Go, Discovery! Go! (STS-119)

After being dogged by several weeks of various delays, at 6:43 pm (CDT) this evening the shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and made a safe, flawless, and beautiful ascent to space. As is routine, in about an hour, the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, gave Discovery a ‘Go for orbital ops,’ meaning that all essential tasks to turn the shuttle from a rocket ship to a space ship had been successfully completed!STS-119 Launch

According to NASA Public Affairs, “The STS-119 crew members are flying the S6 truss segment and installing the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. The S6 truss will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.”  Because of the delays, the initial group of four spacewalks has been reduced to three, but all the major mission objectives will still be completed.

After sitting out the last flight, I’ll be back working this one, but STS-119 will be my first flight on “the other side,” i.e. as a civil servant one-step removed from console operations in the Mission Evaluation Room of Mission Control.  It’s a bittersweet moment for me, because while I really love the level at which I’m getting to work now, I totally LOVE working console during EVAs!

As we continue to ask God’s blessing and care over our shuttle and station crews in the days ahead, let me keep with my custom here and take some space for this hymn from the Book of Worship for United States Forces (1974). (BTW, while the words are new to us, the tune for this hymn is familiar and is that for “The Navy Hymn” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” found here.)

Bless Thou the Astronauts Who Face

Bless Thou the astronauts who face
The vast immensities of space;
And may they know, in air, on land,
Thou holdest them within in thy hand.
O may the small step each doth take
Aid others giant leaps to make.

How excellent in all the earth
Thy name, O God, who gave it birth;
When first upon the moon man trod,
How excellent thy name, O God.
The heavens thy glory doth declare;
Where-e’re we are, Lo! thou are there.

We still upon thy laws depend
As our dominions thus extend,
While from the nations triumph rings
When we mount up with eagles’ wings.
Grant on each planet, far and near,
To all thy glory may appear.

Give all men, for all time to be,
The blessing of tranquility,
As galaxies and quasars share
The knowledge that our God is there!
May future aeons call to mind,
“We came in peace for all mankind.”

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Dehumanization and its Effects on Society

Over the weekend, NPR ran a story/review of Jonathon Littell’s book, The Kindly Ones, which they describe as “the fictional first-person memoir of a cultured German who loves Bach, cherishes great literature — and also happens to be a former Nazi exterminator.”  Interestingly, the writeup on NPR’s website focuses on the sexualization of violence and draws parallels between Nazi Germany and Abu Ghraib at the exclusion of what I think is Littell’s  larger point.  During the broadcast (available on the same web page linked above), Littell talks about the capacity of ordinary Americans (and others) to carry out atrocious acts against other people when placed in positions of “absolute power of life and death over people that their bosses tell them are not human beings and [are told] they can do anything they want with them.”  With this suggestion posed, he goes on to illustrate and support it with comparisons between Nazi Germany, the Balkan wars, and Abu Ghraib.Pain

The larger issue, however, is one that peaked my interest.  Almost two years ago, I wrote about the military’s use of desensitization as a part of military training.  In concert with this sort of training, nations and militaries have often resorted to dehumanization to bolster support for their cause during times of war.  If you don’t believe this, take a look at how we depicted Germans and Japanese on our own propaganda posters distributed during WWII.  Talk to a veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or the Middle Eastern theater and listen to the words they use to describe the enemy.  Without using the terms here, I think everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about.  By distancing ourselves from our enemies and suggesting that they are somehow subhuman, it becomes easier for us to rationalize and accept killing them, an act that at a very base human level is repulsive.  The atrocities of Abu Ghraib are one of the most poignant reminders that this kind of activities still take place, either as formal training or simply stemming from the individual soldier’s coping mechanisms.

This sort of dehumanization goes beyond times of war, however, and extends to most all acts of hatred and so-called ‘hate crimes’–from the cross-burning racism of the American South to genocide in various parts of Africa to the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues around the world to acts of harassment and brutality against homosexuals in the United States.  Look and listen to how people write and speak of those against which they wage any sort of these kinds of deeds.  They are presented as subhuman, unworthy, illegitimate, or (fill in the blank).

