Archive for the ‘history’ Category

To Boldly Go …

Posted: July 15, 2011 by Jim Killam in history, nature
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Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my boyhood was dominated by news about space. America was making good on John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the moon by the end of the ’60s.  I remember watching the live TV broadcast July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong hopped down that last ladder rung from the Lunar Module to the dusty moon surface. His historic line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The moon landing was Apollo 11, and that’s the one everyone remembers. But it was the Apollo 8 mission, in December 1968, that blazed the trail. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders became the first humans ever to leave earth’s orbit.

And as they came into orbit around the moon, they were the first humans to witness and photograph an Earthrise: the entire globe coming into view, from the vantage point of a completely other world. Think about the significance of that moment.

No one has seen an Earthrise since December 1972, the final Apollo moon mission. It’s been almost 39 years since anyone left Earth’s orbit. Cost concerns and the Vietnam War ended Apollo several missions earlier than planned. And now, with the postponement of a Mars mission, it’s going to be an awfully long time before anyone does it again.

It’s hard to believe that, in an 11-year stretch from 1961 to 1972, men reached space, then reached the moon … and then just stopped going where no man had gone before.

In one sense, the 1960s space race was about the Cold War and beating the Russians. But, in a broader sense, it was about the basic human desire to explore the unknown.

As the final space shuttle launched last week, signaling the beginning of a long break in America’s space ambitions, a lot of us felt a little sad. A few of our astronauts will still hop rides on Russian rockets to the International Space Station, but it’s not the same. Space exploration has become space commuting. It’s like an ocean liner never leaving site of shore.

Avoidance of risk and avoidance of adventure, because they cost a lot (and I’m not talking just about money), is a way of life that snags too many people, Christians included. In “Dare to Desire,” John Eldredge wrote:

“God has rigged the world so that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives. … All attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others, just kill the soul in the end. That’s not how we find life.”

Here’s hoping that we go back to space and that we reach Mars and beyond. God has wired us for exploration and adventure. Those slogan writers for The North Face apparel company get it: We’ve lost something as a human race, spiritually, when we stop exploring.

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So a rabbi walks into a synagogue, and he says to the guy in charge …

If only the scene in Luke 4 could have been all Disney-like mirth and happiness. It started out in Hallmark Hall of Fame territory and almost ended in Quentin Tarantino Land.

A dear missionary woman I met in Manila — a firebrand of a woman, a brass-tacks woman — once called Jesus’ revelation of himself in Luke 4:14-30 the Nazareth Manifesto, and it’s stuck with me. It was the grand statement of Jesus’ grand purpose, taken directly from the book of Isaiah. The folks listening to Jesus that day should have put 2 and 2 together; but instead, they heard Jesus tell them exactly the opposite of what they wanted to hear. Jesus told them that he was the hoped-for Messiah, and that he came to release prisoners, give sight to the blind, preach good news to the poor and send the oppressed away into a new life of freedom.

In other words, the meat of the gospel.

That wasn’t what people were hoping the Messiah would deliver. They wanted a hero, a conqueror. They thought they were God’s chosen people because they were better, and therefore deserved a superior place in the world. Jesus essentially said that they weren’t any better than their Gentile neighbors and enemies, and that in fact, God had never thought of them that way, even when Israel still had the prophets and a kingdom. He simply loves whom he chooses to love, and expects us to follow suit. Period.

Ouch.

I often fear that I want the wrong things from God. I fear that what I’m aiming for has nothing to do with God’s priorities and everything to do with pressing forward with my goals, my priorities. If the Nazareth Manifesto, and the ensuing riot, teach me anything, it’s that I would do very well to search hard for what God wants and not let my disappointment at not getting what I want cloud my view of him.

In 1529 Europe, a fortress was the thing to have if you wanted safety and security. When a German priest named Martin Luther sought to compare God to the strongest, most impenetrable defense in the world, he wrote this hymn:

 A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth
abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is based on Psalm 46. Luther wrote it after risking his life to stand up to a corrupt, politically powerful Roman church. He nailed 95 theses – grievances against unbiblical church policies and practices – to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. In doing so, launched the Protestant Reformation.

Half a millennium later, Christians worldwide still sing that hymn. But what we sing and how we live often don’t match. Luther’s choice of metaphor — a building — has us confused. In 21st century America, our fortress is not necessarily God, but our churches … or, more often, our church culture. Without always realizing it, we’ve allowed the distinction to blur. We hide within those institutional communities, gates closed, comfortable with like-minded friends and afraid to go outside to lovingly engage a larger community that might think we’re weird, or naive, or hateful toward them.  

In our own strength we have confided. The bulwark — the institutional walls to which we have attached ourselves — can indeed fail. 

More Thursday.

