Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto Isn't a Planet and Other Things We Didn't Know

On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union met in Prague. This union is a vast group of distinguished men and women who have devoted themselves, their entire lives, to the observation, study, understanding and discovery of all things astronomical. If it's in space, they're interested in it.

During this year's general assembly, some interesting things happened. One which was the re-defining of what a planet is. To some this may be immaterial, however, it has some ramifications and, as we will explore, some spiritual parallels.

A planet must a) be a celestial body that orbits the sun b) posess enough gravity to pull itself into a spherical shape c) have "cleared the neighborhood around it".

One may say, "well what's the big deal?" Well, the big deal is, when I was in school we had nine planets. All I've ever known was Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. However, according to the new definition, Pluto is no longer a planet! Now we have eight. What am I going to tell my kids? Not only that, according to the new definition (with Pluto being a dwarf planet category body now), there have been discoveries of other celestial bodies beyond Pluto that fit Pluto's description of "dwarf planet". The astronomical "landscape" (if I can say that) is changing. What we've always known and understood can no longer be accepted as it was anymore.

I take opportunities like this to think about the spiritual questions this type of thing raises. I, like many other people, have been raised in a religious, Christian culture. For centuries the "norms", the rules that define what a Christian is or is not, the accepted thoughts and acceptable teachings from what we think we know and understand of the Bible, have been put in front of us in text books, self-help books, Bible lessons, Christian radio and TV programs and Sunday morning sermons. My question is not, "was that all wrong?" but "is there more out there we're not discovering?"

Jesus came to the religious people and REDEFINED what a servant of God was. I contend that he even came to redefine for our clarification who God was. He re-drew the lines and in doing so, people discovered that there was a lot more to God and being a person of God than they thought. Yes, Jesus even challenged the orthodoxy of the day. The right teachings that came from the spiritual leaders of the day, founded by Moses, given from the hand of God were all challenged by Jesus. Jesus was telling them essentially that there were now eight planets, not nine like they were taught!

So, yes there will be people who will always think that Pluto is a planet. They will say that it's always been a planet so why change it now? It was good enough to be a planet when my parents were kids and when I was a kid so why can't it still be a planet now? They may even ask, "who are they to redefine what a planet is anyway?" In the same manner we will always have people who want to hold onto old religious norms. It was good enough for them so it's good enough for me. Besides, who are you to change anything?

I think we should look at it a bit differently. The people who are re-defining what a planet is or isn't aren't trying to limit or hurt anyone. They are exploring the vastness of the universe and finding out new things. In fact, in their process of defining and re-defining they are actually refining their knowledge. It is based on what always was that they didn't know yet!

So for all of you on your quest to know God more, don't be afraid to explore. Don't be afraid to ask questions and observe. In doing so you'll find that many things that you may question that you thought were rock solid about your faith (i.e. Pluto is a planet) will lead you to discover new things about the heart of God that you'd never known had you not gone through that process.

So love Jesus, obey his commands and explore the vastness of God.

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