"And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we've just forgotten that we are still pioneers."
Last night, EA and I finally got around to seeing Interstellar. I really enjoyed it in spite of its nearly 3 hour running time. I never got restless. Of course the film was right in my wheelhouse: space exploration, twisty time shenanigans, and being primarily a movie about relationships despite its epic scope. It was also only the second movie that I've seen in a theater this year so I could have just been giddy that I was eating popcorn in front of a giant screen. Still, if you are looking for a smart, trippy, visually stunning piece of original science-fiction then you should definitely check out Interstellar.
Outer space has fascinated me since I was a kid. I wanted to be an astronaut. I would repeatedly watch a promotional video for Space Camp on a blue VHS tape and dream of floating in zero gravity. When Cosmos came on TV this past spring, I gobbled it up. There is something about the massiveness about the universe that fills me with awe.
The crazy thing to me about space is what we see in the night sky is not actually what our neighboring galaxies look like today. It takes the light from the stars thousands and thousands of years to reach earth. So we're seeing the universe as it existed somewhere back in the past. Some of the stars that we see at night may no longer exist. Some of the blank spaces in the sky may house brilliant lights that have not reached earth. Yet these echoes of light have pulled at humanity's imagination for years. They have compelled us to study, to learn, and ultimately to escape this planet to explore. It has pushed technology in a myriad of ways that have made life better here on earth.
Matthew McConaughey's character in Interstellar mourns the loss of that spirit. In the movie, the world is on the brink of environmental collapse. Humanity is so consumed with its own day-to-day survival that it will not look beyond this terrestrial ball. Even the great space explorations of the past are taught in school as propagandist fairy tales. What we eventually learn is that by not embracing this pioneer spirit and not following these thousands of year old lights, humanity is signing off on its own extinction. Salvation lies beyond.
I try to not be a legalist about wisemen and nativity scenes. On our house mantle, you will see the magi standing alongside shepherds, the angel, Mary, Joseph, and the newborn baby Jesus. Of course, the bearers of gold, frankincense, and myrrh weren't really there at the same time as everyone else.
The magi saw the thousand-year old light from a star, travelled from the East to Jerusalem, stayed there while Herod consulted with his scribes, and then journeyed on to Bethlehem. Unless Matthew neglected to mention a wormhole that hastened travel, the magi were not on the scene that first night. When the visitors from the East arrived, the baby Jesus was likely the toddler Jesus. Mary probably had to tell him to stop trying to eat the gold.
What I love about that spread out timeline is it means that the mere presence of Jesus sent off these echoes that compelled people to study, to learn, and to leave their home to explore. The Incarnation had to cover the great chasm between God and humanity. The star had to traverse lightyears of space to reach earth and signify the birth. The magi had to travel far from home to visit this child. It is all light and distance and time and travel mixed together. Jesus was the catalyst for it all.
He still is the catalyst. In this season, we celebrate the first appearance of that glorious light. The light that appeared nearly two thousand years ago is still seen on earth. It travels to us through time and it compels us to study, to learn, and leave our places of comfort. At least it should.
Christ is the light that should ignite our pioneer spirit. He should move us to something greater than we are. Yet too often we are so near-sighted concerning our afterlife survival that we neglect to follow the star. When Jesus is just about getting to heaven when we die, he has little impact on our here and now. We don't answer his call to explore; to pursue our God-commanded task to live out the life-giving gospel.
I come back to that quote from McConaughey's character. It was about chasing the literal stars, but it fits so beautifully for when we run after the Light of the World. When we follow Christ, it should compel us to aim higher, to break barriers, to make the unknown known.
Those that follow Jesus should aim higher and not be satisfied that people live in poverty and pain. We should look for ways in which we can wage peace instead of settling for war. We ought to look for ways in which we can repair systems that take advantage of the vulnerable. We should ask more of ourselves and live out the self-giving way of Jesus.
Those that follow Jesus should break barriers. That is evident from the tragic stories we have seen across our country these last few months (or these last few all of our existence). There are women and men who feel sub-human. because of their race, their nationality, their sexuality, their past. When you read the gospels you see that Jesus blazed a trail towards all who felt like they did not matter. There are many barriers to be broken.
Those that follow Jesus should seek to make the unknown known. When Paul was in Athens, he noticed an altar dedicated to an unknown god. He then declared, "What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." (Acts 17:23b) Salvation lies beyond us. We are called to point to God in everything that we say and do; remembering that the signal gets lost if we lose either side of the equation.
That is the pioneer spirit that is in Jesus. Those of us that see his light today must have that same spirit and I recognize that it is sorely lacking in me. We cannot forget that we are pioneers following the God who brings new life. We cannot just sit idly by while things around us fall apart and wait for life in heaven beyond. As the stars compelled those that travel into space, as the Christmas star compelled the magi, so too must our Star compel us to follow. So let us follow.