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SGU: We are not designed to operate on our own

In "Aftermath," Dr. Nicholas Rush has discovered the bridge of the Destiny, an abandoned ship built by the Ancients on which a group of military and civilian humans are stranded as it hurtles out of the galaxy. Rush has been trying to figure out how Destiny operates and her purpose ever since they got stranded, and discovering the bridge is a huge step. But as he sits down the voice and image of his dead wife, Gloria, appears and they begin to talk about his discovery.

Gloria: You thought this was going to be easier, didn’t you?

Rush: This ship, the systems were designed to be run by an entire crew.

Gloria: Well, you have a crew.

Rush: Yeah, a crew that knows what it’s doing.

Gloria (looking around the bridge): This is what you wanted.

Rush: You know, the Ancients never intended Destiny to operate on its own…

Stargate Universe, a SyFy science fiction series in its second season, is developing solid feet to stand on. In other words, it is becoming a good story. It is fleshing out its characters as well themes like sacrifice, who we follow and why, how we live together, the pull between orders and ethics, the good of the many versus the good of the few (or one), what makes us human and what we believe—all themes common to the military sci-fi genre (and good stories). And while last week's "Aftermath" made some solid steps in more than one of those, it was the episode's exploration of community that is resonating most with me.

The crew has just dealt with and squelched a hostile takeover of the ship and is now not only reeling from the violence against its crew but also wrestling with what to do with its enemy prisoners (complicated by dwindling food supplies). Throughout the series, scientist Dr. Nicholas Rush, civilian leader Camile Wray, and Colonel Everett Young have been at odds on how to best run and live together on Destiny. While they’ve worked together in the past, the recent events have shaken them, and Young and Rush have begun to isolate themselves again. This plays out most dramatically in Rush's choice to keep a secret his discovery of the bridge and control center of the Destiny. He doesn't trust Young or his own colleagues, and he thinks he deal with it better on his own. But, as we learn in the conversation above, he knows he’s wrong. It just takes awhile for the ramifications of that to sink in.

Interestingly, Rush’s conversation above with the imaginary (or is she?) Gloria about the Destiny could just as well have been about the humans stranded on her. Just as the ship was designed to be run by a crew, we as human beings are designed to live and work together. And this episode does a good job at illustrating what happens when we isolate ourselves or try to do things on our own. We operate at less than what we were designed to—and we start to break down, individually as well as corporately. And that can not only harm us personally but also those around us. On Destiny, Rush’s decision to keep his discovery a secret inadvertently results in the loss of a valuable shuttle craft and the death of crew member Riley. On a more personal level, we watch several other characters—including Young and Lieutenant Johansen—continue to struggle with pain, loss, and anger on their own, which not only isolates them further but affects the fates of others in some cases.

This episode also gets at why we choose to isolate ourselves. Sometimes it the pain of loss. Other times it is fear. Sometimes it is anger or frustration. And sometimes it’s out of a sense that we can do better on our own. But ultimately, that path leads to destruction. Rush, who realizes at the end of the episode that his decisions to keep Destiny’s bridge a secret inadvertently led to Riley’s death, reflects: “I was trying to save lives--all of our lives, not just mine.” But instead of saving lives, his choice to do things on his own his way resulted in the loss of another’s life.

I can’t help but find this episode a vivid image of the truth that salvation and transformation—this becoming who we were created and designed to be from the very beginning—are inexorably intertwined with and take place within community. In our Story, God is after more than individual salvation: he’s creating a people—a covenanted community through whom, as Dallas Willard puts it in The Divine Conspiracy, he is “tangibly manifest to everyone on earth who wants to find him.” In The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight writes, “God’s idea of redemption is community-shaped.” From Israel to the Spirit-empowered church, says McKnight, God’s covenant community is the context in which redemption takes place—one in which we find reconnection and restored relationship with God, self, others and the world. “Wherever you go in the Bible,” writes McKnight in A Community Called Atonement, “it is the same: the work of God is to form a community in which the will of God is done and through which one finds both union with God and communion with others for the good of others and the world.”

We weren’t designed to operate on our own. If the humans aboard Destiny are to survive or make a life for themselves, they will have to learn how to do that together. This episode gets at the ramifications of trying to do things on our own; we not only harm ourselves but those around us. We need each other and we were created to live together in a way that not only transforms and saves us but also the world around us. How we go about putting that into practice, however, is a major part of the work we do as humans.

And it’s also the stuff of good stories, and SGU looks like it is becoming one of them.