Monday, August 13, 2012

Being Excited Over Mars Mission

Last Sunday, August 5th, I took a break from the Olympics to watch the landing of Curiosity (NASA's most recent Rover/Explorer) on Mars.

Now, I have to tell you I'm a BIG fan of the Space Program and always have been. Some of my earliest memories include watching the last Mercury launch, all of the Gemini & Apollo launches - and yes, I still remember where I was when I heard "The Eagle has landed" on the moon. At heart I believe one of the greatest gifts of God to mankind is our (seemingly) innate desire for exploration - whether this is exploration of outer space, the ocean, biology, geology, etc., etc. And I for one believe this is one distinct proof that "God is like this," but more importantly: evidence that we are created in the Image of God!

I have no intention of turning this into a sermon, but I recall two of the particular opening verses in the service of Evening Prayer (BCP 1979):

Yours is the day, O God, yours also the night; you established the moon and the sun. You fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.
Psalm 74:15, 16


Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon
the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name. Amos 5:8

Back to Sunday night...
The thing that first impressed me is that this mission (yes I know its just a rover...) is the most complex space mission in history. Certainly more complex missions will come... but this one tops the charts! The fact that because of the distance, everything involved in the landing had to be accomplished on its own (to see these complexities watch the short clip below).

It was fascinating to watch the Control Room react with cheers - followed by immediate stress - as each part functioned during the descent: "Curiosity has entered the atmosphere" (Cheers! Will the parachute deploy?) "The parachute has deployed" (Cheers! Will the heat shield separate?) "The heat shield has separated!" (Cheers! Will the rockets fire?) ... and so on... until "Curiosity is on the surface!" BIG BIG CHEERS! Everything worked right and as planned! Great job guys and gals!

Now that the "terror" is over the real exploration can begin. And already more and more amazing photos are coming in.  And that leads me to Wednesday...

Wednesday night...
On Wednesday as I was talking about my interest in the mission, a parishioner shared, "Well, you know, it is an amazing thing; but when I think of all the things we could have done with that money here, it seems like such a waste." OUCH! He went on to say, "Yes we went to the moon and now we have digital watches... big deal." OUCH again!

But that got me thinking...

Sunday night one of the commentators said something like, "If any one part of the landing process fails we've just sent a billion-dollar rock to Mars!"

So let's use that figure for the sake of argument - I have no idea how much the Curiosity mission actually cost - but it's an easy one to use. Let's also say before the launch three years of planning went into this effort - so (again for the sake of argument) we're talking a billion dollars over nearly 4 years.

To be honest, my friend brings up an important point: there are concerns here on earth that need to be addressed. And certainly any of them would have benefited had they been given this money to work with. BUT... Let's be clear about a few things...
  1. Space exploration is not an either/or situation: Just because a billion dollars was spent on this mission doesn't mean that we ignored concerns here! It wasn't like we had a choice: Should we go to Mars OR cure cancer? Which one do you want to do? Using that as an example, we are working on cancer research; and, how much do you think was spent on cancer research over the last 4-years? I suspect - but I don't know for certain - I suspect it was way more than a billion dollars!
  2. Space exploration has multiple benefits beyond "digital watches"! Consider for a moment all the education that all these scientists have had? Universities have benefited from having students. Teachers and professors have had jobs teaching them over the years. Scientific research inspires our students to learn and grow professionally. Along with that, how many people were employed who built the Rover and the Rocket? I also recently saw a report interviewing the next generation of geologists and scientists - still students - who are preparing to work on this project. Seems to me - and if you in the least way thing education is an important thing - this is a good thing to see! But along with this...Having interest in higher education and the sciences means that others - who are not interested in space exploration but may be inspired to do other things (like cure cancer) have their place too!
  3. Amazing achievements - even in space - prove that we can do amazing things in other areas as well. The old saying was, "If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we.... whatever?" And if we can land a car-sized explorer on Mars, why can't we cure cancer, end disease and poverty? Why can't we? There is no reason we can't. None at all. And let's not forget that there are amazingly talented people at work on these things (and more) right now!
So here's to all you scientists out there! Keep up the good work! As the video says "Dare Mighty Things" - and keep doing that whatever your field!

And let me also say to those in the Arts...
who may think this is all about Science and Technology... It's not!  Human achievement is inspired by the Arts, and the Arts inspire us too! With education and Universities the Arts live on... and you musicians, actors, and artists feed our imaginations! To "dare" is to "imagine"!

