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Current events are as nonsensical and contradictory as always, but I’ve been mulling over the recent “space” voyages by a couple of the world’s wealthiest billionaires. Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have recently completed their thrill rides, and other members of the super-rich plan to follow suit. These headlines compete with others of a less-optimistic nature: record heat and droughts in the west, wildfires, floods in New York City, Mississippi and Europe…and the little matter of surges of delta-variant Covid-19 among the unvaccinated in mostly southern states. That’s in addition to the millions who are ravaged by the pandemic in countries where the vaccine is in short supply. There are dire days affecting millions of people, and it just seems surreal that I’m looking at pictures of suffering masses and high-fiving, amateur astronauts on the same page. These discordant notes have been noticed and commented on by some in the media: read an editorial by Shannon Stirone called “Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room,” published by The Atlantic on July 7, for an example. The rich rocket-men claim that their current projects will vastly benefit the economies of the world in the near future, while their critics point to the suffering and climate crises to which they are turning a blind eye. Presumably, some of the money they shot into space could have made a difference in areas of more dire need.
I leave to you to puzzle out who has the correct viewpoint, or perhaps how each side has both pros and cons. I certainly have some opinions, while I also acknowledge that there is always a bigger picture that’s beyond my full understanding. But I’m a pastor, and what do we do? Yes, we look for theological lessons in everything. Here’s what struck me: the main accusations of the Billionaire-Buzz-Lightyears are those of denial and escapism. While the common, earth-bound folk struggle, the tycoons decide to publicly display how their money can shoot them far above the troubles of the world. Again, make up your own mind on that. But it got me thinking: there are huge temptations to denial and escapism in Christian circles. I’m susceptible to them as much as anyone. It’s common for us to moan about the state the world is getting into. I can wring my hands and watch for the end of the world with great skill. A common reaction among Christians is wagon-circling. We’re increasingly marginalized by a secular culture that would be happy if we are neither seen nor heard. So, why fight it? Why not focus on strengthening and enjoying our congregational subcultures, holding fast against the currents of compromise and comforting each other until the Trumpet sounds?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a close-knit, loving fellowship of believers. I think that we do need to pull together. I really think that the time has come when we should consider making our church family the core of our social circles again. Exactly because things are deteriorating so quickly, we need to support, encourage, exhort, and strengthen each other so that we don’t lose our footing. The trouble comes when we lose sight of moderation. Too much of a good thing can tempt us to turn our gaze completely away from the lost and hurting of our world. If we stop seeing them, relating with them, we lose the compassion that Christ wants us to cultivate. Remember, we ARE to be in the world (out among those who need Christ’s light)—just not OF the world. Our church family can help us not to be of the world—but we still need to be in it. Remember that Jesus left us a job: to GO into all the world, making disciples of all nations. It’s impossible to do that when we barricade ourselves in sanctuaries too long. The billionaires are going to do what they’re going to do. But as for us, let’s determine to stay GROUNDED by Christian fellowship, instead of turning our sanctuaries into sacred-space capsules to launch ourselves high above the hurt and lostness of the world.
Your Brother and Servant-