Finding Meaning

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The Right Stuff

By Skip Hellewell

The meaning of religion is found in the most interesting places. Last Sunday I worshipped at St. Mary’s Episcopal, where a friendly conversation turned to former Laguna resident, Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin, actually of Emerald Bay, was the second man, after Neil Armstrong, to stand on the moon. Who doesn’t remember Commander Armstrong’s simple announcement of a complex achievement, “the Eagle has landed?” It was recalled in our chat that Aldrin, with the prior help of his pastor, had quietly celebrated communion there in the heavens as his spacecraft circled the moon.

This reminded us of the Apollo 8 mission, the first flight to reach and orbit the moon, that also caught the unexpected beauty of a blue earth rising over the moon’s desolate horizon in the iconic photo known as “Earthrise.” The Apollo 8 astronauts had been advised to consider what message they might share, as the drama of reaching the moon and doing it on Christmas Eve would likely give them the greatest live audience of world history. Their response was to simply read from the first verses of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…”

Former Emerald Bay resident, Buzz Aldrin, walks on the moon on July 20, 1969. Photo courtesy of NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

All this happened in the time of the Cold War, a contest between the systems of government of the U.S. and the USSR for world preeminence. It was more than a battle between communism and democracy, it was also the test of state atheism against western religiosity. The Space Race was a notable campaign of the Cold War. It began in 1957, with the USSR ‘s surprise launch of Sputnik I, their attempt to dominate the “high ground” of space. The USSR made the mistake of publicizing the achievement as proof of their superiority, not appreciating that in a contest of creative discovery, they had no chance against free-market democracy.

President John F. Kennedy responded with a 1961 challenge to Congress of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” within the decade. To appreciate the audacity of his proposal, remember that this was done barely a month after the disastrous failure of the U.S.-sponsored invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The loser had risen up and thrown down his gauntlet.

We should remember also that the race to the moon during the ‘60s was in a time of cultural revolution. It was a time of ferment, where, as the poet once said, “ignorant armies clash by night.” Our own army was bravely fighting a losing war in Vietnam. The seeds of chaos—protest, anarchy, and rebellion—came with the evening news. With the passage of time, all that has passed away to nothingness. What survives is the shining vision of the first humans to visit and walk upon the moon. It was an image that for a moment united our nation, and the world, as one.

Today, we again live in a time of cultural chaos. Ignorant armies still clash by night. Rough beasts slouch about. But tomorrow we can pause to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that one shining moment, one of our nation’s finest hours. And remember that the people with the “right stuff” often have the last word. There’s meaning in that.


Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 9:30 a.m. (summer schedule)

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.



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