One of the very obvious yet unmentioned targets of dehumanization and its resulting atrocities are the unborn.  For many years now, those in positions of real power (government, courts, etc.) or perceived power (academia, special interest groups, etc.) have repeatedly told us that the unborn are not really children in the proper sense and so there is no issue in ‘aborting’ them.  This tactic is nothing more than what Littell described above.  Specifically, our ‘bosses’ have been telling us–we who have the power of life and death via our democratic process–that the unborn are not human beings and we can do anything we want with them.

So what am I saying?

  • Should we continue to ignore the widespread dehumanization of those different from us?  No.  We must be agents of change in spite of the very ‘deep ruts’ of history.
  • Should we marginalize and treat with disdain those who have had abortions?  No.  On the contrary, we should do everything in our power to help them heal.
  • Should we rally the voters to try an overturn Roe v. Wade?  Perhaps surprisingly, no.  As has been pointed out by Little Cog, “abortion is a moral decision…the state should keep its inept hands off of
  • Should we continue to condone desensitization/dehumanization as a means to advance our agendas, political or otherwise?  No.  If we cannot bring others to share our viewpoint without resorting to such despicable practices, perhaps this should be a clue that we are probably wrong to begin with.

Instead…

  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that you cannot rely on government to legislate your understanding of morality because ‘we the people’ are often as guilty of this wrong on the societal/governmental level as we are on the individual level
  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that no one wins when you resort to these tactics to make your case, pass your legislation, or further your agenda
  • To all, we must recognize the powerful effects of dehumanization as it rears its head in many different areas and in many different agendas…in order to reject it

Hurt

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Luther on Courage and Comfort

Where do you turn in time of anxiety, fear, or uncertainty?  The world tends to turn to their accomplishments, their bank accounts, their talents, their vocations, their friends/family, their government, their (fill in the blank).  At face value, these sorts of things might seem to make sense until we realize that someone can always do some things better than we can, our bank accounts can bottom out in no time, someone else will always be more talented than we are, our jobs can be gone in a flash, our friends/family can forsake us, our governments can fail, and so on.  In a nutshell…there is absolutely nothing, inside or outside of us, we can depend on to ease our anxieties, fears, and uncertainties…not our accomplishments, our bank accounts, our talents, our vocations, our friends/family, our governments…even our faith.  There is nothing, that is, except Christ.  Speaking on John 14, Luther writes as eloquently as ever:

Christians can depend on nothing except Christ, their Lord and God.  For the sake of Christ, they surrender everything and declare, “Before I deny or leave my Christ, I will abandon food and drink, honor and possessions, house and property, spouse and child–everything.”  A Christian’s courage cannot be fake or weak.  It must be genuine and certain.  For Christians cannot encourage themselves with any temporary thing on this earth.  Instead, they cling only to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died for us.  So Christ will say, as he promises in this passage [Jn 14.16-17], “Because you acknowledge me, you have this advantage and this comfort.  Your courage won’t mislead you, for your Helper is the Spirit of truth.”  All other courage comes from the spirit of lies–a false spirit that cannot please God.  But whatever Christians do, or suffer, for their faith in the Lord Christ is done for the truth.  They have done what is proper and right.  They can boast truthfully and joyfully that what they have done is pleasing to God and the angels.  Christians can feel so confident that they don’t have to fear the devil or the world.  They don’t have to be afraid of any threat or terror.  Let this encourage you, for nothing on earth can comfort you more during times of need than a confident heart.
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 24:119)

The anxiety, fear, and uncertainty of this present day is unlike any faced by many of us before.  While economic downslides, job losses, foreclosures, etc. certainly pale in comparison to the suffering and hardship faced by countless millions around the world every day, for many around the world, these days are grim.  Let us not cling to “any temporary thing on this earth,” for if we do we shall surely find ourselves disappointed.  Let us instead “depend upon nothing except Christ” and realize that in him we truly have nothing to fear.

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