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Lonely, Fragile and Loved



(A pastoral letter from Rev. Ed Beddingfield to his congregation in North Carolina sent June 10, 2024)

 

Dear Members and Friends of Memorial Baptist Church,

 

It’s been called “a photo that changed the world” (Phys.org). Photographer Josh Druding wrote an article titled “Why ‘Earthrise’ Is the Most Influential Photo Ever Taken” (The Startup, May 4, 2020). And the man who took the picture has died.

 

William Anders was lunar module pilot on Apollo 8. The crew included Jim Lovell and Frank

Borman. In December of 1968 they became the first human beings to orbit the moon.

 

Anders graduated from the US Naval Academy and became a fighter pilot in the Air Force. He

was selected as an astronaut in 1964 but had not flown in space prior to the Apollo 8 mission.

 

In 1968 I was a freshman in college, home for the holidays, on a Christmas Eve date with my

sweetheart from the seventh grade. Apollo 8, in orbit around the moon, had scheduled a live

television broadcast. A person ought to remember where he was and who he was with when

such a significant event occurs, but I can’t recall whether we watched the broadcast together at my date’s house, or if I took her home first and then watched it at home with my family. I do

remember that the time was about ten o’clock at night.

 

The crew read from the Book of Genesis, Chapter One: the first creation story. Anders began.

Here’s the transcript:

 

Bill Anders (verses 1-4):

We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

 

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

 

Jim Lovell (verses 5-8):

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the

morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.


Frank Borman (verses 9 and 10):

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.

 

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

 

Anders had snapped the “Earthrise” photo earlier that day at 12:39 p.m. EST – lunchtime on the East Coast. The spacecraft was in its fourth lunar orbit. The official NASA recording captures Anders exclaiming to the crew, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, that’s pretty.” Anders grabbed his camera and started shooting. Mission commander Frank Borman said, “Hey, don’t take that. It’s not scheduled.” NASA officials later claimed he was only joking.

 

Because of the spacecraft’s rotation, the original photo was tilted on its side. NASA re-oriented the picture for publication, giving the appearance of the earth rising over the lunar horizon (see official NASA photo above).

 

But it doesn’t really matter which way it’s tilted. The point is, against the background of the

blackness of space, and with the cold gray moon in the foreground, our planet is a bright blue

living organism with oceans, clouds, continents, and . . . us. Our home.

 

Anders said later, “For me, it made me realize that the earth was small, delicate and not the

center of the universe” (Joe Sutton and Ashley R. Williams, CNN, June 8, 2024). That statement bears unpacking.

 

Small: Compared to the vastness of space, who are we? The Psalmist asked the same question:

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and stars that you have established,

who are we, that you are mindful of us?

And our children, that you care also for them?

Yet you have made us a little lower than the angels,

and have crowned us with glory and honor.

(Psalm 8:3-5, au. transl.)

 

Delicate: “Fragile” is the word I would choose. The polar ice is shrinking. Sea levels are rising.

2023 was the warmest year since climate records began in 1850 (Climate.gov). Some locations are getting drier, others are getting wetter. Storms are getting stormier. Species are

threatened. Some people are hysterical, some are in denial. Whatever a person makes of all

this, we might do well to remember the One whose it is:

 

The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof,

the world, and all who live therein;

for God has founded it upon the seas,

and established it upon the rivers.

 

(Psalm 24:1-2)

 

Not the center of the universe: “Narcissism” – if not the hardcore psychological condition, at

least the general attitude of self-centeredness – is a byword for our times. In Day 19 of his

book, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2012, p. 149), Pastor Rick Warren has a better idea: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

We read about that in church yesterday:

 

Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;

but the haughty he watches from a distance.

(Psalm 138:6, au. transl.)

 

I for one am grateful to Bill Anders for reminding me, with an unforgettable photograph and a

simple but profound interpretation of it, exactly who, where and why I am, and to Whom I

belong.

 

Anders died last Friday, June 7, piloting the vintage T-34 Air Force training plane he owned and flew regularly. The plane crashed into the Puget Sound off the Washington coast, caught fire, and sank. He was 90 years old.

 

After his death NASA administrator Bill Nelson wrote on X (formerly Twitter), “Bill Anders

offered to humanity the deepest of gifts an astronaut can give. He traveled to the threshold of

the moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves.”

 

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, he also helped show us the mind of God.

 

Your pastor,

Ed Beddingfield


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