Do you remember where you were on July 20, 1969? I was glued in front of the television set, joining millions in watching what my parents told me was one of the most fundamentally important events in human history. They promised I would always remember it, and so I have. The event was, of course, the landing of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. I watched the live feed as the craft set down on the lunar surface. As Neil Armstrong placed his foot there, I heard those now familiar words, “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
Something of the significance of this moment did sink in, although I admit that at age five, I was a little more enthralled by that “small step” than by the “giant leap.” I kept thinking, “What fun it must be to play around on the Moon!” It wasn’t until years later that the “giant leap” part started sinking in.
In terms of the history of human consciousness, the “giant leap” took place not when the astronauts stepped down to the moon’s surface, but when they looked up. For the first time in human history, human beings could see the Earth from the surface of another planet (or moon, at least). There it was, floating in the middle of space like a marble crafted from pure love and magic. What awe those first moon-walkers must have felt! What respect they must have felt for such a beautiful creation.
As those Apollo 11 astronauts stood on the Moon viewing the Earth, Earth’s two great super powers were locked in a deadly Cold War threatening to annihilate humanity. Unspeakable atrocities were being committed in Viet Nam. Our country was in the midst of cultural and social upheaval. What those astronauts saw put things in perspective. They caught a glimpse of the peace and wholeness God intended for us, where no lines of division exist – no national boundaries, no divisions according to race, gender, social or economic class. No gay or straight. All were One. There was just Earth, and children of the Earth.
There is an insightful German saying that goes, Auf seinem eigenen Misthaufen ist der Hahn der Herr. “Atop his own dunghill, the cock is the lord.” When you pull back from Earth and get that big picture perspective, those things that are most closely tied to our own egos tend to fade away into insignificance.
When we pull the view back, the mountains we declare ourselves king and queen over look more like dunghills. Further back, they are indistinguishable from the surface. We are no longer “Joe and Jane Smith, presiding as lord and lady of West Omaha or East Seattle.” We are “Joe and Jane Smith, children of the Earth.” (Pulling back further …) “Joe and Jane Smith, children of our Solar System” … (further still) “Son and Daughter of our Galaxy” … (further still) “Children of the Universe” … “Children of God.”
Ancient Christians recognized this curious shift of perspective centuries before landing on the moon. Those human characteristics that are of no ultimate significance – that keep us living lives of delusion so long as we hold on to them – they called “sins.” Number One on the list was Pride – that force that drives us to mount our own dunghills and pronounce ourselves Masters of the Universe. Conversely, the characteristics that foster and energize life they called “virtues.” Number One on this list was Humility – that force that moves us from declaring ourselves Masters of the Universe, to claiming our true identity as Children of God.
The insights of these early Christians were pretty impressive considering they saw the “big picture” centuries before we saw it from the moon. Of course, they stood on the shoulders of a spiritual giant who afforded them this view: the shoulders of Jesus.
Consider the view that opens before you in Luke 6 (The Message version). It’s a bit like standing on the moon looking back at Earth:
To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you on the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. If you only love the loveable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
I tell you love your enemies. Help and give without expectation of return. You will never — I promise – regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way the Father lives towards us generously and graciously even when we are at our worst. Our Father is kind. You be kind.
Can you picture that big, beautiful world in front of you as he speaks these words?
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.
He goes on and says,
Why are you so polite to me, always saying, ‘Yes sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.
Now here is someone who sees the Big Picture. Here’s someone who can stand back within the quietness of his own soul and recognize that there are ultimately no divisions that matter, no county lines, no class or race lines, no who-did-what-to-whom lines. Here is one who sees God’s love as it embraces all people. And – too bad for us – Jesus actually expects us to live according to the vision he sees! Oops.
From a God’s-eye perspective, Jesus was like a stone cast into a pond, causing little ripples that spread gently outward. But from our earthly perspective, Jesus was more than a simple “plunk” in the water. We experienced the “ripples” as tsunamis!
When it comes down to it, we often experience God’s work at raising our vision and expanding our hearts not as something warm and fuzzy, but as violence, at least at first. The first hit feels more like a shock-wave than a love wave. It brings the barriers down that we have so carefully erected between ourselves and God – and between ourselves and other people. If we have deluded ourselves into thinking that an authentic relationship with God is only ever about warm fuzzies and never about rude awakenings, we had better batten down the hatches. We should also ask ourselves how we as Christians, whose central religious symbol is a Cross, have lost the awareness that the in-breaking of God’s love and grace rarely appears as something we embrace as great and godly at first, but is resisted mightily, even by the faithful. The Cross marks the site of impact – where stone hits a calm pond. Ground Zero. It reminds us of the violence of our reaction when a Love that is great enough to embrace the whole world hits us. Which brings us to Peter’s (kosher) pickle … The subject of tomorrow’s blog post.