Darmok and Elijah, The Town Surrounded

Found on IMDB.

Lately I have been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have seen many/most episodes of it, but had not fully watched it all the way through so I claimed the power of Netflix to do so. Today I finally saw an important episode. I have heard many fans quoting it before and it always felt familiar so I might have seen the episode before, but I had always felt that I didn’t fully get what was going on. Today I finally got to watch the episode and enjoy it.

Spoilers ahead.

Darmok (Season 5, Episode 2) is a very intriguing episode. The Enterprise meets a race called the Tamarians. Their language is indecipherable by the universal translator in that they use metaphors and narratives to communicate. The computer can say the words as they translate, but it can not translate what they mean so conversations are confusing. Picard and the other Captain are transported down to a planet and the other Captain has two knives with him. As the show goes on you realize the Tamarians reference characters and historic or mythic actions or places to express intentions, needs, etc. Just like I don’t know the stories and narratives important to someone from Zambia, they might not know the narratives that are important to me. So communication is lost because you don’t know the same stories or heroic experiences. By the time Picard is figuring this out, the other captain is injured in a fight against a creature. When Picard gets back to the ship, he comments on how Captain Dathon was willing to die just so the two parties learn to communicate.

Jesus understood the need for narratives. He often preached and spoke in story by telling parables. These short stories always had a point to them. A principle we are to engross ourselves into and glean from the actions and consequences experienced by the characters.

Imagine if I am playing a minatures game like Heroscape or Warhammer 40K with several people and there is a person I want to build an alliance with me. If all they have is a single character left while another player has a full army but I can send aid, I might say something like “Elijah and Elisha, their town surrounded.” If that person knows the story found in 2 Kings 6, they would know that they should lead that army toward me.

In that story, Elijah and Elisha (referred to as a servant of Elijah) are in a town surrounded by an army. Elisha comes running to Elijah to ask him what to do. Elijah prays: “God open his eyes so he may see your protection.” Then Elisha is allowed to see a vast army of Angels, larger than the human army, surrounding them with chariots and filling the hills around the village. In a comedic end, the attacking army is blinded and Elijah leads them right to the King’s army to be arrested and sent back to their own land. Can you imagine walking a blind invading force right to the Washington D.C. and telling the President to send them all back to the country they came from? Again, you can read this story in 2 Kings 6 and you should read it. Wonderful story.

I read on IMDB that this episode has been used in linguistics classes to discuss how language works and evolves. Narrative is a powerful tool. We are regularly told in the Deuteronomy to share what our stories and our beliefs with those younger than us. To pass down what has been experienced. Why? Because there are lessons in these stories. The writer of Hebrews knows this well. Chapter 11 of the New Testament book is all about the heroes of the Old Testament showing faith in various ways. He even admits there that He doesn’t have time to share all of the stories but wishes he could share all of them. Acts 17 records that Paul explored Athens and referenced their own poetry and imagery to share the Gospel with them.

If you are trying to figure out how to express something important to someone or if you want to share Jesus with them, why not start with a story you both know? It doesn’t need to be long or deep. Just something with an important moment that relates to your point. Use that to begin and see where you need to go from there.

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