It's all connected together. It's supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day 2012: A Reflection

Scriptures: Deu. 10:17-21; Ps. 145:1-9; Ro. 13:1-10; Mt. 5:43-48

The Fourth of July - or more rightly, Independence Day - is my favorite national holiday for several reasons. Judging by my physique, one might assume that it has to do with beer and BBQs. (There may be some truth to that - not including my love of fireworks!) But more than any of these celebrations, Independence Day is my favorite national holiday because deep down I am an Idealist; that is to say, I still believe, as flawed as our nation has become, at the heart of our history we stand on principles derived from Faith in God.

This is something I think all of you already know. And we all know that there is real effort to expunge and erase the mention of God in our government. Yet there are two experiences that continue to give me hope - and I remember them every Fourth of July.

One was when I visited Washington D.C. a few years ago. I was particularly struck by the mention of God EVERYWHERE on almost every monument! The Atheistic task to remove the mention and influence of God is (in my humble opinion) impossibly monumental (no pun intended).

But also, I remember a "Fourth" celebration in Elk Grove, CA years ago. At the time the push to eliminate God from the Pledge of Allegiance was raging. At the park, before all the fireworks, the crowd (and it was a BIG crowd) said the Pledge together. When it came to the part - everyone SHOUTED - "One Nation,UNDER GOD..." And this reminds me that it is the American heart that will keep God alive in our Country!

To be honest and fully true to history, I am not a "romantic Idealist" about our Founding Fathers and Mothers; that is to say, that they were so in touch with Faith as to bring down the Kingdom of Heaven in 1776 nor eleven years later at the drafting of our Constitution. They had plenty of faults. It is honest to say many of our Founding Fathers and Mothers were Christian. And their Faith did indeed shape and influence the American Dream of a free and independent government. But, it is also fair and honest to say that many were in fact Deists (or Deistic in their thinking).

Deism - at its heart - holds that God is far off; distant and primarily unconcerned with the running of human affairs. He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture; yes, and given us the precepts to which we are to live. Yet, that is also to say that He has given us the rules and stands off to say, "Obey them." The Deistic God is not one to interfere or intervene - something we certainly have come to understand - Our God is NOT like that! Thomas Jefferson - as a Christian Deist certainly thought this way. As he drafted the Declaration of Independence, this was certainly his thinking when he writes:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

"Endowed by their Creator" = That we are created beings. Set in motion and gifted with purpose.
"Certain unalienable Rights" = Ways in which God has established Man in creation. We are made this way and set in motion.

And at the conclusion of the Declaration, he writes:
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

"Divine Providence", which goes to show that Thomas Jefferson was only one of a Committee (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston were the others). Divine Providence means, God still provides protection (is active and involved) to His faithful people.

Our scriptures today are somewhat a challenge to this way of thinking. We are reminded of care for the poor and the needy. Paul reminds us to endure and respect all authority (even the Pagan Rome of his day!) Jesus tells us (as He told our Founding Fathers) "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

One thing is almost certain in our thinking these days: Politics and Religion go together as well as Nitroglycerin in a paint mixer at the hardware store. But again, today I am an Idealist. I believe that the two are vitally dependent upon each other. One cannot govern humanely without Godly principles - to see things the way God sees them - to strive for the "perfection" Jesus calls us to, even though we know our human faults. After all it is only by His grace and salvation that we have been made perfect!

Politically, let me say just this: It doesn't matter today whether you are Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or whatever... What matters today is that you are BOTH an American and you are Christian. And if you are a Christian, Let it be CHRIST who influences your politics. No matter how you vote, let it be Christ who votes through you. If our country needs redirection and strengthening (and I for one believe it does) let us do this and accomplish this together! Let us in our own ways defend the Ideals of Liberty and Freedom which we cherish. Let us not discount them as "pipe-dreams" but hold onto them. Our nation was founded on these ideals... men and women fought only for the dream of a new and independent nation; believing that the hand and providence of God was with them. Our nation and our Faith still depend upon ideals and dreams!

As we remember our national independence, let us not forget or confuse our utter and complete dependence upon God! Although we need no longer to bow to the King (or Queen) of England, we still must bow to Him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The Freedoms we enjoy today (even beer and BBQs) were paid for by the blood of many - who would gladly join us in our celebrations - but we are made to enjoy even greater joys that come only from Christ!

So I say today, God Bless America, with all pride and dignity. But I also close with this hope and prayer:

Bless God, America... Bless God! Amen.