He boldly went, and now he’s back, safe and sound!

But how can one man get it so right and then go ever so slightly skew-whiff, to end up missing the whole damn point of everything?

William Shatner – aka Captain Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise – went into space today, on a Blue Origin flight, and he experienced 3 minutes of weightlessness, saw the Earth from 66 miles into the vastness of the Universe, and returned home safely, tearful and overwhelmed. I’m sure the tears were a sign of the fear and turmoil he had been through. It’s a fabulous achievement for any man, let alone a man of 90, but when he came back, elated and – no doubt – relieved, what had he learned? This is an excerpt from The Times online this afternoon:

Shatner held forth in emotional terms, wiping tears from his cheeks as he spoke of seeing his home planet with its brilliant blue hues wrapped in the white “comfort” of the cloud layer, and then the thinning line of the atmosphere that protects Earth from the sun’s deadly radiation. Pointing to the ground and then the sky, he said: “This is life and that’s death . . . that’s what I saw.”

I completely understand that he was truly overwhelmed, and that he was trying to put into words his realisation of the vulnerability of the Earth as global warming takes its deadly toll, and maybe his gratitude that he had survived, but he went off-course somewhere along the way. Off-course like a rocket that leaves the launch pad and deviates the tiniest fraction of a degree from its true path, so that as the journey grows longer the altered course takes him further and further off beam, until he overshoots the moon, overshoots the edges of the galaxy, and is lost in space. (That could be another series entirely. Hmmm)

But we keep doing that. All of us. We lose ourselves in emotion, and miss the centre , the heart, the essence of what is making us feel so awestruck, so astounded, so inspired. I watched and enjoyed a concert a few days ago, with a choir singing a wonderful hymn. All the way through God was referred to in the third person , as ‘him’ or ‘he’ and the song took the form of a prayer of praise and longing. A man in the audience was in tears, others were visibly moved, and I was so touched both by the words and by the tears. Afterwards, some of those we had seen were interviewed and not one of them had realised that this beautiful singing and the words, were an act of worship, a prayer. Not one of them referenced God. In their minds the words had merely pointed to emotion, to longing, but God didn’t come into it. It’s the same tribal experience of hearing the great old Liverpudlian anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ or the song ‘Jerusalem’. We feel a great sense of belonging, of loyalty, nostalgia, warmth. A huge surge of love for the person next to us, for the lives we lead together. But when the song is done, the emotion goes, because it has no centre except ourselves.

William Shatner saw everything, the Earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, the darkness of space. He broke the bonds of Earth and soared with the stars, for just a few precious minutes, a few heart hammering minutes, a few minutes crowded and bombarded with fear and elation, excitement and wonder. But he missed the centre, the one who created all this, and who holds it all together. He missed a wonderful opportunity for a moment of complete adoration of our God. Missed.

 For in him was created the universe of things, both in the heavenly realm and on the earth, all that is seen and all that is unseen. Every seat of power, realm of government, principality, and authority—it all exists through him and for his purpose! He existed before anything was made, and now everything finds completion in him.
Col 1:17&18 TPT

And now everything finds completion in him. Go, Paul, go!

Bill Shatner is a great character, I simply love the man, and he’s led an amazingly full life, battering around the Hollywood of TV and then slipping into films. There’s something so touching about this trip into space – yes, it was a clever marketing and PR exercise, yes, it lasted only ten minutes, but it was an act of bravery and derring-do for each of the four passengers, and we can only marvel at their courage and … listen…. listen for the human aspect of this great feat; the Blue Origin project, a multi billion dollar enterprise, is the dream child of Jeff Bezos, a man who started life with no silver spoon, brought up by a single mum. As a child he watched the Star Trek series and like many a 9 year old, he made some crude replicas of phasers and other Trekkie gadgets. Today that little boy, now the richest man in the world, walked Bill Shatner to the New Shepard Capsule, and helped to strap him into his seat, and guess what – those little shabby toys from so long ago were tucked in alongside Captain Kirk. What a story! What a tremendous story that is.

When he looked at the Earth William Shatner was overcome by its beauty and fragility, but he saw only life down here and death up there. He didn’t see the gift of a great and powerful God. He saw impermanence where there is eternity. He saw death where there is rebirth and rejuvenation. He saw only man’s vision, not God’s. He gave the glory to the Universe and not to its creator.

I think we get it wrong all the time. Even when we think we’re getting it right, we can be that tiny tiny bit off-course, missing the central truth, that it’s not about us, it’s not about our tears or our joy, our overwhelming, our appreciation, it’s not even about beauty, it’s about the greatness and mercy and love of God.

When we sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ we don’t think of Psalm 23, and when we sing ‘Jerusalem’ we don’t reflect on the final, defining verse, the one that puts the others into perspective:

I will not cease from mental fight,
nor shall my sword rest in my hand,
till we have built Jerusalem,
On England’s green and pleasant land.

But I do love William Shatner! He’s perfectly imperfect, a working actor, not great but good enough, in his real life full of chutzpah, rattling around the world, up and down, sometimes foolish but always the showman (yes, I’m a Shatner expert). His partnership with Gene Roddenberry, the true genius of Star Trek (yes, I’m a Roddenberry expert) , inspired a little lad called Jeff to look up at the stars ……

Have I told you about Gene Roddenberry? Maybe I will, one day.

PS Gene’s ashes are in space.

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