By Caleb Borchers
Recently I’ve found myself more and more drawn to learning more about space exploration and various things that humanity is doing to understand the cosmos. The Webb Telescope’s images have caused me to wonder at the size of the universe. I am excited for the Artemis I to finally lift off, if it ever does! More recently, I was intrigued by the DART program. Essentially, NASA is learning how to aim unmanned space crafts at meteors to push them off course. While this may seem an enormous waste of time and money for many, it will be an imminently helpful program if we ever face a giant hunk of rock hurtling right for Earth!
The DART program has an incredible task in front of them. I struggle to hit the trash can with a balled up piece of paper. Calculating how to hit a football stadium sized piece of rock with a rocket golf cart at a distance of 7 million miles in the immense emptiness of space blows my mind. As I watched the video of the spacecraft approaching for impact it was aesthetically pleasing, like watching a golfer hit a tiny ball 300 yards directly into a hole just large enough to hold it. I can only imagine how much of that project was sitting with a calculator and doing the math, then checking it, then rechecking it . . .
Then my cynicism started to creep in. If we can knock meteors out of orbit 7 million miles away, why can’t people parallel park? Why is the grocery store parking lot full of people that can’t fit their SUV into the lines? More seriously, why do millions of pounds of food go bad while people starve? How hard is it to make sure every kid in our community gets a good education? My complaint isn’t a political one. I am not fussing that funding for NASA should go to other things. It is more a question of care and focus. Why do human beings aspire to greatness yet can hardly bring themselves to empty a clearly full trash can? Why are we drawn to the flashy stuff but struggle to bother with the mundane?
Our sermon series right now at The Feast Church is about following Jesus and the process of discipleship. One thing that we have been investigating is how we actually become more like Christ. Surely that transformation happens by the work of God’s Spirit, but we are also called to participate in the work. Our habits and routines make a difference in how quickly we grow. It has struck me that we all want to do the lofty thing (be like Jesus) but most of us avoid the detailed work that will actually help us to get there.
If we really want to care for people like Jesus, it requires us to spend time with people who need help! Learning compassion necessarily requires time with people who drain us because they feel so needy. We marvel at Jesus' forgiveness on the cross, but we get offended whenever someone hurts our feelings. How do you learn grace if no one does anything to you that requires forgiveness? We want to share our faith, but also never want to be in a conversation that gets awkward or risks someone misunderstanding our motivations. I sometimes tire of aphorisms, but you truly cannot make omelets without breaking eggs.
As I have explored this disconnection between our high aspirations and failed experience, I realize how much our pride is wrapped up in it all. Peter is the example disciple of the Synoptic Gospels, the POV character for the reader. He is chronically mocked or patronized in modern sermons and classes. “That old impetuous Peter, always sticking his foot in his mouth!” Increasingly I think that Peter gets a bad reputation. Early adopters, those who step out in faith, inherently will make mistakes. Was he impetuous or courageous? How much did he learn on the Sea of Galilee? How much did Bartholomew or James the Less learn? Trying things, messing up, and trying them again is how you learn. That is the grind of being a disciple. Many of us fail to grow because we chronically avoid experiences where we might fail, and thus avoid experiences where we might learn.
We never learn without grinding away at the mundane tasks. It is much easier to preach a sermon that finishes with some grand, obscure idea, like “Go be Christ in the world!” or “Let us transform our minds this week!” then it is to state the harsh reality of how that happens. Those goals are good and true. The reality of getting there, however, sounds more like, “Go change those diapers!” or “This week, eat lunch with that co-worker no one likes!” or “Finally have that conversation you are dreading!” People leave church much less enthused when you talk that way! But that kind of thing is what is required to succeed at the big tasks. They are the hours of math that helps you meet a goal 7 million miles away.