By Joe Walker, Minister of Congregational Care
Email ads almost never make my heart soar. But this one did. Late the other night I received an ad for t-shirts commemorating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI mission.
The 50th anniversary of walking on the Moon?! Groovy!
My whole being was once again that jumble of awe and pride and humility and excitement and hope I had experienced as a scrawny kid all those years ago. The moon walk had not crossed my mind in – oh, I can’t even guess how long. I jumped on the NASA pages and re-read the mission synopsis. I surfed through the Apollo archives. I ended the night by reverently scrolling through photographs of the Blue Marble from points far, far outside our orbit.
For many of you who are reading this, the lunar landing may seem anything but exciting. It could be just dusty history that is not even covered in school anymore. Or, maybe you only know the moon walk as yet another example of how we as a species sometimes achieve, but can rarely sustain, greatness.
To be fair, that era of the space program was a long time ago and did have its shadow side. Space exploration was (still is) dangerous and people and other animals lost their lives. It cost a lot of money and overshadowed social needs. Military applications for the technology marched side-by-side with the humanitarian advances. Space became yet another theater for the Cold War. The contributions of women and people of color were mostly overlooked (as depicted in the excellent feature film “Hidden Figures”).
But for those of us who experienced it “live,” Commander Neil Armstrong, stepping down onto the lunar surface and uttering those famous words, “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” was breathtaking. It was an epiphany, transcending not only humanity’s physical but also our spiritual constraints. I know for me, and I imagine for most of the 530 million people who watched, our essential oneness was profoundly apparent in that instant. And we experienced ourselves as part of God’s intricate and endless creation as never before. That foot settling into the primordial lunar dust belonged to each and all of us.
Perhaps the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 comes at an auspicious time. Today we face scientific and social challenges beyond our imagination as we begin to grapple with the effects of climate change. Everywhere we turn we encounter seemingly impenetrable divisiveness, sometimes in our own families and certainly between parties, religions, and nations on a myriad of issues. All of this can seem so overwhelming we may be tempted to despair or to just look away. Great moments in history, such as the moon walk remind us that we can unite around worthy goals, harness our resources, and aspire to be the people that God created us to be.