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In or Out

About a month ago, two billionaires flew on planes/rockets high above the Earth’s surface. There were a lot of differing opinions on the space travel. Many people thought it was a waste of money. Others thought it was a great step forward in space travel. One idea that I kept hearing, though, was “Did they actually go to OUTER SPACE?”

This seemed like a silly question to me. They went up super high. They felt weightlessness. Isn’t that enough? Apparently not. Over the years, some official authorities have designated the official distance at which you are no longer in Earth’s atmosphere and you are officially “in outer space”. The Fédération aéronautique internationale, an international record-keeping body for aeronautics, has designated 100 km, or 62 miles, above sea level to be the boundary. They named this distance the Kármán line. The United States had to be different, of course, and so we have designated 50 miles as the boundary between the two. Branson and the crew of the Unity flew above what the U.S. deem the boundary, they flew 53.5 miles up. Bezos and the crew of the New Shepard flew up 66 miles, passing the Kármán line, flying into space according to international definitions.

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What is the difference? How do these different organizations determine this line? One of the main determining factors is the density of molecules in the air. Outer space is a vacuum. A perfect vacuum would have zero particles in it, but outer space just has very few and they are very spread out. The higher you go away from Earth’s surface, the less molecules are present in the air. This is why it is harder to breathe at higher elevations, there is less oxygen at that height. That difference, though, is only a single mile (or so) up in elevation. We’re talking tens of miles, so that air gets to be VERY thin. Based on air density (and a few other factors), the Earth’s atmosphere is divided into 5 layers.

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Yes, I said 5, but only 4 are listed here. The 5th layer is the “Exosphere”. The Thermosphere tops out at 700km (also not fully shown on the graph), but the Exosphere extends out to 10,000km! At this height, the atoms and molecules are so far apart that they can travel hundreds of kilometers without colliding with one another. The particles in the Exosphere constantly escape into space. So if the particles are escaping into space… that line between space and Exosphere gets very blurry.

In my opinion, all of this is very nitpicky. The truth is it’s all subjective. When you get down to it, we think of outer space as “out there”, but really the Earth is IN outer space. Think of a bowl of cereal. Each piece of cereal is separate from the milk, but the cereal is IN the milk. We think of the other planets in our galaxy as IN outer space, but they each have their own atmosphere too. The truth is that both of these billionaires were in outer space, but so are we. All of us are a part of it. We are all living in outer space every single day.

I usually try to stay away from more philosophical questions and stick to more cold hard facts, but this one stood out to me. I think part of why it stood out is because it made me question what it meant to be IN something, to be fully a part of it, surrounded by it at all times. The reason I was already thinking about this question is because of this past Sunday’s readings.

If you’ll think back to the second reading, you’ll probably remember that it was the reading from Ephesians that is often used at weddings and is GUARANTEED to get some people upset any time it is read. That is because it has the line, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands.” If you don’t remember that this was the reading, it’s probably because your church chose to read the shorter version which removes verses 21-24 and replaces them with one from the beginning of this chapter that summarizes the chapter.

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Hopefully your antenna is going off with that phrasing. Similar to being IN outer space, I was thinking about what it means to “live IN love”. Earlier I equated it to being “fully a part of it, surrounded by it at all times”. Think of what that means for how we would live our lives. First of all, and most obvious, it looks like Christ when done perfectly, hence the second part of that verse but also because God is love.

But in our everyday lives, to be fully immersed in love, surrounded by it… if we lived like that, what would it look like? When we emulate Christ, we live out a sacrificial love. Living in love as a spouse means you sacrifice for the other, even sacrificing your pride. This leads to verse 21, “Be subordinate to one another.” But this love goes beyond marital relationships. It extends to all relationships. Every interaction you have, are you living in love? Do the people around you notice that everything about you exudes love? Does it define who you are like planets are defined as being IN outer space? None of us can perfectly live this out, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. This is what Sunday’s second reading was trying to tell us.

Each of us is called to be holy, to be a loving child of God. The term child of God means that we are loved, but do we then share that love with others by fully living our life in that love? This next week I want you to work on this. Each of us have car rides, so each time you are in the car I want you to think on all of the interactions you had since your last car ride. With those interactions (whether in person, on the phone, or via email), were you living in love? Were all of your actions fully acted in love? Hopefully this time of reflection can show us where we can work on it. Hopefully this reflection can help each of us to “Live in love, as Christ loved us”.