Category: Faith

Fifty years ago today Apollo 11 took Neil & Buzz—and Communion elements—to the moon

Image of Apollo 11 Communion sculpture

On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission was launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 9:32 a.m. EDT.

Today marks its 50th anniversary. Newspapers, magazines, and the Internet are full of remembrances of the event that captivated the attention of the world as Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. became the first humans to set foot on a celestial body other than earth.

What was not as frequently reported at the time—and not as often remembered today—is that the first liquid poured and the first food eaten on the moon were the elements of communion, the bread and the wine that Jesus Christ commanded His followers to take in memory of Him until He returns (Luke 22:19-20).

After Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Eagle at Tranquility Base on July 20, there were a few hours of rest scheduled before they opened the lander’s hatch and made their historic descent onto the lunar surface. Aldrin, an elder at Webster Presbyterian, just outside of Houston, used a few moments of that down time to observe The Lord’s Supper.

Aldrin wrote about the experience for Guidepost magazine, explaining that he and his pastor, Dean Woodruff, “had been struggling to find the right symbol for the first lunar landing. We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets.”

“I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing Himself there too, as man reached out into the universe. For there are many of us in the NASA program who do trust that what we are doing is part of God’s eternal plan for man.”

Aldrin and his pastor planned the communion celebration together. Aldrin explained, “I could carry the bread in a plastic packet, the way regular inflight food is wrapped. And the wine also–there will be just enough gravity on the moon for liquid to pour. I’ll be able to drink normally from a cup.

The astronaut’s pastor even provided the cup, which he showed to Aldrin, who tested its weight. “I hefted it,” he wrote, “and was pleased to find that it was light enough to take along. Each astronaut is allowed a few personal items on a flight; the wine chalice would be in my personal-preference kit.”

image of the personal kit for Buzz Aldrin.
Apollo astronauts could carry small personal items to the moon. The Communion cup and bread rode along with Aldrin in his kit.

Pastor Dean made plans for two special communion services at Webster. One would be held with Aldrin, just before he left Houston for the launch at Cape Kennedy. “The second,” Aldrin wrote, “would take place two weeks later, Sunday, July 20, when Neil Armstrong and I were scheduled to be on the surface of the moon. On that Sunday the church back home would gather for communion, while I joined them as close as possible to the same hour, taking communion inside the lunar module, all of us meaning to represent in this small way not only our local church but the Church as a whole.”

Aldrin wrote that he gave considerable thought to the passage of Scripture he would read for the occasion before settling on John 15:5, in which Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” “It seemed to fit perfectly,” Aldrin wrote, adding, “I wrote the passage on a slip of paper to be carried aboard Eagle along with the communion elements. Dean would read the same passage at the full congregation service held back home that same day.”

Both sides of the card containing the Scripture and Aldrin’s prepared comments for the lunar communion service. According to Heritage Auctions, which listed the handwritten card in a 2007 auction (It appears to still be available), “The verses [Aldrin] would have liked to have read [publicly, over the air, from the moon] are found at the top of [one] side of this handwritten card: “An [sic] Jesus said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’ [John 15:5]” There are additional, and very appropriate, verses beneath in a different ink that Aldrin did actually quote three days later during a TV broadcast by the astronauts aboard Columbia the evening before they splashed down safely in the Pacific. He writes: “Psalm 8: v. 3,4 ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest Him?'” Photo from Heritage Auctions, HA.com

After the historic landing, as the men prepared for the next phase of their mission. Aldrin spoke to the ground crew back on earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he said. “I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

Aldrin described the scene in his own words:

“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture [Jesus’ words in John 15]: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit.’”

Armstrong observed quietly but did not participate.

Aldrin continued, “I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madalyn Murray [O’Hair], the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

It’s also interesting to realize that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the earth and the moon — as Colossians 1:16-17 tells us, “For by Him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

Fifty years on, the lunar missions remain among the most reported and analyzed events of our—or perhaps, any—time. They still fascinate, inform, and inspire us. And for Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., and several of his pioneering colleagues, they were not only a triumph of science and engineering, and humanity’s first steps into the cosmos. They were something more—a chance to see the creation and appreciate The Creator with renewed awe and wonder.

Postscript:
Over the years, Aldrin has described his Communion experience on the moon several times, including an August, 1969 interview with LIFE magazine, an October, 1970 Guideposts article, and in his 1973 book, Return to Earth. Webster Presbyterian Church will hold its 50th Lunar Communion Celebration later this week, on July 21, 2019. Learn more here.

