December 2, 2020

Walking On The Moon

I am a geek when it comes to the Wright Brothers and manned space flight, as much of this history goes through Dayton, Ohio (near where I was born and raised) and vicinity. I have several dozen books on Wilbur and Orville as well as the space program. I consider going to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patt Air Force Base to be a highlight of any trip back home.

I can remember exactly where I was in July of 1969 when I watched on television men actually walk on the moon. I ran outside and looked up at the moon, then back in to see Armstrong and Aldrin walking on that same moon on our TV. Back and forth I went, amazed to think that those two men were actually up there right now, walking on the moon’s surface.

Twelve men walked on the surface of the moon during the Apollo missions. (The Apollo program lasted just a little over three years. Three years, twelve men. Yes, I get it.) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, Jim Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt. Conrad, Shepard and Irwin are all dead. The youngest of the remaining nine, Duke and Schmitt, are 75 years old. Other than Neil Armstrong–and maybe Buzz Aldrin–most school kids today could not name any of these pioneers.

Each of these men walked where no other created creature has been. Their footprints remain on the moon’s surface today. But it was on their return to earth that the enormity of their adventure set in. All twelve found life on earth to be, well, difficult to adjust to after their time on the moon. Many ended up alcoholics, divorced, uneasy with life as they had known it. They were celebrities, but shunned the spotlight. Or grabbed it and ended up saying and doing things that, well, were difficult for us earth-bound creatures to understand.

Take Armstrong. He was offered a high-ranking position with NASA, but turned it down to become an engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati. He bought a farm in my hometown of Lebanon, Ohio and kept to himself. Those who had occasion to speak to him said if you kept to a topic like farming or the weather he was pleasant enough. But even try to bring up his moon experience and he turned vicious. He and his wife of 36 years divorced when his mood swings became too much to handle. He now lives in a suburb of Cincinnati–Indian Hill–but rarely makes public appearances or talks about his walk on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man ever to walk on the moon, was reduced for a time to selling used Cadillacs in Texas.

What impacted these twelve so strongly that their lives were forever changed after walking on the moon? What made it so difficult to fit into this life after a very short life on another rock? Could it have been that, after walking where no one in recorded history had ever before walked, life on earth just didn’t matter as much?

As I studied the lives of these heroes, I began thinking about the twelve men who walked with God for a few years while He was on the Earth. The men who watched Jesus teach and heal and create. Who ate and drank with Jesus every day. When we see them throughout the rest of the New Testament–after Jesus had ascended to the right hand of the Father–we find them having a difficult time fitting in with life on earth. Look at the early church. There was a discrepancy in which widows were being fed first in the food lines. The twelve apostles scratched their heads and said, “We can’t handle this. Find some men who are good at administration to handle these kinds of things. We are pursuing God.” The church grew, not because the apostles were brilliant marketers and businessmen, but because they had walked with Jesus, because the Holy Spirit filled them with God through and through.

There are other connections with the moon that followers of Jesus may recognize. The moon, of course, does not generate light, it simply reflects light generated by the Sun. Jesus said that he only did what he saw his Father do. He said if we see him, we see the Father. Jesus is the moon, reflecting to us the Father whom we cannot look on or we would die.

Sometimes I stand outside at night and stare at the moon. (The neighbors pull back their curtains and say, “What is the matter with that boy?” But they are getting used to me…) I wonder if any of the surviving nine moonwalkers are looking at the moon at the same time. I see it as a mystery; they see it as, however temporary, their once home. And since leaving the moon, they have never been the same.

(If you don’t like the astronaut illustration, think of Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. After being buzzed by flying saucers, he just didn’t fit in with his family, his job, his neighborhood. He was haunted by a shape he just could not put his finger on. Once he did, he dangerously fought to climb Devil’s Tower because, well, he didn’t know why, did he? But his heart kept pulling him there, and he could not resist. That is what I am feeling. Does that work better than the astronauts?)

I purport to walk with Jesus. I have the Holy Spirit residing in me. Why, then, do I find it so easy to fit into this world? Why do I not stand out, not find daily life here perfectly awkward? I have walked on the moon–life on the Earth should not be the same. But too often it is.

Here is where I separate myself from the moonwalkers. I do not have to travel away from this planet in order to have my otherworldly experience. I am not waiting until I die to be able to have that close walk with Jesus. Jesus walks with us now, here. Yet I do not see him clearly. After 36 years as his follower, I still struggle to hear his voice clearly. I can look into the night sky and have no problem picking out the moon from all of the other celestial bodies. So why do I have so much trouble picking Jesus out from a crowd? When will my eyes adjust to see him as clearly as I long to see him? When will I find life on this earth strange and feel more at home on the moon?

I have the desire. Now I want the ability to walk on the moon every moment of every day.


  1. The men who came to my mind, as I read this, were the crew of the Enola Gay. I’ve read that they had similar problems afterwards.

    I think you’re right – when men do something this staggering they really no longer fit in any more. Or, to paraphrase Frodo Baggins: I have saved the shire, but not for me. I no longer belong here.

    May we walk with Christ in such a way that we know we no longer belong here.

