More than anything, I was impressed with Bones’ unflinching devotion to his patients regardless of political or personal restraint. His patients, even when they were aliens, were human and Bones preserved their humanity.

When I felt God’s call to become a doctor, I pictured myself with the bold idealism of Dr. McCoy. I found myself throwing myself in front of the bureaucratic buses for the sake of my patients. It was his devotion to do whatever it takes to heal his patient that still inspires me today, 33 years after I graduated from medical school. Star Trek did that for me.

I guess that is why it so saddens me to read Mike Duran’s latest blog regarding Gene Roddenberry’s atheism. This was no mystery to me. The atheistic and naturalistic worldview was the dominant force behind Star Trek: The Next Generation and the sequels, DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager. For a few years, the head writer of Voyager was an outspoken atheist and her worldview saturated many of the stories of Voyager.

Interestingly enough, Roddenberry’s “Bible” on how to write for the show demanded that the future of mankind was so rosy, so Edenistic, so perfect that the writers of the show had to remove any conflict that could arise among the crew of the Enterprise. Is it any wonder the show did not do well until the Borg arrived? Is it any wonder that the greatest villain Roddenberry created was the omniscient, omnipotent, immortal Q? Here is Roddenberry’s concept of God. Capricious. Mercurial. Peevish. Delighting in tormenting mankind. Judgmental and harsh. And totally without mercy or love.

On another note, Bill Nye, the Science guy recently released a video in which he pleads with parents NOT to teach their children any form of creationism. He, along with Dawkins and Harris and the late Hitchens maintain that belief in the supernatural is dangerous to mankind. It is destroying us. And, they maintain that to teach children about the supernatural is tantamount to child abuse. Christians are religious pedophiles!

What is fascinating about this entire discussion is the totally disregard for sound, rational evidence for design in the universe. They dismiss this wholeheartedly as merely “the appearance of design”. What are we squabbling about? Semantics. Marilyn Robinson in her excellent book, “Absence of Mind”, has taken exception to this conclusion. She maintains that our appreciation of “supernature” or possible forces, worlds, beings that cannot be confined to our “natural” realm are absolutely essential to humanity. Without a concept of the supernatural, there would be no imagination. We would only consider what our senses can detect. Such imagination spurs art, literature, music, sculpture, innovation, and even scientific discoveries.

I was watching an episode of Doctor Who just the other night in preparation for the new season. In this episode, love literally conquered all, defeating the nefarious plans of the metal “Cybermen” to remove emotions from a father’s brain. The father’s love for his son triumphed over the purely mechanistic, scientific machinations of the Cybermen. Afterwards, the Doctor was trying to deconstruct the man’s conclusion that love had won the day. He was trying to explain away the “love” phenomenon as merely brain chemistry and our “genes” trying to preserve themselves and then he stopped. He realized he was getting nowhere with us puny, immature humans. So, he agreed. Love had won the day.

And, here is the conundrum. The evidence is there. Rational discourse can be had. There is abundant scientific, historical, and philosophical evidence in favor of the existence of a transcendent intelligence behind the universe. But, to believe in such requires us to recognize the presence of a purpose; a plan for this universe. Such purpose implies that as humans we are a part of that plan; that we play a role. If we play a role in the “story” then this implies there isn’t true freedom to be and do what we want. We are subservient to the “story”. Mankind resists such a scenario. In our madlong rush to be totally free of authority, we throw the evidence in the wastebasket. We play the “God of the gaps” card and say that any “supernatural” explanation cannot be accepted.

Time and again, when I have asked such individuals why they will not consider this profound evidence for the existence of an intelligence, the reasons always boil down to personal preference. “I do not want to have to submit myself to such authority. I want to be free.” What is troubling is how such personal preference can end up producing an intolerant position among materialists. Their strongest accusation against Christians, for instance, is our intolerance. And yet, they take the high position of science and only science and are themselves intolerant of all other viewpoints.

Roddenberry eventually had to compromise his vision in order for the sequels to Star Trek to be successful. The bottom line: money! Rather than throw Star Trek under the bus for the purpose of sticking to a higher set of materialistic values, Star Trek changed its “Bible” to allow conflict to exist. The future, it turns out, is not so rosy after all. Q is fallible. Man always falls to his lowest instincts. Evil rears its ugly head time and time again. Hmmm! Is this an indictment of religion or is it the brute reality that mankind has yet to rise above his fallen self? No matter how advanced our knowledge, our civilization, our technology we still kill and maim and have anger and jealousy and suffer from unbridled pride. We still have our way. We still live by “survival of the fittest” although this really means “survival of the richest or the most powerful or the most intelligent”. And, we fall time and time again as mankind.