Arc of the Summer Moon

The Arc of the Summer Moon door topper is an original sculpture from salvaged 19th century oak barn wood. Acrylic paint, salvaged wood, cut wood.

In ancient times, the Israelite king, David, wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” Created from salvaged 19th century oak barn wood and hardwood cut from the woods near the artist’s studio, The Arc of the Summer Moon door topper is an original sculpture capturing the peaceful twilight of a summer evening. The moon’s low, lazy arc across the sky is a reminder of the arc of our lives. As it appears to rise up out of the earth, so we were created from the soil of earth, formed by the hand of God Himself, made in His own image, and filled with life from His own breath. And as the moon sets, it looks to us as if it returns to the earth, just as we will—dust to dust.
But in between its rising and setting, it does one thing superbly well—it reflects the light of the sun, and in doing that, it brightens our evenings and nights, spilling its light into the darker places, inspiring, and freely sharing its beauty with any who will glance its way. And isn’t that a picture of what God has designed each of us to do?

This piece by Stephen Rountree is created with acrylic paint, salvaged wood, cut wood and hand stamped with the opening words of David’s Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Wherever it’s displayed, it is a uniquely beautiful reminder of this timeless truth: We get one arc across the sky—one life. And it’s not how, or when, we rise or set, but how well we’ve reflected the light of Son along our way.

First piece in a new series celebrates life

Image of Celebrate Life, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood by Patti Jones.

Take Time to Stop & Smell the Roses: Appreciating the little things

I am a breast cancer survivor. As I work on this Wire People collection, “Childhood Memories,” I am reminded that as terrible as breast cancer is, it can never take away your precious memories. This collection is dedicated to my mom and grandmother. My grandmother was diagnosed before I was born and passed away when I was a young girl. My mom received her diagnosis last summer at the age of 88 and is a strong fighter and woman of great faith.
I want this series to be a tribute to all the women who have struggled through the nightmare of breast cancer— from those who bravely fought, and lost their battle, to those who are still pressing on for themselves and the ones they love.
So, hidden in each sculpture is a tiny breast cancer ribbon symbol. The first piece is called Celebrate Life. Cancer made me appreciate the little things. I make sure I take life a little slower now—to stop and smell the roses, if you will. The air smells a little fresher, the sky seems a deeper blue, and the roses have a sweeter smell. Whether we’re eight or eighty, fighting cancer or cancer free, life is short. And beautiful. Appreciate it for all it’s worth.

Welcome to Inspiring Handmade

In Christ sculpture in progress

We created Inspiring Handmade to celebrate original art and crafts—work on which we can feast our eyes and feed our souls.

We’re a group of artists and makers who believe that everyone is creative because we are all made in the image of The Creator of heaven and earth. We all have the spark of creation in us somewhere. And we all have a built-in, hard wired need to dwell on our Creator, to commune with Him.

Here, we explore the creative process of making original art—sculpture, painting, textile art and all sorts of craft work. And we celebrate unique and beautiful original creations which inspire us to be makers ourselves as we spend time with our Creator.

Inherent in the Inspiring Handmade vision is a secret from the book of Philippians. If you’re like us, you sometimes struggle to keep life from dragging you down. Seems there’s always too much to do, with no quiet time—no mental margin to just be still and rest.

Instead, explosions of images, text, and sound bombard our eyes and ears nearly every day, blasting their way into our minds. Emails, texts and instant messages merge with Facebook posts, 24/7 news blasts, and the latest cat video into a swelling spray of mental flak that shatters our peace.

Psychologists have coined various terms for this—information overload, infobesity, infoxication and others. Xerox even produced an amusing video on the subject a few years ago. You can see it here.

But jokes aside, mental flak can have negative consequences, deforming us into distracted, unproductive, ineffective, and inattentive people.

We don’t have to accept this as the norm, however. God offers peace and rest—a place of quiet shelter, like a cave hidden behind a deafening waterfall. He invites us inside, encouraging us to refuse to be conformed to the world’s patterns and behaviors. He offers a different way because our Maker, after all, has His own perfect pattern for our lives. We don’t have to remain pinned down under a hail of mental flak. God promises that we can be transformed. We can have our tired, frazzled minds renewed.

And that’s the big secret—one of the great treasures of Philippians found in chapter four verse eight. There we’re encouraged with these words: “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul then follows up with the results of dwelling on these things, adding in verse nine, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Did you catch the promise there? “And the God of peace will be with you.”

