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Practical Spirituality: One Thing Led to Another


Tuesday, 28 January 1986 dawned clear and cold on Florida’s Atlantic coast. One thing led to another, and the Challenger space shuttle exploded during launch. It’s that cascade of events leading up to the explosion that I want to examine.

This was the 51st shuttle flight. Blasting off into space had become routine, just exotic airline flights. A school teacher was even on board to attract publicity. That’s cascading factor #1 ̶ space flight was taken for granted.

NASA was under schedule pressures to launch. Cascading factor #2 ̶ they were in a hurry.

The temperature was too cold; the shuttle was not rated to launch in sub-freezing weather. Factor #3 ̶ they banked that Reality would make an exception.

A frozen o-ring seal failed, venting hot combustion gasses from one of the solid rocket engines. There was an 80% chance the gasses would point harmlessly away from anything important. They didn’t. Factor #4 ̶ chance didn’t follow the odds.

If any one of these factors had been different, the cascade of events would have been interrupted, and the failure averted. We would have forgotten the vessel’s name in favor of the teacher’s name ̶ Christa McAuliffe. Instead, “Challenger explosion” have become two words seared into our consciousness.

Here’s the principle: It’s never just one thing that causes horrible failure or spectacular success. It’s a cascade ̶ a combination of seemingly minor and unrelated factors that almost magically fall into place to make life’s defining moments.

You and I spend most of our lives just like everyone else. We sleep, we eat, we tend to our bodies, we socialize, work, play, rest, experience emotions, learn, and make choices. It’s the cascade of small things that differentiate us, the small things that lead to delight or disaster.

God didn’t leave us clueless about those small things. The Bible “wisdom literature” ̶ Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs ̶ majors on the small things that lead to success, happiness, and peace… that turn the principle around to begin a cascade of blessing.

Proverbs, for instance, cycles over and over through several themes. A few of them are ̶

Pursue wisdom and righteousness, not folly and wickedness. (Prov 1:1-7, 20-33)Greed bites the hand that feeds it. (Prov 1:8-19)Think first, then speak. Not the other way around. (Prov 10:11-21, 31-32)Work hard. Mind your own business. (Prov 10:4-5)Cultivate traits of loyalty and fidelity. Run from adultery in any form. Secret sins are a baited trap. (Prov 5)Trust God, not in appearances or circumstances. (Prov 16:1-4)Put on humility because pride attracts disaster. (Prov 11:2)Even that no one likes loud, cheerful people early in the morning! (Prov 27:14)

None of these take up much time in the day. They’re small linchpins, but they start a positive cascade.

Spend time in the wisdom literature. God’s love and your salvation are not at stake, but your success and happiness are. If you find that your life is not moving in the direction you want, maybe it’s time to quit trying to fix the circumstances and, instead, look earlier in the cascade progression and fix those. Start with the small linchpin principles that launch cascades of success.

That’s what NASA did. The next time a shuttle launched, they were not cocky, not in a hurry, and didn’t defy Reality. The cascade of failure was broken. A mighty ship roared safely into space.


Mike Pulley

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