Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: To boldly go


Growing up in Florida in the 1960s, you could not escape the space race. We could see rockets launched from a hundred miles away, flames ascending into the sky. I remember touring the Kennedy Space Center right after Apollo 11 first landed on the moon. We saw Apollo 12 spacecraft on the launch pad, ready to return.

All things space were cool. I am old enough that I remember watching "Star Trek" each week. We were amazed at the idea of space travel across the galaxy, the power of the "Enterprise," the logic of Mr. Spock, and of course, the swaggering captain, James T. Kirk. Each week he managed to escape death or outwit the Klingons. Sometimes I think my own desire to be a leader stems from the show. After all, the captain got to sit in that cool chair that swiveled and had all the buttons. Everyone wanted to sit in that chair. And who would not want from time to time to scream out, "I need more power, Scotty."

Lesser souls decided the show should not be renewed after three seasons. An independent station in our area made a fortune showing Star Trek reruns we watched in the afternoons after school. Then came the Star Trek movies and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." I saw all the movies and most of The Next Generation episodes. By then, I was married with children, and I could not keep up. I never got around to watching "Deep Space Nine" or "Voyager" or "Enterprise." There was too much life and not enough time.

Still, when the night sky is clear, the stars twinkle an invitation: "Come, explore, find out all the beauty and majesty of space." A verse in Psalms says, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" If the pictures from the Hubble Telescope are clues, to be out in space would be a journey never to be forgotten.

Scientists keep searching for evidence of life on other planets, in other worlds. We even listen to radio signals from space. So far, nothing. Granted, we have not been searching for that long. But what if we are alone in the galaxies? What if there is no Klingon home world, no Vulcan, no new life or new civilizations? What if it is just us?

If it is just us in the universe, it would mean God made all of this - all the stars, gas giants, dark matter and galaxies, just for us to admire, an expression of his extravagant love. Maybe that is why God made space, to remind us how vast he is and how much we depend on him to keep the universe in order. Maybe the vastness of space is not to make us feel small, but instead to help us feel amazed that such a great God would love us, send his Son to save us from our sins, and promise one day to return and reclaim this world we have messed up.

William Shatner played Captain James T. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" and in the movies. He boldly went where no man has gone before each week, except he didn't. Instead, he was on a sound stage in Hollywood, acting a part. The rest was special effects and set design.

Shatner is now 90 years old. This week, he actually went into space. Not very far, mind you. He was on Blue Origin, Elon Musk's spacecraft. It was a short, 10-minute, sub-orbital flight, up to 350,000 feet. But Shatner saw the sky turn from blue to black; he saw the stars. He was not the first to go, but he is now the oldest person ever to fly to space.

Upon landing, Shatner said, "I am overwhelmed. I had no idea. I'm so filled with emotion about what just happened. It's extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I can maintain what I feel now. I don't want to lose it. It's so much larger than me and life."

Maybe what it really means to "consider your heavens, the work of your fingers" is to know there is God, a creator of heaven and earth, and you are not him. Then remember that same God knows your name, knows the number of hairs on your head.

When you know that, really know that it is extraordinary. You are reminded why you go outside, stand under the stars, and worship our amazing God.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at