This Monday I returned home from my almost TWO WEEK trip to St. Louis for a couple of weddings.
(Look at these happy couples)
Even though we were going to be enjoying an extended stay, we decided not to drive up. Instead, we flew. That means we had to fly back, and as I was sitting in my window seat of this Boeing 737, I was amazed at the complexity of the engineering that goes into these planes.
Growing up in Wichita, I gained a bit of knowledge about aircraft and the aircraft industry, but the fact that we can get any object that weighs over 84,000 pounds off the ground still blows my mind. It is amazing what we can do with some knowledge of physics.
The very simplified version of the complexity of getting planes flying is: You just need a greater force in the direction you want to go than the direction you don’t.
What does that look like? A quick google search explained that these giant planes (without passengers) weigh about 80,000 lbs which is approximately 36,000 kg. If gravity is 9.8 m/s2, then the force holding the plane down to the ground is about 352800 kg*m/s2. WOW! That means the plane has to figure out how to make the lift, the force upward, be greater than that force of gravity.
How does it do that? There are two main parts of the plane that help the plane to get and stay airborne, the engines and the wings.
My first thought about these giant planes is that it is THE ENGINES propelling them UP into the big blue sky, but that’s only half true. A plane’s engines move it FORWARD at a high speed. As the plane moves forward, air crashes into the wings. At this impact, it is the wings that push the plane UP. The wings change the direction and pressure of the air as the engines push them through the atmosphere. Most airplane wings, especially on these big planes are specifically built to do this effectively. They have a curved upper surface and a flatter lower surface, making a cross-sectional shape called an airfoil.
As air flows over the curved top surface of the wing, the air is pulled around and back down. This pulling stretches out the air molecules to occupy a bigger volume. This creates lower air pressure, less molecules in more space. As the air hits the underside of the wing, the opposite happens. The air molecules are slowed, causing those air molecules to build up in this smaller space, creating a higher air pressure. This difference in air pressure between the upper and lower surfaces of the wing causes a big difference in air speed. This causes air to flow rapidly over the wings, throwing the air down toward the ground which pushes the plane upward.
Some very smart scientists and engineers have run experiments to find the ideal tilt/curve of the wing for different planes. There’s a lot more complex science that has gone into their creation over the years, but the basic premise stands for all of those planes: The force of the lift has to be greater than the force of gravity in order to get planes off the ground.
As I was flying at ~30,000 feet, I was thinking about this concept. Such a complex machine and complex science that can be summed up in such a simple phrase. So many times in life we get bogged down in complexities. This is especially true with religion.
Time and time again I have seen people argue over the tiniest piece of the tiniest law and act like it is the biggest deal in the world. I’ve also seen people be extremely scrupulous, so terrified of doing something wrong. They over-analyze every little action throughout their day, so afraid that some tiny thing they do will somehow result in something negative which is sinful. They often are paralyzed with this fear.
I will admit, there is a lot of complexity to Catholic teachings. People devote years to learning about single teachings, but this past Sunday’s readings reminded us of how simple of a teaching all of these rules and laws boil down to.
In Romans 13: 8-10, Paul explains just how simple and uncomplex these teachings are. He lists out things we should do and some of the commandments. Then he says that all of this and any other commandment you can think of can be summed up like this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He says that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
This complex religion with over 2,000 years of history and teachings is all summed up in this one line. The complex is made simple.
The simple teaching makes sense, too! In this world there will be so many things that drag us down. Evil is all around us. We see it daily in hatred and lack of empathy. Our response has to be the opposite. Just as with the forces on the planes, when there is this massive force pulling us down and surrounding us, we must create a force that is in the opposite direction and even greater than the downward force. That force is love. When we love our neighbors, ALL OF THEM, even the difficult ones, we are lifting this world up. We are helping our society to fly to the heights that God has envisioned for it. It is only through love that we will make this world a better place.
Keep this in your heart as you go about your week. Know that every person you interact with is going through their own struggles and deserve your love and your kindness. It will be difficult, but this is what we are called to do. This call to love is the singular most important teaching of the Christian faith.