There was a wonderful episode of the Netflix series The Crown out last week called ‘Moondust’. It tells the story of the 1969 moon landings along side the backdrop of the happenings in the royal household. Prince Philip, the Queens husband is completely fascinated by the story, specifically the three American astronauts who bravely did what no man had ever done. Philip is also in the midst of a full-blown personal crisis: he has lost his faith, his purpose, his enthusiasm for life in general. He believes that the answer to all the melancholy and dullness he is experiencing is action. Church makes him angry. Sunday services simply repeat week to week. He is thoroughly annoyed at a priest who has formed a pastoral support group on palace grounds for clergy to talk out their problems. His doesn’t mince his words when he tells them, “What you lot need to do is to get off your backsides, get out into the world, and bloody well do something. Action is what defines us.”
As the astronauts embark on a whirlwind world publicity tour, Philip truly believes a meeting with his heroes will pull him up and out of the funk he finds himself in. He requests a special time alone with the men, and the Queen grants him about fifteen minutes. What transpires is one awkward scene:
And yet when Philip eventually meets Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins in person, his hallowed esteem crumbles. Turns out they are rather vanilla and uninspiring: pale-faced men with colds and little capacity for thoughtful conversation. Ironically, they are more impressed with Philip and his royal life than he is with them.
It’s a wakeup call for Philip, who had placed all his spiritual eggs in the basket of human achievement. Even the greatest humans are fragile, mortal creatures. Every human gets colds. They all disappoint. They all die. They can’t carry the burden of ultimate meaning or existential justification. They are dust, and to dust—or should we say “moondust”—they will return.Brett McCraken The Crown Episode That Finds Faith in a Secular Age
You feel really bad for the man. He had a prepared list of questions and everything. What he encountered was less than inspiring. While these men did accomplish great things, meeting them only exacerbated Philip’s dreary outlook on life.
Humans aren’t really meant to carry such burdens or expectations. Heroes are really only perfect from afar. At the end of the day, some will accomplish more than others, but we all as they say, put our pants on one leg at a time.
The episode makes me think of last week’s Kobe Bryant tragedy, and the tendency we all have to enshrine those we admire in an artificial world. Like Philip, we see them for their actions, for their accomplishments, not realizing that’s only a sliver of who they really are. We forget that they are subject to the same ups and downs as the rest of us. They fail, they die even, and we find ourselves in a tough spot, because deep down, we see that not even great astronauts or basketball players are immune to the storms of life.
Humans are created to do great things, but we are first and foremost created to glorify our Maker.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”Matthew 6:33
Plenty has been said this past week about seizing the day and living our lives to the fullest… but it’s still backwards. When it’s all said and done, we see that real meaning still rests in the Creator rather than the created.
Prince Philip’s disappointment in his heroes is palpable. He goes back to meet with the pastoral support group, and like salt in the wound, has to endure more uncomfortable truth. The young priest quotes a poem by Keats:
“What is there in thee, moon, that thou shouldst move my heart so potently? Now we know what the moon is – nothing. Just dust. Silence. Monochromatic void. We see no god beyond those rocks and space dust, simply an unknowable vastness.”
To Philip, the weekly sermon was nothing more than a “general anesthetic” for the masses. True religion, for him, was found in man’s ability to accomplish great things. In the end, it turned out to nothing but empty vanity and flattery.
We all have our heroes, our idols even. From moon landings to Super Bowls, we cant help but get caught up in the idea of human greatness. But when the wave of emotion passes, what remains for those joined with Christ is something far greater. We are created in His image, and it is His character that we covet. We are not burdened with creating our own light, we just reflect His.
Like the moon… without the sun, it’s just space dust.