2015: my mission to mars

In "5,200 Days in Space," Charles Fishman celebrates that very achievement. Humans--American and Russians, mostly--have lived on the International Space Station for over 14 years...and counting...

This is amazing. But what really grabbed me were two passages that may really have more to do with life on Earth. My life and your life.

Source: NASA's Instagram

Before those two passages, a little context. If this length of time alone wasn't enough to amaze you, Fishman explores the value and purpose of the ISS, after detailing the physical, technological, and logistical challenges that make the streak so meaningful and amazing. It really is amazing and strange. Most people know...

"[Spaceflight is] hard on the body because it’s so easy on the body. "

But that's not the half of it.

"...life in space isn’t just stranger than ordinary folks realize; it’s harder. Harder even than NASA has always imagined."

It's really worth your time to read, even if you're not a Star Wars or Cosmos kind of person. It will help you appreciate life on Earth all the more.

Now, here comes the money lines.

"But spacewalking is also a window into how dangerous space is, how a single connector not properly mated can lead to disaster, and how NASA has grappled with that risk by wringing all the spontaneity, all the surprise, out of it. That’s why every scheduled space walk is scripted, and then rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed in a pool big enough to immerse two space shuttles."

This, despite the opening scene of the movie, Gravity. Remember G. Clooney doing space-donuts with his jetpack, while S. Bullock does all the hard work? In reality, no. Not at all. Everything is by the book, according to a plan that ground control decided for astronauts simply to execute.

But it raises the question: how do we--you and me--deal with the risk of living on Earth? Scripts? Rehearsals? What about spontaneity and surprise?

Boy, is this a big one for me right now! Over the summer I started preaching from handwritten notes, instead of a fully-typed manuscript. This experiment with "under-preparing" (from the point of view of previously overworking) really is about risk. Standing up and saying anything in public is risky. Even if I do it weekly, as a "calling." It's scarier without a neatly printed script.

But also worth it--and valuable at a much deeper level than, "Is my preaching better now?" It fits with my 2015 goal: more and more to encounter risk with action. When I'm unhealthy or nervous, I can get stuck withdrawing and thinking, overthinking, overinterpreting. This year, act first, reflect second. Take a risk. Roll the dice. Less NASA, more spontaneity and surprise.

How about you? We all have our own ways of coping with risk. Yours probably isn't the same as mine. And what feels risky is probably different for you too. Two simple questions will help you sort that out. When do you get nervous? When you're nervous, what do you do?

Okay, so why would I want to change my default (aka, automatic) response to risk? Why would you? Why make that a goal for 2015?

Consider Mars. Fishman says astronauts traveling to Mars will experience 30 minute communication-delays with Earth. Scripted and rehearsed and controlled-from-Earth won't work at those huge distances, with those delays. So he writes,

"That could be the real value of the Space Station—to shift NASA’s human exploration program from entirely Earth-controlled to more astronaut-directed, more autonomous. This is not a high priority now; it would be inconvenient, inefficient. But the station’s value could be magnified greatly were NASA to develop a real ethic, and a real plan, for letting the people on the mission assume more responsibility for shaping and controlling it."

What is your "mission to Mars"? There are places that you and I cannot go because our default, automatic responses to risk limit us. If we want to leave Earth's orbit and explore Mars in person, we have to learn and grow. You, me, and NASA are in the same space boat on that one. Even if Mars is a metaphor.

I want to go to Mars. (Do you?) That's why I've been determined to learn and grown. For me, Mars is leading All Saints' people into growth, sustainability, and thriving.

My leadership is limited by that "step back and think," that "overplan and eliminate surprise" approach. My default approach is a blessing and a curse... Unless I can work with God to transform the curse into another blessing. Which--good news/bad news--will come only at the cost of transforming myself in the process.

And it gets bigger. The invitation, as I see it, is about me sharing the risk, encouraging others' spontaneity, and All Saints' engaging risk together. We're already doing that. The mission--God's mission, now--invites it all the more. As Fishman says, it's about developing "a real ethic, and a real plan, for letting the people on the mission assume more responsibility for shaping and controlling it."

The Christians are the mission; not their pastor. If I, the pastor, have it "all under control," then everyone else can sit back and enjoy the ride. This is hard on faith because it's so easy on faith--just like space on bodies. Many (non-pastor) Christians get this better than I do.

Because if the goal is more than floating around out there, but is actually landing somewhere new, making meaningful contact and connection with people who are not at home in a spiritual life and in the church--well, I, the pastor, have to keep letting go a little more by sharing control and supporting autonomy. (That does not mean I do less, but I do different things and do things differently.)

As I see it, this is the invitation to every Christian, pastor, congregation, denomination, and the big C Church.

But anyway, that's my soapbox, my "mission to Mars." What's yours? And what new way of dealing with risk must you learn to get there?