Metropolis Maria

Monday, July 11, 2016

Skylab's Skyfall

On this date, in 1979, The United States' first space station, Skylab, tumbled out of its orbit and disintegrated in the earth's atmosphere near Perth, Australia.

Photo: NASA
I remember watching occasional news reports of the four Skylab missions between launch in 1973 and its final mission and subsequent abandonment in 1974, and the video images of the station in orbit over the earth were exhilarating. While in orbit, US astronauts set the space endurance records.
We had already demonstrated our space travel superiority over the Soviets by landing men on the moon and returning them safely to earth nearly eight times over a ten year period, and it seemed that there was nothing that could keep up us from setting up a permanent station in orbit around the earth, then one on the moon and from thence, beyond into the rest of the solar system. It was a heady time to be a NASA groupie, to be sure.

But then, after only six years in orbit and a cost of over $2 billion, on July 11, 1979, the once proud achievement became only so much space junk that was discarded and allowed to crash ignominiously back to earth.

When I saw that the anniversary of its fiery death was approaching, I began to reflect on the story of the Tower of Babel as told in Genesis 11:1-9 (NIV):
"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.  They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth."
Now, let me be very clear: I am in no way suggesting that the destruction of Skylab and the Tower of Babel are the same in terms of epic impact on the human race.  After, all, less than twenty years later we launched the next attempt, the International Space Station, or ISS.

But I think its instructive for us to pause and consider that often we initiate these big, technological achievements and forget that it is only by the grace of God that anything succeeds at all. Often, we think it is all us. We are the masters of our destiny. We are as powerful as God Himself. Until something happens that we can't fix, that our ingenuity didn't account for or know to correct or avoid.
We would do well to remember that while our God has given us intellect, wisdom, and the ability to do some pretty awesome things, He still wants us to choose to love Him, to obey Him and to be dependent on Him. To do otherwise invites our own technological marvels to flame out. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What I'm grooving on, Summer 2016 edition

Every once in a while, I get sucked into something I hadn't expected, and find myself enjoying a property is just so perfect in its conception.

I'm speaking, of course, about Fox's Houdini & Doyle 

The series is set not too long after author Arthur Conan Doyle has just published "The Final Problem," a short story in which the great Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarity have plunged over Reichenbach Falls to their deaths. It was a move to allow Doyle to move on to other pursuits.  
In the television series, Doyle (played by Stephen Mangan) teams up with showman and escape artist extraordinaire Erich Weiss, better known to the world as Harry Houdini (played by Michael Weston) in order to investigate crimes that at first blush have a supernatural origin. This is based at least partly on the real-life friendship between the two, and their respective worldviews: Houdini as the skeptic, Bradly debunking most paranormal claims because as a magician and illusionist himself, he knows ask the tricks, and Doyle, as the true believer (Doyle was once fooled by paper cutouts into believing that fairies had been photographed). To balance these two opposing philosophies, the pair is joined by Constable Adelaide Station (played by Rebecca Liddard, who reminds me of a young Rachel Weisz from there Mummy movies).

The show seems to be attempting an X-Files-but-set-in-the-Edwardian-era vibe, which I think they pull off rather well, despite a few glaring anachronisms.

What I really like about the show is that each of the main characters' views carries enormous personal stakes: Doyle desperately wants the supernatural to be real, as he is struggling with the impending death of a dearly loved member of the family, and Houdini is struggling with the guilt of leading a young widowed mother to kill herself, orphaning her children because she desperately wanted to believe that she would be reunited with her recently deceased husband. Houdini insists that people look to the near and now and not be so preoccupied with death that they forget to live
For Geekklesiastics, this tension holds a special appeal. As believers, we are totally on board with the supernatural. We get that when we die, we will be reunited with our Creator and Savior. But on the other hand, we are called to remain in this world as long as possible, being salt and light.  The Apostle Paul echoes this tension when he writes in his letter to the Philippians:

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:23‭-‬24 NIV)

But this tension is resolved in a very famous passage just two verses before:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 NIV)

It is possible to live within both extremes. We can both believe in a world to come after this one, but we cannot allow ourselves to become "so heavenly mined that we are no earthly good." But Jesus promises us that although we do well to look forward to heaven as our eternal home, He will make our lives in this world completely worth living.

This is (was) a joint US - British production and as of this writing, there is no word on whether or not it will be renewed for a second season. However, the ratings for the putative first season were not promising. There is an official Facebook group dedicated to the series, but there has been no announcement one way or the other. Which is a shame, as I would love to see them explore this tension even further.