Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield onboard the International Space Station orbiting the earth has been tweeting photos of the earth.
I along with over a quarter million other “followers” have been following Hadfield on Twitter, and checking now and then for the latest amazing photo of a mountain range in Venezuela, or a desert expanse in Africa, and even our own Waterloo region which he posted some weeks ago.
And seeing some of these amazing photos from the perspective of about 350 kms above the earth’s surface has challenged my own perspective on the way things are on the ground for me.
For example, here we are in the dead of winter, dark nights, bitterly cold temperatures, mired in the busy school and work routines of this time of year. Typically, these are days when many of us are feeling easily tired, run-off-our-feet, stressed. “Tunnel vision” begins to take over.
And then, on Twitter when I look at a recent photo of earth taken by Hadfield, something happens to my perspective.
I realize that my small, limited “world” is really part of a larger world; that there’s an amazing, beautiful world out there beyond what I can momentarily see, feel and touch; that everyone including me and you on this planet earth, by virtue of our common, shared space, is connected.
In an interview with Peter Mansbridge last week, Chris Hadfield talked of seeing the countries of Syria, and Mali – two deeply conflicted, and violent-ridden regions on earth. And while Hadfield admitted that trouble and conflict are an inevitable part of the human experience, and won’t likely be solved by space travel, he did say that if more people in conflict could see the world from his 350-kms-up-in-the-air visual perspective, that view “would do a lot of people a lot of good.”
We need to keep reminding ourselves of this larger perspective.
We need to keep acknowledging and confessing our inability to envision this larger perspective. As even Hadfield admitted, this tendency to destructive conflict is part of human nature. We all tend to allow differences to divide, break relationships, and even cause violent conflict.
We see the ease with which people can descend to division and destructive conflict in the Gospel reading today.
In his ministry, Jesus merely mentions God’s all-inclusive love – even for the “outsider”, the “foreigner”, the marginalized – and the Nazarenes all of a sudden turn ugly toward Jesus. Jesus says how during a long period of famine, God sent Elijah to help feed, of all the widows in Israel, the widow of Zarephath. And, of all lepers, God healed Naaman of Syria, a Gentile.
The Nazarenes are incensed that Jesus would even hint at God’s favour resting on the least and the lowly like the widow of Zarephath, and Naaman the Syrian. How dare Jesus lift up unclean Gentiles as ones favoured by God?!? The Nazarenes drag Jesus out of town, and want to hurl him off a cliff in their outrage.
How easily and quickly this human tendency boils up…
…this impulse to “divide and conquer”,
…to label ourselves “superior” and others “inferior,”
…to fight over who has power, prestige and wealth,
…to dismiss others and discriminate against others based on nothing more than differences in surface appearance.
Around the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, an elementary school teacher, Jane Elliot, wanted to somehow convey to her Grade three students what discrimination and prejudice was all about, in ways that Grade 3 students would get.
And so, Jane did an experiment.
She divided her Grade three class into two groups: brown-eyed kids, and blue-eyed kids.
And then, she made a shocking announcement: The brown-eyed kids were the superior ones to the blue-eyed kids. “They’re the better people in the room,” she said.
The groups were separated, and were not allowed to mix, even during recess.
The blue-eyed kids were forced to sit at the back of the classroom.
The brown-eyed kids were told they were smarter.
They were given extra time at recess.
The blue-eyed kids had to wear special collars, so that everyone would know who they were already at a distance.
Jane, the teacher was shocked at how quickly things changed in the class; how quickly her once adorable kids turned into nasty, vicious, mean third-graders, taunting each other. Friendships dissolved instantly. She said “it was ghastly.”
Then, the very next day, at the start of class, Jane announced that she’d been wrong, that it was actually the blue-eyed children who were superior, and the brown-eyed were the inferior ones.
The change was instant. An immediate reversal of behaviour between the two groups happened.
It was just incredible, already at that young age, how easily and quickly that deep-down human impulse to “divide and conquer” comes to the surface!
And just by mere suggestion! Just by the teacher simply saying that’s the way it is! How powerful our words are! To either build someone or some group up, or tear them down!
Jesus was challenging and upending the Nazarenes’ deep-seated worldview where there were two distinct groups: the “superior” ones and the “inferior” ones.
No such divisions are ever meant to exist in God’s Kingdom. This is what God has always been saying, what the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures have always attested to:
That nothing can ever separate us from God’s love – not ethnicity, background, experience, age, language, you name it – nothing can separate us from God’s love, which shines on and through anyone and everyone, especially through the least, the lost and lowly.
At another point in the interview, Peter Mansbridge asked astronaut Chris Hadfield to describe a “spiritual or religious” experience that he may’ve had being in the International Space Station. This is how Hadfield answered that question.
He described a sunrise.
He said, that one night in the dark, as they were flying eastward over Canada, just north of the Great Lakes towards the Maritimes, he was just able to see the lights of Quebec City and the shape of the Gaspe peninsula moving towards Newfoundland and Labrador.
And then, just as St John’s came into view, the sun burst over the horizon.
Not just the sudden brightness of it, and the explosion of colours and heat of the sun, but the profound beauty of it all, he said, brought him to tears.
The image of the sun at sunrise, flooding the earth with light and warmth, is a great image for us, as we think about God, shining the light of God’s love on all people, filling the earth, filling our hearts with light, and truth, wisdom and grace,
…moving us to see the presence of God working in and through others, especially through the least expected,
…and moving us to respond to the very real needs of those right in our midst.