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

 The American auto industry’s decline is eerily reminiscent of the spiritual demise of another former cultural giant, the European Church. Cathedrals once were the centers of European cities. Too often unwilling to change their methods with the times, those cathedrals now teem mostly with tourists. One could argue whether the church belongs at the center of community life, as Christendom for so long declared. But there’s little debate that Jesus Christ and his Church now don’t even occupy the overflow room (Hey! Blog title!) in the arena of everyday European life. They’ve been pushed completely outside.

What happened in Europe in the 20th Century now is picking up speed in the United States. According to the Barna Group, 40 percent of American adults age 16 to 29 are outsiders to the church, as opposed to 27 percent of people ages 42 to 60.

 “Millions of young outsiders are mentally and emotionally disengaging from Christianity,” Barna President David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons report in their invaluable book, unChristian. “The nation’s population is increasingly resistant to Christianity, especially to the theologically conservative expressions of that faith.

“We are at a turning point for Christianity in America,” they continue. “If we do not wake up to these realities and respond in appropriate, godly ways, we risk being increasingly marginalized and losing further credibility with millions of people.”

Some would say the Barna people and others overstate the peril facing the American church. Agreed, Christianity may indeed be in the middle of an identity crisis here, but it’s certainly not evaporating. We think the true peril, though, comes in hiding inside our Fortress and underestimating – or completely missing – what’s going on out there. Nobody at the Belgian Catholic Church or the Church of Sweden or Detroit City Hall or General Motors woke up one morning and said, “I’d really like everything I’ve built my whole life to slide into total obscurity.” But it’s happened — because, in one way or another, all of those entities became unattractive to a critical mass of people. Not necessarily because of what they offered, but because of the way in which they offered it.

A story about that,  next time …

Adequate Yearly Progress

Posted: August 2, 2010 by Lincoln Brunner in church culture, history

 

"Wow, honey, just what I always wanted -- a Pacer!"

In 1939, Life magazine ran a 16-page feature on the city of Detroit. Aerial maps, photo spreads (black and white and color!), articles on the city’s history and business and its mighty automakers — all painted a picture of the American dream in municipal form.

 That tall braggart of a city — at the time, the nation’s fourth-largest — now stoops under the weight of colossal failure. In 1939, Detroit had more than 1.6 million residents. Today that number is less than 900,000 and dropping, thanks to the one-two punch of white flight to the suburbs and the slow collapse of the same auto giants that made it great.

“For more than five decades now, Detroit has found itself on the dwindling edge of an inverted frontier: People have fled it in the hundreds of thousands, the millions, to settle elsewhere,” writes Detroit native Paul Clemens in his recent autobiography, Made in Detroit. “It has a sense of Manifest Destiny that runs in reverse.”

Detroit may have begun to bleed people and prominence before July 1967, but the race riots in that horrible month (the subject of a less-flattering Life spread) tore a gash in the city that has never healed. Businesses were looted, and buildings — hundreds and hundreds of buildings — were burned or simply abandoned. White people – and many black people as well – gasped in fear, then gave up on the city altogether.

Meanwhile, the American auto industry in the 1970s and ’80s, believing it was invincible, sat on its successes and turned out a whole lot of junk. Lowlights included the Ford Pinto, known to explode in rear-impact crashes; the Chevy Vega, which ran so hot you couldn’t touch the hood when the car was running; and the AMC Pacer, which wasn’t actually built in Detroit but was possibly the stupidest-looking vehicle ever designed.

By the time Detroit realized that it was being lapped by the likes of Honda and Toyota, it was too late to ever fully recover.

A few years ago, I drove through Detroit while visiting some friends there. In their neighborhood, we drove past a tired-looking elementary school. Over the front door hung a shiny new banner that read: “We made adequate yearly progress” (a wet-noodle phrase from “No Child Left Behind” that does precious little to lift the aspirations of anyone, let alone the under-educated).

To be so bad that mediocrity becomes reason to celebrate — that is Detroit. To live among tracts of fallow urban prairie where businesses and neighborhoods once thrived — that is Detroit. To repeat the history of great empires rising and falling flat — that is Detroit.

Focusing on a famous quote attributed to Henry Ford, “History is bunk,” author Jerry Herron makes the case in his book, AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History, that Detroit’s leaders believed that they were somehow immune to real life, and paid a dear price for it.

“Detroit’s humiliation of history seemed an exhilarating idea, so long as the good times lasted,” Herron wrote. “But when they ran out, it left both the city and the people in it painfully undefended and up for grabs.”

Detroit’s decline is eerily reminiscent of the spiritual demise of another former cultural giant, the European Church. Cathedrals once were the centers of European cities. Too often unwilling to change their methods with the times, those cathedrals now teem mostly with tourists. One could argue whether the church belongs at the center of community life, as Christendom for so long declared. But there’s little debate that Jesus Christ and his Church now don’t even occupy the cheap seats in the arena of everyday European life. They’ve been left completely outside.