Fifty years ago today, Neil Armstrong did something that no human being had ever done before. He stood on the moon.
And this coming Friday, James Lovelock will celebrate his 100thbirthday.
There’s a connection between the two events.
I remember watching the moon landing, July 20, 1969. Official records say it happened at 10:56 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. I know our family clustered around a TV set, peering at a snowstorm of grainy black-and-white images. So we must have let our children stay up late to watch history being made.
The audio quality barely let us discern Armstrong’s words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Amazingly, some people still believe the moon landing was faked. That it all took place in a movie studio somewhere. You’d think hoaxers could achieve a better quality image. But no, that too is part of the hoax, to make it more convincing.
Some people can find a conspiracy behind anything that doesn’t match their preconceptions. Or misconceptions.
In a Washington Post story, Susan Svrluga documented the venomous messages sent by people who believe that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was faked as an attack on gun ownership. They accuse grieving parents of faking death certificates, of being paid actors for gun control lobbies.
Ditto for the mass murders at Marjorie Steinman Middle School in Florida. At Virginia Tech. At Columbine.
And the biggest conspiracy theories of all involve the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Interestingly, conspiracy theorists have no reluctance to use orbiting satellites to transmit their messages of disbelief all around the world. But they won’t believe photos taken by orbiting satellites that clearly show the remains of Armstrong’s lunar lander still there on the moon.
But enough about conspiracy theories.
James Lovelock turned 50, six days after the moon landing.
NASA did not plan that coincidence, although Lovelock was working for NASA in those days, developing chemical tests that NASA would later use for detecting the possibility of life on Mars.
As an outcome of that work, Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis proposed that this earth is itself a living thing. Or, to quote Wikipedia, “that the living and non-living parts of the Earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.”
Humans are living organisms, although most of our physical body’s cells are not human. Any local environment has dozens of plants and animals living in a complex equilibrium. In the same way, Lovelock argued, the many life forms found in the biosphere of earth, air, and water function as a living organism.
Carbon-dioxide breathing plants emit oxygen as waste; oxygen breathing animals emit carbon dioxide. They need each other to sustain life.
Briefly put, all life depends on all life.
Lovelock and Margulis called it the Gaia hypothesis, taking the name from Greek mythology about a super-goddess who gave birth to everything – even the other gods.
Caring with compassion
Inevitably, a certain number of people denounce the Gaia notion as far-fetched, unlikely, even impossible.
Because it looks like goddess worship.
Because it is not biblical.
Or because it violates their preconceptions, commonly expressed as definitions,. Most dictionaries define life as having “the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”Because a planet cannot grow or reproduce itself, therefore it cannot be a living thing.
But it can certainly change. And it can die. Which would imply that it must be alive now.
Unquestionably, this planet will die when the sun eventually explodes and incinerates the inner solar system. Even before that, we humans are hustling earth towards life-threatening and potentially terminal illness.
I like the Gaia concept. I accept that the earth is currently in pain, as the effects of too many humans and too much technology upset its delicate equilibrium. I’m convinced that only when we learn to think of the earth as a living thing will we learn to limit the harm we do to it.
Thus the coincidences come together. Armstrong’s moon landing taught us that this earth is home, in a way that the moon can never be. Photos taken by cosmonauts showed us how beautiful, how fragile, how irreplaceable this “small blue marble” in the blackness of space really is. And Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis gives us a rationale for treating this earth as a living being, just like us, rather than as an inanimate resource.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Thank you all for your expressions of sympathy. Last week’s column about ouir dog Phoebe came from the heart, and so did your letters – all 32 of them! I won’t attempt to list all your letters, or even all your names, but thank you.
At least five of you (I didn’t keep an official count) sent me, or drew my attention to, a poem/meditation called “Rainbow Bridge,” about a place where our beloved pets wait for us at the entrance to heaven, so that we can romp in there together.
And many of you shared your own experiences of having to end the life of someone who was more than just a resident in your house. They were family members. Indeed, they were integral parts of you yourself. Again, thank you for being willing to share your own vulnerability. I shed a few tears myself, reading your stories.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.