 

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: Creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: That life arose spontaneously by chance!” — George Waldt

 

Notice the reluctance to accept the evidence is based on very subjective, personal “philosophical” grounds. History teaches us that when a civilization loses it moral and ethical base; when a civilization abandons transcendent values; when a civilization glorifies unbridled “freedom to do whatever we want” that civilization fails miserably. Without transcendent values, we are mere animals.

And, it is troubling that instead of acknowledging the incredible contribution of such institutions as Christianity, the detractors focus on the failings. And, those failings have NOTHING to do with the tenets of such a worldview. These failings, instead, point to the universal inability of man to rise above his destructive selfish impulses. And, here is the reluctant realization. Those impulses are a direct outgrowth of naturalistic philosophy. Where this is no love, there is hate. Where there is no compassion, there is oppression. Where there is no sense of the divine, there is a sense of ultimate depravity and hopelessness. We need God. We need the divine. No matter how technologically advanced we may become, we will cease to be humans if we cease to love.

In 1991 L. D. Rue spoke of the need to replace the outdated and delusional concept of God with a “Noble Lie”.  The Noble Lie “is one that deceives us, tricks us, and compels us beyond self-interest, beyond ego, beyond family, nation, [and] race.” “Without such lies, we cannot live.” He acknowledged that at least the idea of a transcendent origin of values and worth was absolutely essential for us to continue to function as humanity.

My suggestion to individuals such as Roddenberry (who has passed away), Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, etc. is to focus on man’s tendency to abuse ANY system of belief (and there are many beyond religion) and stop making God the focus of their attacks. The problem is NOT with God. The problem is with MAN!!!!

Can we not agree to disagree with civility? Can we not acknowledge the contributions of adherence to a worldview that has resulted in much altruism, good works, and, yes, scientific advance? Can those who adhere to a purely materialistic view not treat others with common decency and respect? This is my plea. Rail against God all you want. But, realize, that no amount of scientific argument, no amount of philosophical argument, no amount of rage against the abuse of systems will kill God. Accept that we will always believe in our spiritual side and this belief is absolutely essential to the future of mankind.

Instead, let us all speak out against the abuse of any type of system where human value is reduced to that of brute animals. Let us acknowledge the important of such immaterial virtues such as love, mercy, compassion, and self sacrifice. Let us agree that theology and science can co-exist as important disciplines with the potential to improve our human condition.

In most Communist countries in the 20th Century the underlying worldview was based on atheism and Darwinism. These societies devalued human life in favor of the state. Only the fittest were allowed to survive. If we stop and consider the quality of life of these individuals who lived under Stalin and Chairman Mao it would be insane to think such a life was of value or advanced humanity. In fact, over 100,000,000 people died in the 20th century alone at the hands of these systems.

One only needs to use common sense to see there has to be a balance between the natural and the supernatural. Man is a spiritual creature. No amount of scientific dogma can eliminate the basic human need for love, even if it is just biochemical in origin. Our place in the universe will depend on our imagination; our inspiration; our quest for something bigger and grander than ourselves. Belief in God accomplishes this. Where we fail is in taking that belief and abusing it for personal gain. This is what must stop. The abuse.

Whether you believe in a Noble Lie or the Way, the Truth, and the Life we must learn to work together and stop vilifying each other. We must join together to fight against the insanity of the abuse of any belief system. Can we not do this? After all, Spock and McCoy often had heated, angry arguments and yet, the men were like brothers. In fact, in one of the most successful of the Star Trek movies it was Spock’s “katra” or soul that was saved by placing it in McCoy’s mind. The two truly became one. I don’t see why rational, reasonable discourse can’t replace the strident, hateful condemnation that typifies Roddenberry’s “Bible” and the best selling books by the “new atheists”.

 

As Ravi Zacharias said, “Religion begins with man. Theology begins with God.” And, unfortunately, man will always screw things up!

 

I may be wrong, of course, because I’m a doctor, not a philosopher!

 

Hanging on the Wall

“Welcome to my humble spaceship.”

My friend, Phillip looked at me and his mouth fell open. “Your what?”

I had built the spaceship myself. The viewscreen was composed of two old glass windows with the panes still intact. The console was a mixture of broken radios, the insides of a huge stereo, and the guts of an old washing machine. I had placed some twinkling Christmas lights behind the console to make it look like it actually worked. The “captain’s chair” was a bucket seat from an old car and the sides and roof of the control room were made of old doors and rusted tin shingles. To my friend, it was a barely organized pile of junk. To me, it was my spaceship and I was the captain!