In a world where we constantly receive information—often of the distressing variety—via an overwhelming number of channels, it’s more crucial than ever that we develop a habit of thinking on the true, the honorable, the pure, and anything that is praiseworthy.

When we surround ourselves with things that build up rather than tear down—art, writing, music, other people—we’re putting Philippians 4:8 into practice. We’re also putting ourselves in a place where God can recalibrate our sensitivities, and reinvigorate us. And that’s when we’ll experience genuine rest in the true peace that only comes from the ultimate Maker Himself.

Stop back in anytime to celebrate the creative and rest in the Creator!

The extraordinary from the ordinary

One of the "In Christ" sculptures set on an old oak log.

Do you consider yourself creative? Do you find pleasure in making things? Maybe you spend free hours practicing a certain craft. Perhaps you paint, or draw, or design things. Or maybe you’re someone who says, “I’m not very creative,” because you don’t do any of those things.

Creativity, however, is not only about making fine art or amazing crafts. It’s a built-in quality of our humanity and can be found wherever the spark of human touch has been added to even the simplest things or places. To begin to see this we’ll look at someone widely considered a true artist, a man who would meet nearly everyone’s definition of “creative.”

British artist John Constable (1776 – 1837) is among my favorite painters. Through his paintings, he elevated the mundane to prominence, a place of admiration and praise.

The Hay Wain (1821), probably Constable’s most famous painting, is based on the landscape in Suffolk, near Flatford on the River Stour. A hay wain, which is a type of horse-drawn cart, is pictured in the water in the painting’s foreground. A simpler, more ordinary scene would be hard to find. Yet by rendering it with his oils and brushes, Constable causes us to contemplate it nearly 200 years later.

The Hay Wain is part of the artist’s early series of six-foot-wide Stour River paintings.

Similarly, the painter’s Wivenhoe Park showcases one of his famous cloudscapes rolling over a tranquil pasture. There’s nothing exciting happening here, and yet I always see a new detail every time I look at these works. It’s as if Constable is reaching across the centuries, guiding my eyes across his work, saying, “Take a look at these ripples on the water’s surface,” or “See what I did there with that bit of sunlight? Look! It appears so ordinary, but it’s really extraordinary!”

John Constable’s Wivenhoe Park, Essex (1816) oil on canvas.

According to commentary from the National Gallery of Art, “Constable believed the Stour valley had set him on the path to his life’s work, and he chose it as his primary subject for much of his career. The area became so associated with his painting that even during his lifetime it was called “Constable Country.” That’s the power of creativity. An entire region of Great Britain elevated in the consciousness of the world because Constable turned the ordinary into the extraordinary through his creative touch.

Acknowledged or not, people everywhere share one thing in common: we are all creations of an awesomely creative God. In turn, each of us is creative in unique ways. Some, like Constable, express that through visual arts. Others through music, or writing. One may arrange flowers, while another shares notes of encouragement. Still others leverage the creative power of mathematics and engineering to solve problems on earth and transport us to the stars. Each is a creative act at its core.

We can’t help but be creative because we are made in the image of the ultimate creative being, originally fashioned from ordinary dirt. The extraordinary from the ordinary. Like a potter forming a clay vessel, God designed us and formed us into existence. The Scriptures show us His magnificent, limitless acts of creation — from His speaking the universe into existence in Genesis to glimpses of His heavenly realm in Revelation.

But I’ve realized that God is not only the Creator. He is the Re-creator. The Reclaimer.

As we approach Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, allow the Passion week to focus your thoughts on the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made to take our sins — and the righteous wrath of The Father — upon Himself. Consider how much it cost God to be able to judge our sin but also to show us mercy and offer us forgiveness.

And this year, I’ve been reflecting on how amazingly creative God is in all of this. Not only was God creative in bringing us into existence, He was just as creative in reclaiming us from the power of sin. Consider just a few highlights from the account of the Passion week and see for yourself how God re-creates and transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

  • Like the painterly touch of Constable draws us to contemplate a cow pasture or a hay wagon 200 years on, God’s loving, creative power draws us to meditate on a simple garden. Why? Because He transformed it into a reminder of the decision each of us faces about whether to obediently follow God. How will we respond to the call to faithfulness? Read more in Matthew 26:30-75.
  • A meager meal of bread and juice, touched by The Lord, becomes a lasting reminder of our Savior’s deep love and sacrifice. Read more in Matthew 26:17-30.
  • His loving, creative power even 2,000 years on, focuses our vision on a simple wooden Cross — a thing of agony and humiliation — transformed into a symbol of sacrifice, mercy, and unimaginable forgiveness. Read more in Matthew 27:32-61.
  • The designer of the human body, that Good Friday, reclaimed corpses from their graves, transforming them into living testimonies of the power of God. Read more in Matthew 27:50-53.
  • And He turned a simple newly cut grave, really just a hole in a rocky hill, into an eternal symbol of His power and absolute victory over death. Read more in Matthew 28.

