Who are your heroes? The heroes we choose tell us a lot about who we are. So many of our heroes end up disappointing us. Think of Barry, A Rod, Roger and Manny. Think of the corporate leaders who left with big bonuses and short changed their stockholders.
We live in a day when we confuse heroes with celebrities. And often our celebrities are stars who self destruct. Think of Elvis, and Michael. It is important for a society to have the right kind of heroes. Because heroes are imitated.
Who are your heroes? This week we are going to celebrate another moon walking celebrity as we remember those incredible Apollo voyages to the moon of 40 years ago. In particular, we remember astronaut Neil Armstrong. Armstrong was the original moon walker.
Today, of course, if you mention moon walking, one thinks not of the Apollo missions, but of the magical backslide break dance move that became popular around the world after Michael Jackson perfected it and made it his signature move.
Upon Jackson’s sudden, recent death we have all been immersed in a frenzy of Jacksonmania. He was, after all, the king of pop. At one time he was the world’s highest paid entertainer. He was, no doubt, a phenomenal singer and dancer who was so smooth that at times he seemed boneless! But he is not worthy of the mantel “hero.” Yet his sad story has dominated the news for more weeks than anyone should have to endure.
Though he was an international icon, and though he has been practically deified, there are so many troubling things about Michael Jackson that exempt him from being a role model. He lived a strange, isolated life. He spent enormous amounts of money on prescription drugs. His conduct with children (a fifty year old man sleeping with little boys) was outrageous even if he was never convicted of having sex with children in two consecutive criminal trials in the same decade. The constant crotch grabbing in his performances, not to mention his wearing lipstick, blush, and eye liner, are all bizarre. His countless cosmetic surgeries were disturbing. Jackson was famous for blurring the lines of race, gender and age. Yet amidst all his changes, he sadly lost his sense of identity and did not know who he was. Despite his real contributions in entertainment, his life and death were incredibly sad.
Contrast his achievements with that of another moon walker.
The Apollo moon missions were great adventures. Each mission went further. Apollo 7 circled the earth. Apollo 8 flew around the moon. Apollo 11 sent a landing craft to the lunar surface and a man walked out onto its dust on July 20, 1969.
It was an extraordinary fete in so many ways. I think of it as a triumph of vision—from JFK’s first announcement that we will put a man on the moon, to actually doing it nine years later. I think of it as a demonstration of possibilities—look at all we can do if we just put our minds to it. Beyond that, it was an amazing achievement of teamwork—how could it have been possible without large teams working together? And finally, it was an immense act of bravery for those astronauts who signed up.
There was the danger of the trip itself—almost 250,000 miles—the longest manned space mission ever undertaken. Besides that, the trip involved travel to the far side of the moon, where all radio contact with the earth was broken. No human had ever been there before. Then came the separation from the command module and the descent to the moon, each with their own hazards. Next, a man walked out of the ship into an alien environment. Neil Armstrong took that historic step onto the moon’s surface—“one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” For the astronauts, the celebration was short lived. The trip home was filled with risk. There was the challenge of a lift off from the moon and a reconnection to the mother ship. And there was the long trip back home—another 250,000 miles.
Perhaps my favorite memory that year, was not the Apollo 11 mission, but the Apollo 8 mission seven months before. Until then, no one had seen the far side of the moon. No one had seen an “earthrise.” And no one had seen the earth as a small, blue planet, juxtaposed against the desolate surface of our nearest celestial neighbor.
On that Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, when the world was also watching, the three astronauts—William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Boreman, read a Christmas greeting to the world with no apology for saying “Christmas” and no apology for what they were reading. They read the first ten verses from the Bible, Genesis 1.1-10, which took on new meaning.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light……….”
Such spectacular moments are worth remembering this week. They call to mind real moon walking and a true heroism rooted in reality—the reality of a God who is there.