Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today in History: Communion on the Moon?

It is well-known that today in history, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. His words, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" have resonated through history as the defining moment when America not only reclaimed the space race, but achieved a first for all of humanity.

But while Neil Armstrong chose to commemorate the moment with a relishing quote, Buzz Aldrin, an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas, chose a different way: communion.

Eric Metaxas, author of Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask), writes in 2009 that he had had a conversation with Aldrin about his communion experience on the moon. He told Metaxas,
In the radio blackout, I opened the tiny plastic packages that contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing [John 15:5]."

I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute they requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madalyn Murray O'Hare [sic], the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and the spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the first liquid to be poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.

And of course, it's interesting to think that the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the Moon, and Who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the "Love that moves the Sun and other stars."
The lawsuit that Aldrin referred to was this one: O'Hair v. Paine, 397 U.S. 531 (1970), in which Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the same atheist activist who fought to eradicate prayer from public schools, cited a violation of the First Amendment. The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to a lack of jurisdiction. Instead of reading the Bible verse publicly, he radioed this: "I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."

Aldrin also wrote an account of his experience in his 2009 book, Magnificent Desolation, which you can read here. It also appears in his 1973 book Return to Earth, and in an August 1969 interview with LIFE Magazine. ( does not allow the copying of book material, but they were nice enough to give the Internet some portions for the purpose of dispelling doubt.)

According to Wikipedia, the chalice used by Buzz Aldrin is being kept at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas, a suburb of Houston near the Johnson Space Center.

Further Reading:
McGuire's Place: First Communion on the Moon

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Today I played hostess at my house while a group of about ten of my husband's family members came over to eat, and it was a lot of fun. We had burgers, bratwurst, apple pie, and "freedom cake." Like it? It's made of french vanilla cake, whipped cream icing, strawberries, and blueberries.

Later, we went to Nokomis Beach and enjoyed the capstone part of July 4th celebrations: Fireworks.

John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3rd, 1776 about what he thought Independence Day celebrations—which he thought would be on July 2nd, the day the Second Continental Congress made its historic vote to declare independence from Britain—would be like. This is what he wrote:

The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.
-John Adams. July 3rd, 1776 

In 1777, the first Independence Day celebration was commemorated with thirteen gunshots, one for each of the thirteen colonies that became independent states. Truly, it is an odd honor for us that most men in America wouldn't be able to do without fireworks on July 4th. I was baffled when I found out that fireworks are illegal in some states in the Northeast. (In Florida, they are only illegal technically, and you may buy them as long as you verbally acknowledge that your purpose in buying them is to scare birds off of your crops.) See? We're being patriotic.

The only thing that took away from the splendor of the fireworks show on the beach was the incessant drumming of a pagan drum circle that was located 20-25 yards behind us, which continued through the fireworks show and long after most everyone had left. A man near us tried to lead us in the singing of the national anthem, and it fell flat on its face because of the drumming. A few people complained verbally but recognized that they had the freedom to do it. Paganism is popular in Sarasota-Venice area because of New College. 

While at first I gave the benefit of the doubt and thought they might be joining in with Independence Day festivities (Earth worshipers are Americans too), I soon realized that they were in their own little world, doing their own thing, alongside a very large crowd that was there for a completely different purpose. So I considered for a second whether we might not do the same thing, since we also place God over country. Suppose we always worshiped on Mondays. If July 4th had fallen on a Sunday, we would have gone to church without question. We might have even had a beach devo. But would we begin obnoxiously singing while something else was going on? Probably not, because we would respect those around us. 

And, if it was us, the police would be called to tell us to be quiet, which has happened before when there was no crowd on the beach.

Basically, the message came off like they were trying to make a point by being separate from the group on a holiday where people enjoy the unity of being Americans. Independence Day isn't like a religious holiday, where you respect the fact that not everybody celebrates your holiday of choice in the way that you celebrate it. Even New Year's Eve, while collective in the sense that everyone around you seems to be excited about ringing in the new year, is not celebrated by people who go by different calendars. July 4th is unique in the sense that every single American citizen has a reason to celebrate, no matter who they are. So I felt that they were seriously raining on the parade.