Creativity. Creation. Re-creation. Reclaimed from destruction. That’s the story of this season.

Messengers & Messages

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

I don’t text a whole lot. But when I do, I only type with my right index finger. Teenagers I know use both their thumbs and type blazingly fast. My kids make fun of me for the way I text. That’s life. When I receive a text, it’s usually from my wife, or a close friend or family member. Those messages are important. Of course, my wife’s are the most important! But all this got me thinking about messages of the non-instant variety — messages that come from the most important one of all — the Creator of this world, God Himself.

If you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials of the 1980s, you might remember this line:
“… Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and he said…”
Immediately, everyone around the speaker leans in, eager to hear his next words as the commercial voiceover says, “ When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when the Creator of this amazing universe has something to say, I want to hear it. And that’s when I started thinking about Jonah.

You’ll see a few different versions of Jonah and the Whale in the Salvaged Messengers series.

Why am I drawn to the story of Jonah and the whale (or the fish, or whatever)? Because even though Jonah made mistakes (big ones), God still used him as His messenger.

You can read his short story for yourself in the Old Testament book of the Bible that bears his name. When you check it out, you’ll see how God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (near modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to deliver some bad news to the Assyrians. They were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Not a very popular message. Many historians count Assyria to be among the first superpowers of the ancient world. Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran. But his running from The Lord and his appointed task wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This sculpture of Jonah in the whale is created from salvaged barn wood (circa 1905) from my cousin’s farm in southwest Virginia’s Giles County. The deep grain creates a challenge for hand stamping the Scripture, but the striking look that results is worth the extra work. Aside from the wood, the piece also uses wire, acrylic paint, and varnish.

By the end of the story (spoiler alert), Jonah had delivered his message, and much to his surprise, the citizens of Ninevah not only listened to him, but believed him and repented, just as God commanded them.

God’s message got through, thanks to, and in spite of, Jonah. And, like all of God’s messages, it was ultimately life-giving, life-affirming, and life-preserving. The entire city was saved and its citizens enjoyed a renewed relationship with God.

That’s the power of messages from the Creator of the universe and that’s the power that messengers carry, no matter how flawed we are! Listening to God and doing what He says brings blessing, renewal and incredible purpose into our lives. Beware! This little book in the Bible is packed with truth no matter which way you’re running in life.

Wires & wood

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This Salvaged Messenger sculpture shows Jonah in the belly of a whale. Whether it was a whale or a fish, as some translations say, Jonah was hard at work praying to God. And who wouldn’t be praying in that situation? What’s your whale?

This Salvaged Messenger sculpture shows Jonah in the belly of a whale. Whether it was a whale or a fish, as some translations say, Jonah was hard at work praying to God. And who wouldn’t be praying in that situation? What’s your whale?

What are Salvaged Messengers?

Salvaged Messengers is the name of a series of sculptures created from found and reclaimed wood — wood that was destined for the the trash heap or the fire. That’s the “salvaged” part. Each sculpture is imprinted with a message from Scripture or an encouraging or challenging thought inspired by God’s Word. That’s the “messenger” part. Salvaged Messengers are also the drawings and sketches that become part of the birth of a sculpture. And, at their heart, Salvaged Messengers are you and me, and anyone else who has a heart to receive and share the love that God has for His creatures. The heart of God’s message is always love. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse of the entire Bible. “For God so loved …” is the way it begins. What did God love? “… the world …” it continues. How much did He love the world? So much that “… He gave His only Son …” And why would God do that? So “…that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” That message of hope and love is the reason why John 3:16 is the most well-known, most frequently quoted verse in all of Scripture. The most well-known hymn has a similar message. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” John Newton knew the truth about himself and all people. We are lost and headed for destruction — totally separated from God. But God loves us and desperately wants a relationship with us. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, He finds us and reclaims us for Himself. He salvages us and imprints on our hearts His message of love. No matter what you’re going through today, God loves you and desires to have you move closer to Him. He can and will salvage the parts of our lives we find to be the most hopeless. We are His works of art — in progress — but being sculpted and painted by the Master Himself. Salvaged Messengers — courtesy of a saving, loving God.