    • Christiane says

      I think it was Augustine who said ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee’

  2. I have often pondered the experience of he Apollo astronauts. To think that you have accomplished one of the greatests feats in human history, reached the pinnacle of your existence and done the most amazing and important thing you will ever do(vocationally speaking) in your early forties,the rest of your life would seem pretty anti-climactic; all downhill from there. (As Christians we know this is not objectively true, but who among us could deal with a burden of that magnitude?)

  3. I was talking to wife last night about how we can often forget that Jesus is real.

    What I meant by that was that we can get so causght up in this and that…and forget that He;

    – walked on this very earth.
    – He was put upon a Cross
    – He healed many and performed many miracles
    – He died for my sin

    Thank you for the reminder- some 12 hours later…..

  4. Louis Winthrop says

    Interesting perspective. I suspect that the explanation is most likely to be found in the type of attitude characteristic of military pilots (which they all were).

  5. JeffA aka Kingschyld says

    Wow, what a great piece! I was sitting here running some idea through my head for a blog that I write on my church’s website. I am now stunned into stillness. What a great word and message Jeff.

  6. I’m with you here Jeff. I’m a big science-fiction nerd, and I wish one day that I could walk among the stars. But I have a feeling you struck something pretty profound, a sad fact of the fallen world we live in. I just hope that if my dream comes true I’m able to cope and to enjoy the small things in life that I do now: cooking a meal, sharing a laugh with friends, breathing fresh air, and reading Scripture and marveling at the beauty of His creation.

  7. I’ve thought about how the apostles, after witnessing miracle feedings, calming of storms, or mountain-top transfigurations would immediately start quarreling about bread, who was the greatest, or who would sit at the right-hand of Jesus. Even Peter, long after Pentecost, had his gaff in Antioch.

    But I think we can lose focus, like those who brought the demon-possessed child to the disciples and wondered why THEY couldn’t heal him. Like astronauts who walked on the moon, they return the way they left: human.

    But I think Paul gets to the point In Philippians 2: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Christ transforms us not in the mountaintop experience but in service to our neighbor. Encountering Christ doesn’t make it difficult to relate to others; the cross gives us new compassion for the sufferings of others.

  8. Jeff,
    I have never heard the epilogue of the moon walkers. In his book “Exiles”, Michael Frost writes about those returning from short-term missions receiving blank stares from fellow church members while relating their experiences.

    The connection to a community that surrounded us during life altering experiences often far exceeds normal church settings and we find ourselves detaching to some extent from what is typical for everyone else.

    Thanks for the story.

  9. seems to me the problem is that being on the moon hasnt made the astronauts any better at being on the earth. in jesus i find the opposite is true. being with him makes me better at being here. i dont think jesus wants us to be moonwalkers…

    • I knew a lot of jet jocks back in my AF days. Not everybody had their 15 minutes of fame (or fear), but they all were high achievers. Out to prove they were the best. Getting to the top while young, whether it be sports, body-building, acting, or whatever, leaves one plenty of time to ask the question, “Is this all there is?” Jesus challenges us to an antithetical concept of what it means to be a winner.

  10. The bit about Neil Armstron reminds me of Solomon’s book Ecclesiastes. He, too, “peaked early.” After trying everything there was to try in search of fulfillment, he comes to the conclusion that it’s all pointless. You pass away along with everything you touch, and do, and eventually even the memory of you is forgotten. In that mindset, it’s easy to see why life after some great achievement like the moon landing would be all downhill.

    That’s not where Solomn stops, though. He concludes that the simple things in life – taking joy in your work, enjoying a good meal, and resting in the knowledge of God’s wisdom and justice – are the things that bring peace and contentment.

    Maybe I’m reading more into it than there is, but that’s how I saw Armstrong’s story: don’t ask about the moon, but he’s glad to tell you about his garden.

  11. I highly recommend the film “In the Shadow of the Moon” as the best documentary I have ever seen on the subject. The interviews are insightful, the musical score is wonderful, and they even have some comments by a few astronauts regarding spiritual matters, including Charlie Duke offering a brief bit of his testimony about coming to Christ. (Note: you don’t need to be one to enjoy this documentary.)

    It’s good to hear about some positive post-moon experiences by some astronauts, like Al Bean, who seems to take more joy out of life for having been to the moon, and as an artist has expressed his journey on canvas.

    Another related tidbit that most people don’t know about (not in the film, IIRC)–Buzz Aldrin had the first lunar communion before he and Neil walked on the surface.

  12. For whatever reason my comment I tried to submit earlier today didn’t make it through.

    Anyway, I wanted to recommendation a documentary called In the Shadow of the Moon. It has great interviews with many of the Apollo astronauts, an awesome musical score, and is so very different from any other Apollo program documentary I have ever seen. It’s one of those films that you don’t have to be a spaceflight buff to enjoy.

    It also shows how the experience helped some astronauts enjoy life even more, such as Al Bean, who expresses his experiences on canvas as an artist. There’s even a brief bit where Charlie Duke shares a bit about his coming to Christ.

    • I agree–a great show for those who are students of the Apollo space program and those who have no idea of what it took to get men to the moon and back.