Phrases on Stun: Honor Star Trek’s 50th in Words

Let’s boldly go into a brief blog post honoring this week’s 50th anniversary of the “Star Trek” universe. Calling it a brand or franchise is correct but inadequate. Like the actual universe, “Star Trek” seems to keep on growing, spawning new creations and rekindling inspiration.

As the CBS online news network reported, “Star Trek” is sometimes mocked for having led young fans to adopt nerdy as cookie-cutter imitators of their favorite characters, repeating favorite lines and re-telling favorite stories. While this happened in some instances, Gene Roddenberry’s brainchild showed human diversity at work and encouraged people to pursue their own unique dreams with hope for the future. Phrases that motivated viewers “to boldly go” into the “final frontier” impacted people’s lives because they were memorable words that were lived out—in fiction and in fact.

So, as I have been developing a new web home playfully called OnWord, complementing and continuing my professional forays into the frontiers of writing and communication, I realized I should offer my own salute to “Star Trek.” I’m incorporating into my blog and my business this occasional theme, or meme: “Phrases on Stun.”

You’re hereby invited to join me in recalling, and awaiting daily with new receptivity, key phrases and other well-crafted combinations of words that literally can become “words to live by.” I’m planning to honor—and, please God, to help create—verbal content that adds to the net quantity and quality of ideas, meaning, and purpose in this universe.

This is important. I fear the overflow of text and its permutations, so easily accessed online today, can lead to “information inflation.” This devaluation can rob content of meaning and nullify the power of good writing and communication to renew us, to surprise us. Remember, we celebrate this power to “stun” in a positive sense, and we reject the negative power of those words which are weaponized like phasers, used to capture attention only to destroy or demean or dismiss.

As my first proposal in this installment of “Phrases on Stun,” I offer the words of Jesus in this Sunday’s (Sept. 4) Gospel reading, from Luke 14: 25-33. You can read the whole passage, but here’s one taste of the Eternal Word’s unmatched ability to stun people and revitalize futures with his phrases: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This hard saying surely lived on in the minds and hearts of Jesus’s followers when they saw him suffer on his Good Friday journey. It jolted them even as it jolts us with tough love in our church pews today.

I would like to hear your candidates for “phrases on stun,” and I invite you to enjoy the habit of listening for new stunners—and celebrating them whenever and wherever they jump out from today’s dull mainstream of words lacking passion or compassion.

To assure you that this exercise can be fun—and not always as challenging or holy as today’s Scriptures imply—I return to the anniversary we’re celebrating this week. Captain Kirk’s son, David Marcus, reaffirms my purpose behind “Phrases on Stun” in this memorable father-son dialogue from the movie “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan,” as archived at the Memory Alpha website. David begins:

“You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.”
“Just words.”
“But good words! That’s where ideas begin. Maybe you should listen to them. I was wrong about you, and I’m sorry.”
“Is that what you came here to say?”
“Mainly. And also that I’m proud—very proud—to be your son.”

Tonight, Steven welcomes … the Philippians

If you haven’t completed your daily Scripture reading yet, you’re in luck. I can provide four profound Bible quotes, all from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, pre-packaged in an entertaining video format. We can thank three slightly surprising sources–a politician, an actor, and a comedian–who had memorized their own favorite slices of Philippi when I saw them on TV. The comedian, Steven Colbert, a clever and joyful Catholic satirist who deserves to be watched closely as he hosts “The Late Show,” orchestrated this unusual Bible study. He prays and preys in popular culture–sometimes worthy of a censer, sometimes worthy of a censor.

Colbert can spark memorable moments that evoke the best, timeless virtues of television entertainment. As a host (someone who makes good things possible for others), he can bring together talented guests for intelligent, witty conversations that bring audiences hope about themselves and the world. Under ideal circumstances, viewers can head to bed feeling truly entertained–that is, given sustenance, paid attention to, respected for their dignity.

The Late Show accomplished this act of kindness for me during some random moments on Thursday, Aug. 25. You can simply enjoy seeing (around the 2:30 mark in this video) how it came to pass that Colbert playfully exchanged Philippians quotes with vice presidential candidate Gov. Tim Kaine.

Later, Colbert opened the door for two more quotes, enthusiastically pitched/preached by celebrity Tony Hale of the HBO series “Veep” (at about 2:29 in this video). My thanks go to blogger Blake I. Collier here for the images and insights. He captured Hale’s supporting role in the New Evangelization.

Three ostensibly coincidental pop-culture incursions by the Holy Spirit on a single, sometimes coarse late-night show? Proponents can use the term “Godwinks” for such coincidences which stage midnight raids on TV’s toxic thinking and shameless self-promotion .

