In the Shadow of the Moon
I have a clear and vivid memory of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon because my brother made sure I would.
I was seven years old at the time. My brother, Daryl, a decade older than me, said, “You have to watch this and remember this. This is history.” So I watched closely and made sure to remember; as did billions of other people around the world on July 21, 1969.
That wonderful historical moment and the hard work that led up to it is beautifully captured in the new documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon. Directed by David Sington, this film understandably won the audience prize at the Sundance Film Festival because it leaves viewers cheered and inspired.
It was rather astonishing to hear in the film President John F. Kennedy propose, almost promise, that America would be on the moon by the end of the decade. He acknowledges that the technology, and even some of the metal alloys, had not yet been developed, but assures the nation that these things will be discovered, and the job will be done.
It made me think of Proverbs 29:18 – “Without a vision, the people perish” (KJV). The sixties were a difficult time in the US -- war, assassinations, social upheaval – but the space program provided a vision of accomplishing great things.
God knows that we need big dreams. It can be too easy to become consumed by the petty details of life -- household chores, meeting budgets, running errands – which must be dealt with, but we can not believe those details are life. We need to be reminded that there are bigger things to be accomplished.
If you are a part of a church, you need to deal with the painting, the carpet and the tile. These are all good things. But you need to be dreaming about bigger things. Some scoffed at JFK’s goal to reach the moon in less than a decade. It seemed impossible. But it could not have happened if it hadn’t been proposed.
Congregations need to dream big dreams. Could we have a thousand people in our congregation? Could we support a Spanish language congregation that would be healthy and strong? Could we double, triple, quadruple our missions budget? Great things cannot happen without a great vision. And God’s vision is greater than our own.
The heart of the film is the interviews with the Apollo astronauts. Most of these men are in their seventies, before long many of these men will be gone. So it is valuable to record their unique experiences.
Neil Armstrong, noted for his reclusive nature, is not interviewed, but he is well represented in news reel footage and the anecdotes of other astronauts. Armstrong’s crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, provide a fascinating picture of that first moon landing and the experience of being truly alone in space (though Collins says he never felt lonely).
An interesting coda in the end credits is a response of the astronauts to those who say that there was no moon landing, that it was all a hoax (a la Capricorn One). They scoff at the scoffers, postulating that such a lie could not have been kept quiet by so many people. One of the astronauts (John Young?) wonders why, if it was a fraud, they had to make so many fraudulent trips.
(Not mentioned in the film, the incident of Buzz Aldrin punching a moon launch skeptic in the nose. The punchee sued Aldrin, but the judge quickly threw the case out of court. This led one wag to say that Buzz Aldrin is the only person of whom it can be said that walking on the moon is the second coolest thing he ever did. Not that I would ever advocate such violence.)
Another astronaut notes that around any great historical event, conspiracy theories will abound. There are people who believe that the German Holocaust of the Jews never happened or that planes couldn’t have taken down the World Trade Centers. No amount of evidence will convince these people otherwise.
Jesus recognized the stubborn nature of people. He performed miracle after miracle and yet most people of His time still doubted him. But He knew that skepticism would persist even after His resurrection. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man he said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31, NIV) There is vast evidence that the Bible is a reliable historical document, that Jesus was raised from the dead and that the world was created with intelligent design. But doubt will persist because admitting these truths would mean changing one’s life.
It was interesting that toward the end of the film several of the astronauts confess that being in space made them consider the magnificence of the earth and space and the necessity of believing in a Creator. In fact, Charlie Duke in the film tells about how shortly after his trip to the moon he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. He says that though his trip to the moon was a great three day adventure, his adventure with God is forever.
It is unlikely that any of us will be able to walk on the moon any time soon. But we will all be able to have the adventure of walking with God.
In the Shadow of the Moon is not rated, but would probably be rated G in spite of a few uttered vulgarities. It probably won’t be playing at the theater as you read this but look for it on DVD soon. In the mean time, here are some other moon adventures worth viewing:
The Right Stuff (1983) is a dramatized depiction of the beginning of the space program. The Phillip Kaufman-directed film is not as good as the excellent Tom Wolfe book it is based on, but it is still good -- especially in its depiction of Chuck Yeager, a test pilot who was a role model for the astronauts to come. The film was rated PG, but probably, if that rating had then existed, would have been rated PG-13 for strong language and sexual references.
Apollo 13 (1995) This nearly disastrous moon venture is discussed by the real Jim Lovell in In the Shadow of the Moon, but this film dramatization gives a fuller telling of the story, with Tom Hanks playing the role of Lovell. The PG-rated film was directed by Ron Howard who also produced the Moon documentary.
Tom Hanks was one of the producers of the HBO mini-series “From the Earth to the Moon” which is also worth tracking down. The twelve-part series allows for more time to dig into the lives of these men and their families. Being an HBO series, there is stronger content, but it’s no “Sopranos”.
And do remember, Space is not the final frontier. Heaven is.