RAMBLER OF THE WEEK
This week’s Rambler of the Week is a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned. This week we witnessed the passing of one of the greatest heroes of my generation: John Glenn.
It is hard to express what it was like to see rockets and astronauts and to watch on our black and white and early color TV’s as Mission Control counted down to lift-off and we saw those blazing missiles soar into the sunlit skies over Florida. To imagine what it must have been like to look down on our planet from above for the first time in the history of the world. To express the breathless anxiety we felt as we awaited the return of our space heroes to splash down and be recovered at the end of their journey.
And it all started here in the U.S.A. with John Glenn. Fellow astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom had achieved suborbital missions previously, but it was only after ten launches were postponed because of weather and mechanical problems, on February 20, 1962 that John Glenn finally made it into earth orbit, catching up with the achievement of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who had made the journey not quite a year earlier. On that historic day for the U.S., Glenn launched 160 miles into space and orbited the world three times at 17,500 miles per hour.
Our own Jeff Dunn is himself an Ohio boy (and the American hero who founded these Saturday Ramblings). He grew up in those glory days of the space program, and has written a heartfelt paragraph of tribute for his greatest hero.
As I walked to meet John Glenn in July of 2003, I struggled in my mind as to how to address him. Colonel Glenn? Senator Glenn? Both were appropriate, but neither seemed enough. After all, this man was the first American to circle the earth in space. He was one of the most decorated fighter pilots of both WWII and the Korean War. He had served my state as a senator for 24 years. What should I call him?
I was meeting him in advance of introducing him on stage to a crowd of thousands who came to hear him speak during Ohio’s celebration of the centennial of flight. I walked up the door of a small house where a security person was standing talking to a woman with a clipboard. Maybe one of them would know how I should address this living legend. But as soon as I gave my name I was taken inside and ushered into a room with an elderly man and woman standing hand-in-hand. The man reached out his other hand to shake mine and said simply, “Hi, I’m John. This is my wife, Annie.” It was as if I were talking to them after service in the Baptist church a block down the street where I had attended for years. He was kind, genuine, warm—every bit the gentleman. “Just call me John.”
John Glenn was my greatest hero. And I would dare say he was my generation’s last hero. He traveled where no other American, and only one other human, had gone. Yes, seven years later another Ohioan would set foot where no other human being had walked. Yet there was something about John Glenn that set him apart from Neil Armstrong. Armstrong returned from the moon and withdrew to a farm in my hometown of Lebanon, Ohio. Glenn wanted to return to space, but President Kennedy ordered that he remain on earth lest something should happen to America’s hero. So instead he invested his life into helping people through politics. I remember voting for him in the 1984 presidential primaries. I knew he wouldn’t beat Reagan if he received his party’s nomination. A ticket of George Washington/Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have beat Reagan in his re-election bid. So why did I vote for Glenn? Because he was John Freakin’ Glenn, that’s why.
One story out of a million that could be told about Glenn involves another of America’s heroes, the great Ted Williams. Williams took time out of his brilliant baseball career to fly combat missions in both WWII and Korea. While in Korea, he served as Glenn’s wingman, and credited Glenn with saving his life after his plane was hit by enemy fire. Williams was not known to be a religious man and admitted that he didn’t pray. At least, not until February 20, 1962 when Glenn lifted off into space. “Then,” said Williams, “I did say a prayer for John Glenn.”
Our last hero. There are certainly many great women and men who are alive today, saints-in-the-making, who have great stories to tell. But none who lived as great a life as John Glenn. Godspeed, John Glenn.
More about John Glenn:
- Here is John Glenn’s obituary from the Columbus (OH) Dispatch.
- Here is an image gallery of Glenn and his remarkable career.
- Here is a nice piece from the Washington Post about John’s relationship with his wife Annie. And here is another, offering tribute with regard to their “great marriage.”
- Here is an article from RNS about Glenn’s faith and how he reconciled that with his scientific endeavors.
- Here is a touching tribute to his boyhood hero from former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Howard Wilkinson, which was written in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s first space flight.
- Given our cynical age, is it possible John Glenn was the last great American hero?
Finally, here’s an video overview from the BBC on our Rambler of the Week and great American hero. GODSPEED, JOHN GLENN!
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THE CHURCH LOSES A “CLASSIC”
We must mention another death this past week. Theologian Thomas Oden, who coined the term “paleo-orthodox” and advocated a “classical Christianity,” died at age 85.
I encourage everyone to read this 1990 interview with Christopher Hall at CT called, “Back to the Fathers,” in which Oden explains how he moved from advocating more trendy theological positions and perspectives to appreciating and affirming the faith represented in the Church Fathers and the consensus of the early church.
In that interview, this description of how he would like to be remembered:
CT: You have told about a dream in which you were walking in the New Haven cemetery. You came across your own tombstone and the epitaph read, “He made no new contribution to theology.” Were you happy or distressed to read that?
TO: In my dream I was extremely pleased, for I realized I was learning what Irenaeus meant when he warned us not to invent new doctrine. This was a great discovery for me. All my education up to this point had taught me that I must be compulsively creative. If I was to be a good theologian I had to go out and do something nobody else ever had done. The dream somehow said to me that this is not my responsibility, that my calling as a theologian could be fulfilled through obedience to apostolic tradition.
