“I Don’t Want to Live On The Moon” (I’m Talking to Myself, But You Can Listen, If You Like)

When our two sons were small we’d watch Sesame Street with them almost every day. My favorite song from Sesame Street is “I Don’t Want to Live On The Moon,” written by Jeff Moss in 1978. Ernie sits on a crescent Moon and sings,

“Though I’d like to look down at the Earth from above,

I would miss all the places and people I love,

So although I might like it for one afternoon,

I don’t want to live on the moon.”

When I hear the song today I think first, wistfully, of those little blond-haired boys I used hold in my lap. (You can listen to it on YouTube. It has a haunting, wistful, nostalgic sound.) But I also think about my own ambivalence about public life, about being intimately involved in an institution of higher education and a local church. When I was in graduate school I read a three-volume work on the history of preaching. As I read the story of Gregory of Nazianzus, I thought, “That’s me!” Gregory wanted nothing more than to study, write, think, pray, and lead a quiet life. But the politically astute Basil of Caesarea manipulated him into becoming bishop of Nazianzus. Gregory was enlisted by Basil to engage in the most significant doctrinal battle in all of church history, the Arian controversy. And Gregory’s writings, especially his Five Theological Orations, are considered some of the finest theological writings of all time. Gregory was elected Patriarch of Constantinople and presided over the First Council of Constantinople, from which came the ecumenical Nicene Creed (381). But during the Council, the political maneuvering, conniving, and ambition became so rank in Gregory’s nostrils that he resigned in disgust and retreated into the countryside to write poetry for the rest of his life.

Like Gregory, I hate crowds, church politics, college politics, local politics, county politics, state politics, and national politics. I can’t stand any of it. I don’t want power over anyone. I want to think about my faith, seek truth, write down my thoughts, and be alone with myself and God. I identify with Kierkegaard and even Nietzsche, neither of whom fit into their age and wrote for only a few individuals or for those not yet born. Kierkegaard wrote for “the individual” and Nietzsche wrote for “my reader.” Sometimes, I feel like an alien or a resurrected member of an extinct species when interacting with institutions of modern culture. American churches have become more like businesses than communities created by the Spirit. Being a clergyman or clergywoman in an American church is a position for which one can be ambitious for reasons having nothing to do with a divine call. It takes lots of employees and volunteers just to keep the books, write the checks, and put on a “service” in the average church. And because they are businesses, own property, and wish to have non-profit tax status, they become as enmeshed with and subservient to the government as the Constantinian church that Gregory abandoned, the Danish church Kierkegaard attacked, and the German church Nietzsche scorned. None of it is necessary, of course—money, clergy, property or government entanglement. Perhaps these things are even detrimental to real Christian community. And Christian educational institutions are even more bound by government regulations and accrediting agencies’ views of morality and the purpose of education.

And when I am at my wits end in frustration with these things, I say to my wife, “I want to live on the moon! Let them have it, let them have it all. I don’t want it.” But I never actually do it, because,

“I would miss all the places and people I love,

So although I might like it for one afternoon,

I don’t want to live on the moon.”

Sometimes I think to myself “why do I write and teach and blog? No one cares, no one reads it, or, if they do read it, no one understands. Or, if they understand, they will soon forget.” And the words of Ecclesiastes come to mind (1:2-3; 11):

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”     says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!     Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

11No one remembers the former generations,

and even those yet to come will not be remembered

by those who follow them.

But then I think about the people and books that have influenced me, many of whom died long ago. Where would I be if they had gone to “live on the Moon”? I am very glad Gregory wrote the Five Theological Orations before he left for the country. I am so thankful that Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis and so many others cared enough to work so hard and love so much for people not yet born. To keep writing and teaching and putting up with various types of politics, I have to keep thinking about the “individual” that might be helped or “my reader” who might remember and not forget.

And to you “my reader” I say this: we must allow our inability to see all the fruit of our labor to discourage us from faithfully carrying out the assignment we have been given. And as hard as it is for me to be satisfied with it, this is the true measure of success—that we are doing the task we have been given to do. We must release our labor into God’s hands to do with as he wishes. It will enough to hear the Lord say, “You have done well the work I gave you to do.”

Yes, sometimes I want to live on the Moon, but…

“I would miss all the places and people I love,

So although I might like it for one afternoon,

I don’t want to live on the moon.”

And I would be abandoning my post before God gives me leave.

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10 thoughts on ““I Don’t Want to Live On The Moon” (I’m Talking to Myself, But You Can Listen, If You Like)

  1. ukelasher

    You ARE like Gregory! Thanks for the post. It’s encouraging to know that putting up with the endless politics and troubles of the church and the world is not hopeless.

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  2. falonopsahl

    These sentiments resonate deeply with me. So many times I’ve dreamed of a cottage on the shore of a remote Norwegian fjord where I can just read, think, and be in nature all day. But I know I can never contribute to the coming of God’s kingdom that way, and however simplistic that dream may seem, it is ultimately selfish and not what God hopes for me or for any of his children. The books we’ve been reading for class have really highlighted the importance of community in our relationship with God, and they have urged me to reevaluate the state of our churches, which have become, like you said, more like businesses striving for status in the political system than families that function for and because of the Spirit. God designed us to know him with and through others. Even though all of the individual parts of the body are prone to sin, corruption, and wickedness, they are vital to our individual relationships with God and our communal testimony to the world about Jesus.

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  3. ifaqtheology Post author

    One more year until your lunar landing! Augustine, in Confessions, referred to the death of his bishop friend as his “being released from service.” Whether it is here or there or “on the Moon,” it is a lifetime assignment. May you see the blossom and the fruit of your labor in the land of the living!

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  4. Sharon Vaughn

    I have to admit I sometimes struggle to understand your writings. I have to read some of them more than once and sometimes I don’t read them for a number of reasons. But I read this one and understood it clearly the first time and I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts. I liked it very much. –Sharon

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Sharon: Thank you! And thank you for your persistence in sometimes reading my essays more than once. I know–because I’ve been told more than once–that I sometimes write above the average or even above the more-than-average reader’s head. If I have an excuse it’s because I believe that there are more than enough religious writers write to stimulate the imagination and stir feelings rather than to illuminate believers’ minds and deepen their faith. I believe people are capable of so much more; and they would find it so much more rewarding to think at a deeper level about their faith. Thank you for your patience and kindness. Blessings. rh

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      I am happy that some things I say bless you in this way. If each of us would do what we could to encourage each other, the cumulative effect would be great indeed! Your comment blesses me because the reason I write is to bless others. May many springs of “living water…welling up to eternal live” pour forth into your “dry winter of life”!!! (John 4:11-13).

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  5. davissavage

    You were right, I really liked this post. And I think what you touch on in Gregory’s history, as well as your own, goes back to one of my favorite verses in Hebrews: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (11:13). I know that I frequently wish that I didn’t have to take part in the brokenness that permeates the world we live in. I can feel pretty strongly at times that this place is not truly our home as Christians. We’re just wanderers for now, on our way home. We don’t really know when we’ll get there, or what it will be like then. But it really isn’t for us to worry about, because the journey is here for a reason. I think home always feels a bit more welcoming after a long trip anyways.

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