Where were you July 20th, 1969? This month is the 50thanniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon for the first time. There have been a few specials about this on TV and it has been interesting to remember the history of the Moon Missions. The Apollo missions started in the ’50s and concluded in 1972. I enjoyed seeing that first moonwalk again—the original one not the one by Michael Jackson. That moment was one of those iconic moments watched by millions of people around the world.
It was interesting also to hear again the words of the astronauts, especially Armstrong’s 1stwords; but also, the words of the 3 astronauts who orbited the moon nearly 2 years after the disastrous Apollo 1 tragedy in which Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White lost their lives in January of 1967. In late 1968, leaving on the Winter Solstice and orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, wished the earth a Merry Christmas and peace for everyone; this was the space flight that gave us one of the famous images of the earth from across the moon. We often forget that again in November of 1969, February of 1971, July of 1971, April of 1972, and lastly, in December of 1972, there were other moon landings.
Modern astronauts are also speaking about seeing the earth as a small, blue globe in space. There’s a viewing platform on the International Space Station where astronauts spend free time, just looking at the earth. Psychologists working with astronauts speak of this having a profound effect on those who see the earth as a small object in space. It is humbling and puts into perspective that the earth is one planet, fragile and in need of compassion and care.
For example, the space race of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s was just that, a race. The Russians were launching Sputnik and trying to get to the moon first. This was the height of the Cold War and relations between the USSR and the USA were not good. There were all kinds of propaganda on both sides. But the astronauts, in many of the public statements made from space, rose above nationalism and militarism and spoke to all humanity about peace and the human family. They spoke about the fragility of the earth and the threat of nuclear annihilation at the time.
It’s this kind of humility that Jesus addressed in his parable of the Good Samaritan. There’s a pattern to Jesus’ teaching in this particular parable: a question is posed, a demand for action given, a story told and a further demand for action. The story told isn’t just a nice story; it is a story told to evoke a response. An expert in Jewish law and full of hubris wanted to test Jesus and asked about inheriting everlasting life. This was a trick question because the Sadducees—the Temple officials—didn’t believe in an afterlife; Jesus was part of a growing group that began to develop an understanding of life after death—the KinDom of Heaven. Jesus answered the lawyer with a question about the law of love. The lawyer answered correctly as far as Jesus was concerned and then posed another question, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus then told the story and asked a further question. The lawyer answered that question correctly again, but the moment ended with Jesus’ command, “Go and do likewise!” Go and do what the Samaritan did! Cross boundaries at a personal sacrifice.
Jesus’ commands in Luke—and in all the gospels, really—are offered with an urgency for action. I suspect the people in Jesus’ day and age weren’t unlike our own. What was it that CS Lewis once said? “We all want progress, but if you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” I’ve heard someone paraphrase these words to say, “We all want progress, but we don’t want change.” In my view, Jesus would say quite clearly, that progress involves change and action—changing our thoughts, changing our behaviours, and taking action with a community of folk with which to live the deep command to love.
I’ve recently discovered a young contemporary American historian by the name of Ibram X. Kendi. He’s the director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Centre at American University. He offered some reflections about power and freedom for this past 4thof July celebrations in the US. He’s sifted through some of the personal documents of John Adams, the second US President. Adams’ wife—Abigail—wrote to him to say, “In the new Code of Laws… I desire you would Remember the Ladies. If particular care and attention are not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no… Representation. ” This was in 1776! And what was John Adams’ response? He apparently laughed and talked about “our struggle” having let loose everyone who wants freedom. Kendi asked the question in his article in TheAtlantic who was included in “our struggle” and then wrote, “I can surmise who John… did not include, based on how he described their struggle to Abigail. He had heard that (quoting John Adams personal correspondence) ‘children and Apprentices were disobedient—that schools and colleges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters,’ (end of Adams quote) … (Back to Kendi’s words) And now women ‘were grown discontented.’”
Kendi has named the world-wide problem that those who are oppressed have to rebel because they have yet to gain the power to change policy in order to be free. He says that freedom only comes with power. The examples both in our own country and around the world are boundless. People who have no power have little in the way of freedom.
Jesus talked about having to work at the KinDom of God. It has been gifted to us—to all the earth—to be sure. But we also have to work at it. We have to take action. We can’t be passive participants; we are called to usher in the KinDom of Peace and love. We think, study, ponder, reflect and act in ways that are appropriate—both together and as individuals—so that our living has lasting import and shares power so that we all can be free.
The Spirit’s gift is freedom, but as Kendi pointed out, the power of love and dignity as a human being comes first and after that comes freedom: the freedom to be human; the freedom to be a beloved creature of God; the freedom to be part of creation as full participants, no less and no more important than any other living being in creation.
Thanks be to God for the power of love, dignity and hope and the freedom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
See Ibram X. Kendi’s article at https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/resistance-patriotism-fourth-july/593344/.