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Thin red lines: Moments of sacrifice and love

The Thin Red Line is a term for a thinly spread military unit holding firm against attack. The phrase later took on the metaphorical meaning of the barrier which the relatively limited armed forces of a country present to potential attackers.The first use of the expression referred to the resistance by the red-coated 93rd (Highland) Regiment of the United Kingdom in the Crimean War . . . .

Battlestar Galactica’s "Daybreak" marks the first of the last two episodes in the series (the last of which airs this coming Friday). This episode felt tighter, more focused, and seem to have more depth (in spite of some of those unexplained flashbacks) than the last few. But ultimately, it was the moments that touched on what it means to sacrifice and love that resonated most with me. Even if I have some misgivings about where this series might end up, BSG has indeed powerfully and painfully explored these themes over its run. And “Daybreak” does some more of that—and that, once more, brings God-talk into open spaces.

For me, it really begins in that moment when Admiral Bill Adama walks through the halls of Galactica where pictures had plastered the hull in a 9/11 reminiscent memorial of those that had been killed during the recent years. Few are left because the cracked-hulled and worn-out Galactica is being abandoned, and her crew and residents are taking most of the pictures with them as they get ready to leave. Adama pauses at one of the pictures left on the wall—one of Hera, the daughter of Athena (a Cylon) and Helo (a human) who is unique in that she is the only known child of a Cylon and human. She represents the only hope that the Cylon race can survive, but she’s recently been kidnapped by enemy Cylons, who want to use her to unlock the secret of their own immortality. Helo had begged Adama to launch a rescue mission for his daughter, but Adama refused, seeing no hope in finding or returning her.

We watch Adama walk away from the picture—but then he halts. He just stands silent, his back to us, not moving. Then he turns, strides resolutely back to the picture and takes it off the wall. His face is determined. In that moment, we know that he has made a decision. And we know it is the right one, but also a costly one. It is the one that will most likely cost him and those who go with him them their lives, but on the other side of that risk is life—for Hera, for the future of the Cylons. It is a choice to risk and do what is best for others rather than oneself. And we, like Adama, know that choice will require sacrifice.

And then there’s the moment when Starbuck and Adama stretch out a roll of red duct tape, making a “thin red line” on the deck. Adama lays out the choice to a sea of Galactica personnel and residents—a choice, he cautions, that must be made with full thought and consideration. It is likely a one-way mission, he tells them, so do not make the decision out of emotion. There will be severe costs. Then he instructs all who still choose to volunteer for the mission to cross over to one side of the line: “Make your choice,” he shouts. It is a powerful moment—and an image that reflects the choices we all face in this life. To step across the line and do what seems impossible. To lay down one’s life for another. A choice to do what is best for another instead of oneself.

The moment that moved me most, however, is one between Adama and Starbuck. Adama asks Starbuck whether or not it’s true that she found her own body when they had been on Earth. Starbuck confirms it, admitting her inability to explain it—and her distress in understanding it. She confesses that she doesn't know "what I am." Adama takes her by the arm and looks at her intently:

Adama: I know what you are.

His voice is firm and sure as he looks directly at her.

Adama: You are my daughter. Never forget that.
Adama loves Starbuck like a daughter, and his expression of that in the midst of a situation neither of them understands is powerful. He’s long ago crossed the "thin red line" when it comes to Starbuck. His love for her is fully committed and steadfast, the deep and fierce love of a father. And the power of someone’s unconditional love and acceptance is transforming. In the midst of doubting our own worth, identity and purpose, the words of another reminding us of who—and whose—we are is grounding and priceless.

All of this makes me think of Jesus and his own thin red line—and his warning to count the costs before we step across that line:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” —from Mark’s account (8:34-37)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. —from John’s account (15:12-14)*

One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.” —from Luke’s account (14:25-27)

On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I'll go with you, wherever,” he said. Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know.” Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” —from Luke’s account (9:57-58)

If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. —from Matthew’s account (10:38-39)

*NIV. All other quotes are from The Message.
Make your choice, he tells us. If you want to live and love, follow me. Real Life and real Love are mine to give—and I give them in abundance. There will be suffering, but there will also be Life with the Father, who is Love itself.

I’m willing to venture that we face this thin red line a multitude of times throughout our lives. It isn’t a one-time choice but one we continue to make daily. And often, those choices come in the ordinary and everyday moments of our lives. When we miss those moments, it is usually because we are focused on an agenda or our own desires or fears; as a result, we miss the reality of God and the presence and needs of others. But when we pay attention—when we keep sight of God and focus on being in the room with those we encounter—we are more likely to do what is in the best interest of others rather than ourselves. In other words, we are more likely to love. The love we are loved with begins to spill out onto those around us. And that changes things. That changes us. And that changes others.

Those moments can be as simple as opening a door, uttering a word of encouragement, reaching out a hand, or acknowledging the presence of another to as thorny as confronting injustice, standing up for those otherwise silenced and sacrificing our dreams, lives and goals for another. That thin red line is there. We need only pay attention—and make our choice.

And we’ll fail. And we’ll question our worth, identity and purpose. But God is always there even in our darkness. His desire is to make his truth our experience. He is always declaring, waiting for us to really hear in deepest part of ourselves: I know who and what you are. You are my daughter. You are my son. Never forget that.

And that's a thin red line that really does change everything.

(Images: SciFi Channel) bsgctgy


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this Carmen. I'm so curious to see how BSG is going to conclude the show. I enjoyed your analogous critique.
Carmen Andres said…
thanks! we won't have long to wait to see how the series plays out - can't believe it's all over this friday. wow.