I just returned from a four day road trip from Austin, Texas to the Kennedy Space Center to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor launch on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 am. It was the last mission for Endeavor and the next to last Space Shuttle launch. We arrived at KSC at 1 am to claim our spot and wait ‘til dawn swatting hungry mosquitoes. The road trip was 2,546 miles to see the shuttle blast off in a trail of fire and smoke. But our view only lasted for about 10 seconds before it disappeared into the completely overcast sky. The crowd went from wild cheers when Endeavor appeared above the trees to low moaning at its too sudden vanishing. We had all come from far places and waited all night; we didn’t want to say good-bye so soon! But when the sound caught up to us, the crowd quieted again to hear the rapidly ascending volume until we could feel the impulses of the popping rockets impacting us. The sound was amazingly strong for being about seven miles away. It rattled my shirt.
My trip was with two other old guys who both happened to have worked in the space shuttle program in Houston. They provided a lot of free background stories and information and added much to my enjoyment of the trip. Thanks, Tom and Lyle.
On the way we listened to the first three CD’s of an audio book Tom checked out from the library, Stones Into Schools; Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson. My point in writing this is to recount a story from the book and from our road trip and relate them to how the followers of Jesus are to view and engage the world.
The author tells of meeting up with a former general for the Pakistani army who had retired to watch the river flow past his village. The general had become sick of war and disillusioned of ever finding real peace. The author was fulfilling his promise to build a school for the people of a small, remote village in northern Afghanistan who nursed him back to life after he became ill mountain climbing nearly dying. This story is the subject of another book, Three Cups of Tea. The general was instrumental in building the first school and the many more schools to follow. With absolutely no building materials available in a desolate region, the villagers blasted stones loose to build the school. Evidently, explosives were readily available. To the general, familiar with the explosions of war, it was instantly ironic how that now a horrific tool of war is being used to actually benefit mankind.
This brought to mind what the ancient prophet Isaiah said would happen some day in the distant future when God’s rule of love would overtake his children on earth and true peace would cover the earth like a soft, warm blanket in winter. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4
On our space shuttle road trip, going down Interstate 95 in Florida, we drove through a huge cloud of love bugs. For people not familiar with this, imagine driving through a heavy rain where the drops are bugs instead of large raindrops. Coming out of the bug cloud left the windshield smeared with only a few random patches to see through. We actually drove like that for the last 50 miles. From past experience, we knew not to use the windshield washer as this would only completely smear the visibility with bug guts. We had to look through the dried bug guts to see where we were going. If we focused on the bug smears in front of our face, it would have been impossible to drive.
Long boring journeys give my mind plenty of time to roam around. So I put all this together and came out with these ideas. To me all this is a good analogy for our present world condition and how the followers of Jesus should see it. It is easy to focus on bloody terrorist attacks and say the world is going to hell, for sure. It is natural to fear for the mess the world is in. And our fears can drive us to hate and more violence. Whole nations can be driven this way, like my nation and many others. But the followers of Jesus should not fear like everyone else. We must see through the ugly smears of man’s violence and see where the swords are being turned into plowshares, where explosives are being used to build school buildings instead of destroy buildings. We must not give up hope and belief in the message of Jesus who also saw the mess his world was in and still proclaimed that the ancient prophesies of peace and hope are being fulfilled. The followers of Jesus must be the ones who proclaim that same message today, not by pointing the world to heaven some day but by participating with the work of God in the world today. This is not the message of some Christians who think that all other religions must be crushed; it is the non-violent gospel of reconciliation of all people with God and each other where there is no longer slave and free, rich and poor, privileged and oppressed, man or woman, but every person a child of God. I hear that Greg Mortenson has come under some negative criticisms for his books and fundraising. I don’t know much about this. And I don’t know about his religious status, but it seems to me that he is doing the work of Jesus whether he gives God credit or not.