It made me aware of the fact, though, that Earth-minded people are the opposite of nationalistic (or, patriotic) people; Christians, environmentalists, and pagans all have this in common. There is nothing wrong with putting one's religion above one's country—after all, if you believed it to be true, it would be true for the whole world, wouldn't it? 

For me, though, I think this was the first Independence Day where patriotism finally had value and importance. I never understood why we set off fireworks, and now I do. It was based on an awareness of history, and an excitement about it. My mother-in-law is like-minded: She posted on Facebook that she had the Schoolhouse Rock version of the Preamble stuck in her head the whole way home. Since I know that every Christian has the same debate with themselves in their head every year, my answer for myself is that there is nothing un-Biblical about being excited about history.

What about for you? 

And what do you think about the drum circle?

Freedom, Independence—and Consanguinity

"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free." -Galatians 5:1

Probably every church in America heard this verse today. No, not many of us consider American independence from Britain and general tyranny to be any equal to the surpassing grace we have in Christ— that which looses us of the personal chains that bind us—and I hope that not to be the case with any Christian. But the church my husband and I went to this morning thought it worthy to meditate on it all. Let me explain.

The Interstate was backed up this morning because of an accident which spanned across all three lanes, and they were making everybody get off. We go to church an hour away from our house, so getting off the Interstate was not an option unless we had somewhere else to go. I was glad to be able to go to a church to which Greg had been before but I hadn't. I expected it to be conservative (religious, not political), since Bay Area is pretty warm and open and I've heard that to be somewhat of an anomaly. But that's not what I found.

The lesson, of course, was on freedom in Christ, and about the chains that bind us. The preacher had us write on a strip of paper the one thing that holds us in bondage, and they were made into one of those paper chains you probably made in 3rd grade. Then a few people volunteered to become wrapped in them. As an illustration of the power of God, they were then asked to break free of them—an easy task since the chain was made of paper. The point was that that's how easy it is for God to break our chains.

Afterward, there was a cookout, and the paper chain was left in the foyer for us to "walk all over." I had a great time getting to know new and friendly people. The worship had been surprisingly emotive and free, and the lessons both rich and relevant. I liked this church. Whoa buddy, and then I found out that there was going to be a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a jam session with instruments.

Pause. I'm a member of the Churches of Christ. This doesn't happen. Knowing what a rare opportunity this was, I think I was so excited that I might have actually skipped to my car to run home and get my violin (glad that I actually lived nearby for once). What followed was a casual, educational reading of a founding document (a church that embraces its historical duty to educate? Schwing!) Nobody even tripped over the word "consanguinity" (which, by the way, means the quality of being united by blood).

Rod Meyers of Central Sarasota Church of Christ reading the Declaration of Independence

So then, this guy who was an expert at saying the word "consanguinity" and an expert at preaching proved himself to be even more of an expert at playing the guitar and singing country music. In all, there were three guitars, a harmonica, and the fiddler who thought she could keep up (me). Actually, it was just like being with my family, except that they were Christians. The only time I'm ever called upon to fiddle is with my uncle, who also plays the guitar. Of course, I'm never prepared and it never matters. That consanguinity? I felt it.

To be honest, this was the first time that I've truly felt accepted by a church of Christ for being a musician. I've always felt like it was something I had to hide, like I was the "enemy," even though no one cared to learn that I don't believe in playing instruments in worship at all (my reason is because when I'm playing, it takes away from me worshiping). Even though I started playing the violin long before I ever accepted Christ, I almost felt like I had to apologize for my primary passion; like if I had the opportunity to talk to my childhood self, I probably would have appreciated being informed of the kind of discrimination I would receive as a classical musician in the church of Christ. This acceptance of such a large part of who I am was tremendous for me.

Consanguinity. What does it mean to you?

(Read the Declaration of Independence here.)