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BRRR! GET READY FOR THE POLAR VORTEX
I just returned from Scottsdale, Arizona, where I spent a few days basking in the sunshine and temperatures around 70 degrees. Then I flew to Denver, where the temperature was 8 degrees. And now I read that a very unwanted visitor is about to invade the Midwest where I live next week, bringing cold I don’t want to even imagine, must less negotiate every day.
The dreaded Polar Vortex is about to attack.
After a chilly, snowy weekend and a brief stretch of slightly milder weather early next week, the next cold blast will invade the northern Plains and Upper Midwest by the middle of the week. The frigid air will eventually make its way to the East Coast and Southeast by week’s end.
The cold will be similar in scale and magnitude to the infamous January 2014 Polar Vortex, meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics, tweeted Wednesday.
The Polar Vortex is a large area of cold air high up in the atmosphere that normally lives over the poles (as its name suggests) but — thanks to a meandering jet stream — parts of the vortex can slosh down into North America, helping to funnel unspeakably cold air into the central and eastern U.S., like what’s forecast next week.
Just how cold could it get? High temperatures may only reach the single digits for much of the upper Midwest, including Chicago, on Wednesday and Thursday, the Weather Channel said.
“If the GFS were to pan out, we would be in record territory for cold,” the National Weather Service in Chicago said, referring to the Global Forecast System, one of the many computer models that forecasts weather.
“If you have not gotten your hats and gloves and scarves out yet … this is time to do it,” the weather service said in an online forecast.
I wanna go back to Arizona!
Please? Pretty please?
• • •
NO, NO, NO! STOP DOING THIS, PLEASE.
Brian Moss is senior pastor of Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Salisbury, Maryland. He blogs at Next Level Leadership. In attempting to reach out to the “unchurched” in their community, Brian and his church came up with the following list of general characteristics they need to keep in mind. Not every family, of course, fits all these, but these are general trends in the culture of families that they have noticed. In his article, Moss suggests that these represent a “radical cultural shift” in the past 16 years, when they began making these observations.
- They are a blended home.
- They are spiritually mismatched.
- They are financially strapped.
- They are “over-calendared.”
- They are biblically illiterate.
- They are ethnically diverse.
- They have a special-needs child.
- 1 in 5 have experienced some form of trauma in the home.
- They want to be successful.
- They are spiritually hungry.
Well, Brian (and a multitude of other churches who look at their unchurched neighbors like this), allow me to respond with some observations of my own.
- All of these (except often #6) are the exact same characteristics we see in “churched” families. Do you know your church families?
- I have no idea what you mean when you say there has been a “radical culture shift” in the last 16 years that has given birth to these characteristics. With a few changes in emphasis (#4 is certainly more pronounced where I live, for example) this list sounds like the majority of American families I’ve observed during most of my adult life since the 1970’s. But in some ways it fits the notion of “American decline” that makes many Christians nervous about the changes in society they perceive.
- “1 in 5” have experienced trauma? What world are you living in? Maybe 3 in 5. Maybe 4.
- Since when has wanting to be successful and being spiritually hungry represented a “radical cultural shift”?
In brief, this is another one of those white suburban evangelical faux-analytical approaches to “trying to ‘understand’ our neighbors so that we can make them like us.”
Please, for all who look at their communities like this and think, “This is what ‘THEY’ are like,” get out of your church buildings and start spending the majority of your time in the real world. Please!
Stop “strategizing.” Start living in your actual community. Listen well. Get to know real people and their stories.
• • •
OH, DINOSAUR FEATHERS!
Unearthed by amber hunters in Myanmar (Burma), a specimen has finally provided a link between feathers and identifiable dinosaur bones. Amber is the hardened resin from trees, and in this case it not only trapped feathers in its ooze but also eight vertebral segments as well as soft tissues of a dinosaur.
X-ray images revealed that no ancient bird grew this tail. The tail tip belonged to a two-legged dinosaur called a theropod. “We can tell that this specimen came from a theropod dinosaur because the tail is flexible and the vertebrae articulate with each other, instead of being fused together to form a solid rod — which is a characteristic of modern birds and their closest relatives,” [Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada] said. Specifically, the researchers hypothesized the animal was a type of dinosaur called a coelurosaur, and likely a juvenile.
Scientists like McKellar are hopeful that spectacular fossils will continue to be pulled from Burmese amber mines, granting us more insight into these and other ancient creatures.
• • •
QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
• • •
IT’S THE MOST <AWKWARD> TIME OF THE YEAR
Time for another round of “family Christmas photos you can’t turn away from because they are so much like a gruesome traffic accident…”
“Oh, deck the fam with holiday towels, Fa la la la la, la la la la…”
“All I want for Christmas is my own tombstone, my own tombstone…”
“Bells on alpaca ring, making spirits bright…”
A scene from the Stephen King Christmas movie
A scene from the Gene Kelly Christmas movie
A scene from the Ingmar Bergman Christmas movie
Elves on a shelf?
“All is calm, all is [not so] bright”
Maybe, if Christmas were “Buddha-mas”