We never played in the spaceship. Instead, we went back to my bedroom and talked about girls and baseball and girls and pizza and girls. We were in the seventh grade and Star Trek was in its second year on television. Phillip and I were best friends for the next few years. We went to junior high school, high school, college, and medical school together. When it came time to decide what type of doctor to be, Phillip just assumed I would follow in his shadow. He just knew I would become a cardiologist and move to a far away state to do my internship and fellowship. But, something had happened along the way. I had fallen in love and my girlfriend, now my wife, would be 1000 miles away if I went with my friend. So, I made a decision. Phillip didn’t understand. He said something that clearly separated our individual concepts of how each of us would “change” the world.

“You owe society a debt. You need to pay back to society for your education.” He would say.

Funny, but I seemed to recall I owed the bank a ton of money in educational loans. “Society” hadn’t paid my way through college and medical school. I grew up on the farm and only now do I realize we were poor. I stayed behind and became a radiologist. Phillip went on to become a cardiologist. We were at opposite ends of the medical “social” station. Radiologists are at the bottom of the food chain. Cardiologists rule the world.

This all came to mind today as my wife and I went to one of our local malls so I could find some dress pants on sale. You see, I’ve lost almost thirty pounds since January and I have two book signings next weekend so I need to look my best. As we walked down this long hallway filled with those fancy, air brushed photographs of all the local politicians and business leaders and social movers and shakers that this mall was known for, I stopped when I realized the latest picture, the photograph of “The Outstanding Business Leader” of 2011 was none other than my friend Phillip. My wife went on shopping and I just stood there looking up at my friend.

Curiously, I wasn’t jealous. I didn’t feel like a failure. Phillip deserved this recognition and I know him well enough to realize he probably received the honors reluctantly. He is, and always has been, a humble man. And, his work with local schools and statewide educational reform had been effective. He had fulfilled his dream of changing the world by paying back his “debt” to society.

So, what had I done? Had I performed anything quite so impressive as my friend? Would I one day get the call that I had been chosen to grace this hallowed hall with my portrait? I doubt it.

As I stood there, I realized that God had taught me powerful and painful lessons over the years. Time and time again, I found myself like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” dreaming of going places and doing famous things only to have some little crisis intervene that kept me rooted right where I was.

I thought of the man who got up and ran out of the church after seeing one of my plays because he thought it was about him. I had never met the man, but that night, he met Jesus and it changed his life. I think of my friend R. whose decadent and playboy lifestyle had ended one Sunday night when he reluctantly sat through my play, “Crosstalk” and it changed his life forever. He met Jesus and in the years that followed led literally hundreds to Christ.

I think of the woman who wrote a passionate email to Mark Sutton and to me about our book, “Conquering Depression” and how she had the pills in her purse and was ready to die when she asked God to show her a book that would help. She didn’t take the pills, she met Jesus.

I think of Benny who just passed away yesterday of liver cancer standing behind me as I showed him the CAT scan of the cancer in his liver. I think of how I offered to pray for him and how one of his fellow Xray technicians took him under her wing and made sure he met Jesus before he passed away. Veronica showed me his certificate of baptism just one week before he died.

All of these seemingly small and insignificant events swirled around me as I looked at that portrait. I had not become a cardiologist. I had not followed my friend to the ends of the earth. But, I had followed my Savior. And, He had taken that strange and fertile imagination that could turn a washing machine agitator into a warp engine and He had used it to touch and change lives of people I will never know this side of heaven.

Do I brag? How can I? It is not my work that I now see in my mind. It is the work of God, the great unfolding passion of his Story; the inclusion of man and woman and child in the script He has written that began with the creation of the universe and passed through a fertile garden past a devious serpent and through the wilderness to a ram in the bush and the blood on a doorpost and a prophet surrounded by lions to a manger filled with peaceful animals and a glowing star. The lines of that script lead down the dusty road to a caravan where a twelve year old is missing; to a baptism of water and a dove; to the Adversary craving for worship. Down, down the long hallways of memory past ousted demons and living, breathing corpses renewed with life; past loaves and fishes to a lowly donkey carrying the King of Kings and a hushed, darkened room filled with ominous shadows while the Creator washes a dirty foot. It leads through the other garden filled with sweat and blood to the bloodied fists of the soldiers and the fresh flesh clinging to the cat of nine tails to the drops of blood trailed along the road by the splintered wood of a cross. It leads to a cross standing tall and defiant against the sins of all mankind; the sins of all time and space; an anchor point in eternity where God and Flesh and Life and Death and Redemption and Love all converged in a holy singularity that would rip the very fabric of life asunder as it conquered death.

The script is still unfolding in the light that is cast by the empty tomb. It is still moving all around us. And, although I do not have my portrait on a wall of fame, my name is written in the only Book that counts, the afterword, the director’s notes, the epilogue to the Story of God.

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