Sunday, August 03, 2008

lost in space...

David Bowie wrote this song that made me sad as hell the first time I heard it. You know it, the story of Major Tom and his ill-fated trip into outer space. Everything starts so courageously, but as "Space Oddity" continues, Major Tom's space craft slowly shuts down and hope is lost. He tells his wife he loves her, then drifts into eternity in the ever darkening and cold expanse of space. It's such a lonely song.

I'm watching Apollo 13 on AMC, and I cannot help but think about Bowie's song. This is a different kind of story, though, a true story of one of this country's greatest feats of ingenuity and quick thinking. It's a remarkable tale of a time when the world rallied in support of three astronauts floating powerless in space. The pope led prayer for thousands in Rome while others gathered at the wailing wall in Jerusalem, and I don't know if so much attention has even been given so few people in the history of this country.

Stories of space are compelling. Nothing in this country's history gives me a greater sense of awe and hope as the space program. With so much of our country's attention devoted to fixing things, NASA continues to pursue dreams and do the extraordinary. In a lot of ways, it stands for our best, one last bastion of the American Dream that continues to dream. In a time where nuclear warheads sat poised on missiles, we stuck a man on a rocket, put him on the moon, and brought him home safely. Not to say we didn't put some nukes on some rockets either, but still, that's incredible no matter how you look at it.

It's pretty clear we take this for granted, even forgetting it's there. Major news outlets treat launches and landings like the local bake sale, or the World's Ugliest Dog pageant - passing coverage at best. We’re so busy pointing fingers at our government, whether justly or unjustly, that we fail to remember the people who daily pursue the impossible. It is clear we’ve forgotten, that is, until the bottom falls out.

I still remember the morning the shuttle Columbia disintegrated in our atmosphere. It was February 1st, I had an audition that morning, and my father called, the tone of his voice still present in my memory. He said he just wanted to call, that news like that was always hard to hear; we were both sad. The event was a shadow across my heart the entire day, and I felt like I had lost something. Remembering that day, it felt like a dream had been broken.

As I sit here on this couch watching the actors retell the story, I ask myself, When did we stop dreaming? When did our country quit pursuing things that make us feel alive? When did we trade our heroes in for binge-drinking actors and adulterous athletes? I start to think about all the garbage I hear about on the news every day, and all the fear that spins from the headlines. John Kennedy's words have long since been ignored as we continue to moan about what we think this country should do for us. It is quite clear we quit dreaming.

Driving in my car later in the evening, I find myself praying and asking the question, When did I stop dreaming? As we plan and plot the course of our lives, from grade school to high school, to college and all its preparation for the first job of the rest of your life, we settle into this linear model of living that will continue unabated unless we do something.

God never intended us to take the safe and prosperous way out, yet we live in a day where preachers teach and Christians live a faith that says the blessing of God is safety and prosperity. Christians grow richer and more complacent, all the while enabled with new tools from the church to cope with it. The Bible teaches the poor will be blessed, and that spiritual poverty is an injustice. This American church has turned their dreams into buildings, and attendance, and the injustice of it all spills out into the community around it. It was never supposed to be this way.

Watching Tom Hanks and the rest of the actors, I am aware of my own guilt, the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety I pursue everyday. Before I know it, I too am drifting through space like Major Tom, bound for an endless and lonely journey. I long to cast my dreams upwards to the heavens, just like some courageous men in this country once did. In the classic film, Sunset Boulevard, a fallen star famously responds to a critic. "You used to be big," he said, and Norma Desmond responds, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Looking through my little TV at a remarkable view of this planet, I am convinced it is not the pictures that got small, but rather us.