Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Romans 12) transports me to the ominous and conflicted world of Deep Space Nine, the most forbidding and somber of all the Star Trek spin-off settings. I was a follower of the show for a while, but finally got lost as more and more species and back stories and side stories were woven into the show. One of these new species, which included Odo, my favorite character of the series, were called Changelings. Odo and his fellow Changelings, as the name suggests, were shape-shifters. Whatever world they entered, they could mold themselves into a likeness of the sentient beings of that world. Odo never got the shape of humans exactly right; his form always was a close approximation, but just a little off. The “normal” state of a Changeling was a jelly-like substance, far advanced along the evolutionary path from species like humans, which they called “Solids.” Odo, like all Changelings, had to revert back to this oozy state every sixteen hours. He would simply melt away into his bucket for a time of rejuvenation. Great moral dilemmas and ethical quandaries emerged as the Changelings and Solids interacted and eventually went to war, with all sorts of alliances and betrayals between humans and Cardassians and Bejorans and others. I’m not sure how it all got resolved; as I said, the show lost me after a few seasons and I never went back to find out.
Paul, in scripting his masterpiece of the drama of salvation in the book of Romans, creates quite a forbidding and somber mood through several chapters, as he focuses on sin and its consequences. Here in chapter 12, as he nears his conclusion, he brings in the theme of different worlds. He counsels the believing community not to be conformed to this world, not to be molded into the shape of this world’s customs and conduct and expectations and criteria. Paul pictures these relatively new believers not as Solids, but as Changelings, shape shifters, malleable and pliable, like Odo in his natural state, ready to adapt or be adapted according to what the situation might call for at any particular time. The Apostle wants the shape shifting to occur in a particular direction, though. He wants them not to be cast into the mold of the world’s values, which include disdain for the poor, violent vengeance on enemies, and fear of the stranger. He has a different shape in mind for the Christian community as it enters the new world of the kingdom and is transformed into the likeness of the Body of Christ. It will never get it perfectly; like Odo, it will always be an approximation. But the general form and shape is there, and Paul goes on in this chapter to spell it out. It is the shape of love, the kind of love radical enough to transform enemies into friends. It is the kind of love that causes one to be literally carried away by the poor (to associate with people of low position is a terrible translation). It is the shape of blessing, of peacemaking.
The Bible gives us some curiously contradictory messages about this world in which we live. One the one hand, we are not to be conformed to it. As the Message translation puts it, we are not to become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. On the other hand, we read that God so loved the world that he gave his son. We are to love the world. In the world, not of the world, was the phrase I always heard growing up. We sing This world is not my home and He’s got the whole world in his hands in almost the same breath. The dissonance of those two messages is enough to get us bent out of shape. Which is the point, isn’t it, to get us bent out of the shape of destructive cultural values, so that we can be re-shaped with kingdom values? I’m sure we’ve lost some folks along the way, as they have tried to figure out all the ins and outs and back stories and side stories and conflicts that periodically rage within the drama of the Church. But the story goes on. Unlike Deep Space Nine, it hasn’t been cancelled.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.