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Space exploration reflects stewardship, Fla. pastor says

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. (BP)–It means more than just spending time in a simulator or staring at the stars wishing he could be one of the chosen few to shuttle around space. It goes beyond the thrill of having a standing invitation to every launch and every landing at Kennedy Space Station. It is more than having the distinction of a bulletin front showing a shuttle’s white trail of churned air dashed into the sky above a modern church building on the Space Coast.

To Curt Dodd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Merritt Island, Fla., support of NASA’s space program basically boils down to one point he hopes Baptists understand — good stewardship.

“The Lord rejoices when we stretch and use everything he has given us to the fullest capacity,” Dodd told the Florida Baptist Witness. “So when we stretch our mind, that honors God. It’s great spiritual stewardship to use the knowledge God has given us.”

Dodd, who previously served a church in Houston, Texas, for more than 12 years, has been close to the space program for a number of years, and at one time served as the unofficial chaplain for astronauts located in the Nassau, Texas, area. At Merritt Island, just a few miles from Kennedy Space Center, Dodd said he has a standing invitation to NASA launches and hasn’t missed very many.

Dodd was in Colorado when the Columbia STS-107 didn’t return to base for its scheduled landing Feb. 1 on Runway 133 at Cape Canaveral. Dodd had traveled to Colorado to speak at another church where he formerly served, but he quickly packed and caught the first flight home.

With more than 70 percent of his 5,000-member congregation having ties to the space industry, Dodd knew there would be a rocky road ahead. But still, his faith in the space program hasn’t budged.

“The more we explore and the more we examine scientifically, it just gives greater validation that God is God,” Dodd said. “There has never been one scientific find that discredited the Bible. If anything, [space exploration] just increases your faith.”

Recalling a story about a new believer at his church in Houston, Dodd said the man had an advanced degree in biology and was afraid examining the biblical side of creation would destroy his faith. After investigating the Bible, Dodd said the man told him, “‘God is God. Every time I go to science now, my faith increases.'”

Citing a passage from Genesis 1 that tells man to have “dominion over plants and animals” on the earth, Dodd said he believes space exploration is biblical in the context of man “stretching further than [he] has ever stretched.”

Randall E. Scott, a member of FBC and a radiation protection officer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, said he believes space is a “very vivid aspect” of learning about God’s creation.

Calling space the “last frontier,” Scott credited “our human nature” with wanting to know more about who created us and what kinds of things are out there.

“Our spirit is driven in that direction,” Scott said. Speaking of the Feb. 1 Columbia tragedy, he said it’s “tough to deal with [the] reality that when you are out on the edge, you can certainly design and engineer and prepare the best you can — but when things happen, they can happen bad-wrong real quick.”

Trust in God for the unknown is essential, Scott said, and is the only thing that can speak to events like the Columbia tragedy.

Harold Brantley, director of missions for the Brevard Baptist Association, agreed.

“Sometimes it slaps us because we break a major rule of the universe,” Brantley said, referring to the Columbia disaster. “But it’s marvelous to see that a very smart God put [the universe] together.”

Mankind has much to benefit from “opening up new venues to explore,” Brantley said. “I think as a Christian it is important because the more we discover the more we find out that a magnificent Creator put together the whole mechanism of the universe.”

And then there is the reality of what Brantley called a “strong lesson of death that comes right into our living room.” Vividly describing the horror of what probably happened to the space shuttle and its crew on that fateful day, Brantley said many people don’t think they’ll die, but “this points to our frailty, and death is all about us, and one day it will be us [facing death] and we need to be ready,” he said.

Dodd agreed the shuttle accident is unsettling for those in the Space Coast area. What’s more unsettling to him, though, is the lack of reaction he perceived in his travels across the nation the day of the tragedy.

Ignoring live news programs and interviews on the televisions in the airports, Dodd said people appeared to be oblivious to the national disaster that had just occurred.

“That is a symptom of our society,” Dodd warned. “We have become desensitized to tragedy and to each other. Our focus is on us and our stuff.”

Pastors especially need to heed such signs, Dodd said.

“Pastors need to recognize that [America] has become so self-centered and self-focused, and that’s the sign of a very sinful, sick, psychologically and emotionally wounded culture and a very selfish culture,” he said. “And they need to address those issues from the pulpit and they need to pray for the folks involved down here, because they need prayer.”

Calling it a “sign of our times,” Dodd said “to see people act as if [the shuttle explosion was] like another plane crash” disturbed him greatly. “We need to address this and take back a sense of community — something we are missing in our culture.”

Realizing that many current and former astronauts are believers should prompt pastors to lead their congregations to pray for them and their families.

“The greatest tragedy is not to address any tragedy,” Dodd said.

Then, turning back to the space program, he reminded, “There is nothing like watching a shuttle launch. You can be proud that you are an American.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. Go to: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com

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