Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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By Whose Authority Did We Go to the Moon?

December 1, 2022

Adam R. Nettesheim

A species that drinks coffee from paper cups and smokes cigarettes and scribbles charts on paper with ink from a pen went to the moon with much less computing power than the phone I hold in my hand as I type these words.

Men who wore glasses and had bald spots and clean cropped haircuts. 

Who didn’t remember women could accomplish things, too. 

People with light skin that forgot people with dark skin deserved a place at the console next to them. 

A series of plus signs on a screen with lines and numbers, indicating only God (and the guys who knew) knows what. 

Ashtrays mounted to the back of burnt orange viewing seats for those who could only watch the room where it happened.

Listening to radio waves caught somehow coming down from the heavens from mortals above on a barren, illuminated wasteland, silver as the black and white televisions of millions showed it to be, so their sets needed no adjusting. 

A swamp in a state of heat and strong boasts. 

A place where the dreamer of this dream died in pieces saved by his grief-stricken widow as her pink dress banners his blood. 

The space station named for his successor, the one given the crown and keys first because of an assassin’s bullet. 

Disbelief about the explanation of the events of his death mirror the conspiracies that grew around the endeavor of those on Apollo.

Maybe we can’t believe our evil can be as simple as a man with a gun. Or that our good can be as intricate and involved as the diligent work of hundreds of thousands who lent their hand to pull those astronauts out of the confines of our atmosphere with a rope made of invention and integers.

Three men willing to die. 

The dreamer already had. 

The nation mourned, but now the nation scorned the ‘tricky Dick’ commemorating the accomplishment into a phone – a man who five years later would resign in disgrace and face no formal consequences for crimes. And what may well be worse – the cynicism that continues to pervade our national discourse.

Young men in space. 

Young men in fields far away with guns shooting at other young men with guns. 

Young people at home burning flags – smoke filling their lungs from grass and the gas of canisters fired at their disorganized desperate pleas for peace. 

The dreamer’s younger brother also assassinated a year before launch. Likewise, another notable dreamer on a hotel balcony in Memphis, and then that city claimed a singer who sang “If I Can Dream,” unable to reconcile the powers of his pop-collared fame and chains of addiction. 

Men are not made to be worshiped like gods and cannot bear the weight when we do so.

And yet despite it all, we reach for celestial bodies with fire in our hearts and a lump in our throats. 

We make ‘hells out of heaven and heavens out of hells.’ [1] 

We’ve done big, big things – things too great and terrible for comprehension. 

Two brothers in Kitty Hawk flying a contraption made of canvas and balsa wood. 

Descendants of that craft would drop two bombs on two cities filled with over 200,000 souls. 

The fuel of the arms race that followed from a ‘cold war’ would heat up the space race to see who would plant their flag in those lunar sands first.

What right do we have to try big things when the work of our hands has also wrought massive bloodshed and heartache and brokenness? 

Should I shed a tear and clap for joy to hear the distorted proclamation of how the small steps of one man somehow makes humanity itself leap forward? 

Should I feel any pride when a President who lies to the nation memorializes the event, as if (as a predecessor once said about mourning our sins) it was somehow in his, or any of our poor power, to add or detract from such moments? 

How am I to reconcile the paradox that is human? 

What box in my heart can I categorize them in? It will not neatly store, it is not concisely labeled, and it does not always “bring me joy.”

Who gives mankind the authority to “slip the surly bonds of earth”? Who allows us to even attempt to “touch the face of God”? [2] 

God Himself does.

He does, even though this is the very species God grieved that “everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil,” [3] so much so that His grief spilled into rivers and oceans and floods…yet hope remained. And though the saved became what they were saved from all too quickly, that God again and again grieved and sought hope and still gave them authority to do and to build and to become and to be…and to harm and to hate and to hold the freewill gift in contempt. 

Each ‘hero’ of faith in Scripture and beyond, a mess of tangled virtues and vices, blessings and brokenness, and yet they…and God…keep trying again and again.

That very cloud of witnesses calls to me today as my heart wonders what right do I have to do… anything? What right do I have to try again after all I’ve done? I’ve been faithless and cowardly. I’ve hurt those I love and have hated those who have hurt me. I’ve lusted and coveted and committed countless sins against and within my own heart… and these are just the things I feel ok alluding to here. What right do I have to try and reach up again? Shouldn’t I sit in the corner and leave the floor to the perfect? If we all did this, the dance floor would remain empty. No one would dance, and no one would walk on the moon. 

What must we do? When is it redemption and when is it an escape from justice? 

When is it Godly forgiveness and when is it naively chosen obliviousness? 

How do we reconcile the beauty and ashes of our species’ existence? 

We cannot. 

But He can, and so we must. But we can’t all at once. 

We must be able to be inspired at a monument and then another day grieve at the memorial. 

To reach for the stars AND to beat our breasts. 

To wear our crowns AND to lay them down.

Despite what may feel disqualifying about us, we must reach toward the light. Even as we fail one another we must continue to love one another. The Lord God gave Adam the authority to steward the world and its inhabitants towards flourishing. Though the fall makes that call impossible by our own efforts, the call remained the same for him outside of Eden. That same call rests upon us today – like the first Adam – even in our fallen state.  

We must try. 


And try again. 

This is our call. 

Each attempt is a small step for a man, but each effort is also a giant leap for mankind. 

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” [4]

[1] John Milton

[2] John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

[3] Genesis 6:5, NLT

[4] Psalms 8:3

Featured image is courtesy of Ganapathy Kumar via Unsplash. We are grateful for his generosity.


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