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Why Aren’t Christians as Urgent as Elon Musk?


Like a bowlegged cowboy walking into Starbucks, both amused and repulsed by what he sees, Elon Musk strode into the headquarters of Twitter about a year ago and together with his mercenary team of engineers from Tesla and SpaceX started making abrupt changes to the culture and software code of the social media giant. Musk is a man on a mission to reshape the world, and his intense commitment to that mission should give Christians pause.


The now-familiar story about Musk and Twitter, along with other head-on collisions in the career of the South African entrepreneur, is described by Walter Isaacson in his latest biography, Elon Musk, currently atop the Amazon charts. Isaacson is the great hagiographer of our time, issuing previous bestsellers on secular saints like Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. Yet Musk seems different, like Einstein plus Oppenheimer, Jobs plus Wozniak. He’s physicist, artist, businessman, and existential pilgrim in one refreshingly irreverent package. (At least I find him refreshing.) And he has something else besides, something more important: an inner engine that has relentlessly driven him to revolutionize rocket engines, car engines, and much besides. He calls it his maniacal sense of urgency.


“Maniacal” is Musk’s pet adjective, and he uses it often. Across his companies in overlapping sectors of energy (Tesla, which makes solar roofs and batteries in addition to electric cars), space (SpaceX, Starlink), knowledge (xAI, Neuralink, and X née Twitter), and infrastructure (The Boring Company) he demands such intensity from all his teams. Skills can be taught, he says, but this attitude cannot. It requires a brain transplant. For his 100,000+ employees, the moment they cease to show hardcore commitment is the moment they cease to have a job.


As a pastor in the San Francisco Bay Area, with the Fremont Tesla factory just down the road, reading Isaacson’s portrait of Musk has been not a little convicting. I’ve asked myself many times: Why am I not as hardcore about my mission as Musk is about his? Why don’t I sacrifice like he does? Surely the gospel of the Messiah is more vital to the life of the world than the gospel of technocrats! Surely the rewards of the Kingdom are greater than stock options! But why are the technocrats more on fire for their mission than I am for mine?


It's about much more than corporate greed. For Musk, the dream that fires his superhuman exertions is an interplanetary civilization colonizing Mars, whose purpose is preserving the fragile flame of human consciousness if and when Earth is destroyed. This sci-fi scenario sounds rather urgent, let’s admit, though one can be forgiven for sharing Bill Gates’s skepticism about the plausibility and usefulness of settling that frozen, barren rock called Mars. The Christian dream, by contrast, is light years more compelling: the Creator’s promise to heal the bruised and beautiful planet on which we currently reside, consciousness and all, through his own self-giving love. Now that is an idea with real escape velocity.


Why, then, am I so relaxed about it? Why does Musk’s urgency about a penultimate mission in outer space produce a twinge of guilt about my apathy toward the ultimate mission of the marriage of heaven and earth? The man is positively unhinged in his enthusiasm for saving human civilization, and good on him for that. Why am I so shy about saving eternal souls?


While apathy may be my own unique temptation (just ask my wife), I fear I am not alone here. Our generation of believers is at risk of culpable apathy about the mission of God. We don’t call it “apathy,” of course. We call it self care. We call it personal development. We call it stress avoidance and psychological safety (a corporate Twitter-ism Musk derides) and wellness. Alas, the allure of such nostrums can blunt the sharp edges of the Gospel’s demand.


Contrary to the assumption of many of my millennial brethren, avoiding stress is a bad idea. Stanford psychologists Alia Crum and Kelly McGonigal have shown that stress is in fact “a helpful part of life, rather than harmful, [and] is associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work.” Not only that, but engaging in stressful activities correlates strongly with a person’s sense of overall meaning in life. “Every measure of stress that the researchers asked about predicted a greater sense of meaning in life. People who had experienced the highest number of stressful life events in the past were most likely to consider their lives meaningful.” Maybe the saints, both sacred and secular, are not unbalanced stress junkies, but men and women drunk on meaning and thus fully alive.


Balance, no doubt, is a wonderful thing, and something to which Christians should aspire. Musk is certainly no savant of spiritual disciples, and I wouldn’t want the people in my church to adopt his mode of life. Many of his problems stem from the fact that an overriding sense of urgency leads to painful consequences in the important areas of his life: family, friendship, and health. This destructive relationship between the urgent and the important is classically schematized in the Eisenhower Matrix, a tool used by many leadership coaches and productivity gurus. For Christians, the urgency of the gospel is matched by its unparalleled importance, and safeguarding this importance over time is the reason that cultivating balance is non-negotiable. Urgency for urgency’s sake leads to disillusionment and burnout.


Still, speaking for this one pilgrim, I know I’m setting down Isaacson’s study of Musk with a new fire lit inside my pastoral calling. I want to be as boisterously passionate about the Kingdom of Heaven as Elon is about his spaceships and silent, sleek cars. Even more so. I want to make intimately my own the reality about which Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship [poema in Greek, the root of the English term “poem”], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”


To that end, I’ll sign off with a poem I wrote many years ago on a cold Kentucky morning, pulled as ever by the contrary impulses inside me toward urgency and apathy…



Dark December fields

recede in perfect stillness

to an endless string of horizon

that collapses into elegant wings

upthrusting chromatic, undamned

energies of dawn.


A west-haunting moon looks on this magic

in mingled suspicion and envy, still powdering

grayscales of yesterday’s enchanted slumber,

a weariness dragging the oceans.


Wrenched by the vectors

in this celestial rivalry of lights

dividing day from night, governing

the world on opposing ideas of right,

I stand between them and behold my life

in both. Regretfully, recursively in both.

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