To infinity and beyond!

So says Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. It’s his mantra. Buzz presents himself as completely self-sufficient, self-made, confident and brave. Outwardly, he looks like he knows where he’s from (the Gamma Quadrant of Sector 4), who’s in charge (him of course), that he’s the epitome of perfection and that his mission in life is to defeat the mighty tyrant Emperor Zurg (who may actually be his own father, according to Toy Story 2!?). But his conscience (personified in the other toys around him) gnaws at him, saying he’s not all that. So he goes out on a journey of self-discovery, and learns that he’s actually only one of a million other Buzz Lightyears sold at Al’s Toy Barn, that he’s actually owned by Andy, and his life mission is only just to make some kid happy.

Sort of like Homo sapiens, don’t you think? Seemingly bursting with confidence, knowing our history, dreaming of our destiny. And yet always wondering where we come from and where we’re headed. And always journeying forward to find ourselves.

The Canadian Broadcast Corp ran a number of news items this week about our upcoming first interplanetary mission to Mars. … the potential dangers of making such a trip, including suffocation within 68 days (CBC article 1) … a woman from British Columbia who’s on the short-list to go (CBC article 2) … even a comet hurtling toward Mars (CBC article 3) (perhaps the thinking is that we can hitch a ride?). [a week after this, the BBC ran an article outlining five key steps we’d have to take in order to colonize Mars (BBC article]. These articles were a good read even on a surface level. But they also got me thinking a little more deeply about mankind and our need to move out.

There’s a mountain of evidence that we’ve collected about our origins: all the bones, tools and other artefacts that have been radiologically dated to tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago, together with the genetic evidence of our place in a very long evolutionary history. If you take those at face value, then you’ll accept that we left our birthplace in Africa ~200,000 years ago, spread out eastward into South Asia (~50,000 years ago) and Australia (~40,000 years ago), and northward to Europe (~30,000 years ago), then further eastward into North America ~15,000 years ago) via a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, and finally worked our way down to the southernmost tip of South America.

It took us a while to catch our breath, but then we started exploring the deepest parts of the ocean and the highest peaks of our mountains, before we headed for the skies. First the moon in the 2nd half of the 20th century, and now Mars a few decades later.

What is it that drives us on? Is it that we’re looking for something? Or someone? To find out who we are?

One of the intrinsic personality traits of Homo sapiens is a deeply religious streak. Archaeologists and sociologists will tell us that everywhere we went in our journey from Africa to the far reaches of the globe, we carried with us a sense of some Greater Being out there. Bones and tools found in Siberia, radiologically dated to be 24,000 years old and linked genetically to North American Indians, were found buried with “anthropomorphic Venus figurines, which are rare for Siberia but found at a number of Upper Palaeolithic sites across western Eurasia” (Nature article). Many human and even Neanderthal burial sites contain bodies (bones) together with tools or other objects which suggest they had some kind of belief in the afterlife. We have religious texts that describe in detail the religions existing as far back as 3000-4000 BC (long before Abraham started his spiritual journey which culminated in Judaism). In South America, long before Christian missionary influences, humans came up with the Aztec and Mayan religions. Likewise, the Inuits in the North … the aboriginals of North America and Australia … the Polynesians … the Druids … the Norse Vikings … the ancient Greeks and Romans … and many others, all came up with their own unique ideas of who this Great Being is and our relationship with it/him/them. And although we haven’t yet gone physically into outer space with our religious ideas and questions, we have done so virtually. Many books and movies (2001, A Space Odyssey. Prometheus. Contact. War of the Worlds. Star Trek. Star Wars. …) have explored questions like: Where did we come from? Who else is out there? Do we have a greater purpose? So despite all the progress, the knowledge and bravado, we as a species are still full of questions, insecurity, restlessness, conflict and unhappiness.

But there is still hope for a good ending. A few thousand years ago, Abraham caught a glimpse of God and left polytheistic Mesopotamia on a quest to learn more about God and what he wants for us. And we received a few more glimpses through other people, some recorded in the Bible (Samuel, Ruth, David, Rahab, Isaiah, …) but also others outside of the Biblical texts or even JudeoChristian experience. Eventually we received the full revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. And at the end of that spiritual journey, what have we humans learned about ourselves? We’ve come to the same realization that Buzz Lightyear came to in aisle 12 of Al’s Toy Barn: we’re all the same, none of us is better than the millions of others around us, but God (who we’ve been trying to kill off) has written his name on the bottom of our foot and has one mission for us … to love him, and love each other. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12) … “love your neighbor as you would love yourself” (Matt 22:39) … “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44) … “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34) … “By this will everyone know that you are my disciple: if you love one another” (John 13:35) …

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