Since Leonard Nimoy’s death last week, I’ve been thinking about one of my favourite episodes from old school, 1960s Star Trek. It’s titled The Galileo 7.
Mr Spock takes a small team in a shuttlecraft to explore a region of space. Bad stuff happens and – long story short – they crash land on a planet. What’s worse is that the crash causes a leak in the shuttlecraft fuel pipes…so they cannot take off again to re-join their friends aboard the Enterprise. Worse still – there are big scary cavemen type monsters on this planet who have a rather good aim when throwing their long, sharp flint tipped spears! Two of the crew get speared pretty quickly (they aren’t wearing red shirts, either). What’s more…the polystyrene rocks on this planet are given a real hammering by the monsters as spears are thrown from every direction at Spock and his team! This is the first team Spock has ever led – and it is a real baptism of fire for him.
We see life from a different perspective when we are leading rather than following. Don’t we? It’s easy to blame the leader when things are hard. But what do we do when things are hard…and we are the leader? When everyone in the team is looking to us for the next step?
I think what I love about this episode is the way it shows the logical Mr Spock deal with the stresses of leadership. Yes, his situation on the planet is grim. They don’t have many options open to them. Spock’s signature logic allows them to quickly identify all the choices available. But there is a much bigger issue under the surface of all this. And it’s about how Spock relates to the people he is leading – his team. Unfortunately, his head is so locked into a logical analysis of their problems, he isn’t able to give his small team any emotional support and encouragement. And this frustrates them.
Why? Leaders aren’t just problem solvers. We aren’t just sources of solutions. We are also a source of emotional presence, of personal warmth, of belonging. Because the people that follow us need more than just confidence that all the problems will go away. They also need to be able to feel that they are known and valued and belong in this team. That we are moving forward together – and actually our relationship is the foundation for all the solutions ahead of us. Spock had it upside down – the solutions were more important than his people – and it drove that team nuts! Leaders – be with your team as you work together to achieve great things together.
Back to the plot –
Captain Kirk spends time searching for his friends…but an urgent task takes priority and – even though his search is not complete – he has to turn the Enterprise around and start to move away…leaving his lost friends trapped on the planet…doomed.
But Spock finally cuts a break; Scotty is on his team and works out how to turn their phaser weapons into a fuel source for their spacecraft. It will leave them unarmed amongst the monsters, yet it will allow the shuttlecraft to take-off and orbit the planet once. The plan works – they take off and they make orbit. But they only have enough fuel to make one circle of the planet. Space is big. They cannot see the Enterprise which must be long gone…they have overcome so many obstacles to survive the monsters and take off…but to what? A pointless orbit followed by certain death. Everything seems hopeless for the crew. Logic has gotten them this far…but it has left them in a place of ultimate despair.
And it’s in this place, the unexpected happens.
In a momentary flash of desperation – Spock ignites all their remaining fuel. This causes the engines to ignite and burn hot…shooting out of the rear of their tiny craft for a short while. What is Spock doing? As Scotty points out, he is desperately sending up a flare even though he believes there probably isn’t anyone there to see it. Yet incredibly the Enterprise DOES see their flare go up. And as their tiny shuttlecraft starts to burn up in the atmosphere, Spock and his crew are rescued by Captain Kirk in the nick of time.
I think this episode makes a great point. Logic and systematic thinking can only get us so far. As you listen to some people talk, it sounds like they believe Science holds all the answers for mankind. That life is only about the measurable and the controllable. But what Star Trek shows us is that this is a poor, one dimensional approach to life. Science is important – yes – but if we view it as mankind’s sole end…and the only tool in our toolbox…then we are selling the multi-dimensional, emotionally and relationally designed people around us short. Further – if Spock had not leapt beyond logical laws – and ignited the fuel in his craft – he would not have saved his team. If he had not let out the biggest, and the most emotion filled “HELP!”…then the episode would have ended very differently indeed. Logic only gets you so far – relationship and emotion fills the gap.
Personally, I’ve worked in a field of science for 25 years and I’ve solved lots of problems as a result. But frankly…as I sit here writing…I cannot remember any of them! What I can remember tho are the faces of the people that I’ve worked with, and the time we spent getting to know each other. The lasting effect they have had on me.
I am also a Christian, I believe in a personal, relational God who loves us and who really entered human history to show us that. And I’m a Christian because one day I personally sent up an emotional, metaphysical flare myself and said – I don’t know if anyone is out there…outside the material confines of our Universe…but if you are there God, please hear me. Please listen…and please help. He did…and he continues to do so.
Perhaps we are happy to restrict our perspective on life to the stuff we can measure and control; you reject the metaphysical. But like Spock…I wonder if our life choices and our private longings actually point away from our narrow words…and towards the bigger reality that is there for us!
Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me. I’m God, and I act in loyal love. I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things.
Jeremiah 7:23-24, The Message