We might credit this troupe of accidental purists–Colbert, Hale, and Kaine–with suddenly taking a detour around conventional edginess, jolting us with references to St. Paul’s inspired writings, instead of something cynical or dismissive. Their unscripted conversations connected the dots between the wise words of Phil 2:3, Phil 4:6, Phil 4:8, and Phil 4:13, not necessarily in that order. We can’t promise this connectivity was birthed in total innocence. This game of verse-versus-verse might have roots in Pharisaical show-off instincts.

But we can be grateful that quoting the Philippians, in some contexts, is still considered a desirable public act (albeit humble bragging). Acting through various amalgams of good will and mere pretense, boastful self-promotion and spontaneous authenticity, God continues to pass along the Good News, in our acts of speaking and listening, in print or video. We watch imperfect human beings perform as empowering hosts and engaged guests, somehow inviting the Holy Spirit in for a moment of true entertainment. The Late Show, like other TV shows where real professionals cultivate wit and kindness, can literally point to a brighter new day. Paul foretold this in Phil. 1:15-18. We can learn from the Philippians, who were a receptive audience for Paul, “staying tuned” as he unveiled paradoxes and other truths with life-changing implications.

THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR STAYING TUNED! With this entry in my long-running blog at blogs.nd.edu/word/, I am transitioning so that past reflections and new commentaries all can be found in a different online place. They are part of my independent venture, OnWord, with its official home at onword.net, which will grow as a reflection of my larger body of work, thoughts, relationships, and aspirations for the future. One playfully misspelled word sums up that lifetime vocation of communication, driven toward perfection through collaborations among colleagues, clients and communities of all sorts. That word is ONWORD!

Now for a word from South Africa, via Popes John Paul and Francis

Thanks to Rocco Palmo and his “Whispers in the Loggia” blog for teaching me the word Ubuntu.

Wikipedia defines Ubuntu as a South African word meaning human kindness. In tribute to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Palmo posted on Dec. 5 a text of remarks that Pope John Paul II (also of sainted memory) spoke to Mandela and the people of South Africa during his visit there in 1995.

“South Africa refers to itself as a “Rainbow Nation,” indicating the diversity of races, ethnic groups, languages, culture and religions which characterize it,” the Pope said as quoted by Palmo. “And you have the extremely rich concept of UBUNTU to guide you, according to the saying that “People are made people through other people.” John Paul went on to honor Mandela’s government for striving to create a fairer and more prosperous society in which people of all faiths would work together and share together, keeping alive a “flame of hope.”

Fast-forward to Dec. 10, 2013, when the word Ubuntu and the teaching that “people are made people through other people” are top-of-mind as we watch news coverage memorializing Mandela. It is good that our Pope Francis today calls all Catholics worldwide to prayer and action against the scourge of hunger. See the Loggia’s blog report on this Caritas campaign, which likewise must endure a long time, keeping hope alive.

Palmo provides the prayer being circulated for the Dec. 10 global wave of prayer, appropriate for prayers of the present and future, reminding us always that “people are made people through other people.” Ubuntu is a rich concept. I think Pope Francis would see it reflected in his flock as we pray without ceasing this call for basic human kindness, for feeding our bodies and souls:

O God, you entrusted to us the fruits of all creation so that we might care for the earth and be nourished with its bounty.

You sent us your Son to share our very flesh and blood and to teach us your Law of Love.

Through His death and resurrection, we have been formed into one human family.

Jesus showed great concern for those who had no food – even transforming five loaves and two fish into a banquet that served five thousand and many more.

We come before you, O God, conscious of our faults and failures, but full of hope, to share food with all members in this global family.

Through your wisdom, inspire leaders of government and of business, as well as all the world’s citizens, to find just, and charitable solutions to end hunger by assuring that all people enjoy the right to food.

Thus we pray, O God, that when we present ourselves for Divine Judgment, we can proclaim ourselves as “One Human Family” with “Food for All”. Amen.

 

 

Father Ted: Here’s a Prayer that Always Works

First words, like first impressions, are very important. I consider it auspicious to start this blog — this blog simply called “Word” — with some words that can’t fail. They can be found in this video by Father Robert Barron, the noted scholar and evangelist  of the Catholic faith, but he attributes them to Father Ted Hesburgh, CSC, our President Emeritus here at Notre Dame.

Father Barron reports he heard Father Ted give a homily in which he said, “Here’s a prayer that always works.”

This prayer that Father Ted has always loved, as many people know, consists of three words: “Come, Holy Spirit.” Yes, that says it all. Find this reference at about 10 minutes into the video, and stay tuned to hear Barron’s insights about the prayer … a prayer that’s mostly about listening, being receptive, rather than submitting a wish-list. I can’t claim to be good at adopting this attitude, but I’m trying, and I realize such an attitude prompts one to use words sparingly but powerfully. Thanks, Father Ted! Holy Spirit, please help me to use my words temperately but efficaciously in my work and in this blog.