© Jeremy D. Nickel 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
December 11, 2011

Listen to Audio Version of Whole Service (mp3)
Listen to Audio Version of Sermon (mp3)

I have possibly never written a sermon that has been percolating in my unconscious mind for longer than this one. I must have been around ten years old when I went with my father to visit one of his friends across town for the evening. His name was Frank White and he had a son named Josh that I liked to hang out with, but on this particular visit it was just Frank, my dad and me. Which made this a rare instance when I was not off playing while my dad talked to Frank, and it turns out I am grateful for that because what I overheard them discussing has stuck with me ever since.

Much of my memory now is of course clouded and colored by all I have learned since then, but the general gist of the conversation was that my dad's friend was interviewing people who had been to space, both through our country's space program as well as the then Soviet Union, for a book he was writing called the Overview Effect. This was noteworthy in and of itself to a ten year old. I was fascinated with space in the way many kids are, and the thought of being in the same room with someone who was talking to people that had actually been there was incredible, the closest I had ever come to space!

Even at that young age I was able to understand the thesis of his research, which was even more intriguing than space: it was that seeing our planet earth from above had a profound and lasting effect on those who had experienced it first hand. To see the earth hanging in the emptiness of space and to have an actual emotional experience of it being borderless, with nothing dividing country from country like the lines we put on maps, left these space travelers feeling a deep spiritual connection to all of the creation they returned to on their fragile planet.

Or, in the words of Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell:

"The psychology and the shifting viewpoint of the spaceflight experience is far more powerful and important than it has ever been described in the past. It is precisely this shift in viewpoint and what it implies for the capability of the human being and for our view of the universe that makes it so powerful. Until the last twenty years, all philosophers, thinkers, scientists and poets have been earthbound. They had an earthbound point of view. Spaceflight is one of the more powerful experiences that humans can have, and the technological event of breaking the bonds of Earth is far more important than the technology that went into it, because of the perspective."

From that moment of overhearing, I have dreamed of space travel. Not to foreign planets or our moon, not for the joy of weightlessness or the special ice cream, but so that I could have this ultimate theological experience for myself of seeing planet earth hanging in the vastness of space. What thoughts would I think? How would I be changed and affected by this phenomenon that Frank White termed the Overview Effect?

More than dreaming of space travel, my mind has set upon a life goal and, as it turns out, after I finally read the book all these years later, it is the same ultimate goal that the overview effect imagines. It's not so much a bucket list thing like seeing the Grand Canyon or writing a book, it is more of one of those unrealistic goals that you keep striving for anyway. For me, that grand accomplishment would be hosting a summit of world leaders in outer space. Because I truly believe that in that most unique of environments minds would truly shift in ways never before imagined. From orbit, it would be impossible to believe in the illusion of division that blocks so much of the change we need. Because the truth that the overview effect makes undeniable is that we are all in this together.

Or in the words of Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickert:

You finally come up across the coast of California, and you look for those friendly things, Los Angeles and Phoenix and on across to El Paso. And there is Houston, there is home... And you look and sure enough there's the Astrodome - and you identify with that, and it's an attachment. And on across New Orleans and then you look down to the south and there is the whole peninsula of Florida laid out... You go out across the Atlantic Ocean and back across Africa, and you do it again and again and again.

You identify with Houston and then you identify with Los Angeles and Phoenix and New Orleans. The next thing you recognize in yourself is that you're identifying with North Africa - you look forward to that, you anticipate it, and there it is.

And that whole process of what it is you identify with begins to shift. When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change. You look down there and you can't imagine how many borders and boundaries you cross, again and again and again, and you don't even see them. There you are - hundreds of people in the Mid-East killing each other over some imaginary line that you're not even aware of and that you can't see.

From where you see it, the thing is a whole, and it's so beautiful. You wish you could take one in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and say, "Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What's important?"

What I hear Rusty saying is that it is not about Republican against Democrat, America versus China, men against women, or man against animal, and it certainly is not about red state versus blue state or the 99 percent against the 1 percent. It is about the 100 percent, period. And that 100 percent includes every bit of creation that clings to our Mother Earth as we cruise through the universe. We all share what Buckminster Fuller called Spaceship Earth, and we still have not found the operating manual. But if we don't find some way to get this truth communicated soon, we will allow the illusion of division to destroy what allows life for all of us.

What this tells me is that if we have any chance to save our Mother Earth, the necessary shift must come not from science but from spirituality. We already have all the science we need to know that we are creating a cataclysmic and unsustainable situation with our failure to be responsible stewards of our planet's natural resources. We also have most of the science we need to continue living at a staggeringly advanced level while still vastly minimizing our impact on the Earth. But despite all of this abundant science and intellectual knowledge, we remain on the path of self-destruction, suicide.

The essential truth at the core of what the overview effect does to people is that it shifts them spiritually. They cease for a moment to believe in the illusion of division and can see so vividly how interconnected every single drop of creation truly is, how tightly our destinies are interwoven. Connectedness is not a scientific fact, it is a spiritual truth that you must know in your heart before you can act on it with your head.

It is the truth that is at the core of what we try to embody here at Mission Peak, both through our shared values and in the community we build every time we gather, whether that be on Sunday here in Cole Hall or throughout the week at one of the many opportunities Mission Peak provides for you to live your values.

The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism is: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. The only way to achieve that goal is to first shift people into the reality of our interdependence. Showing respect is an action we wish people to take, one that as long as it remains purely intellectual will be drowned out by all of our lesser impulses. We must be this change and in so doing we must inspire others into this shift as well.

I want to invite you into an overview effect moment right now with a meditation I have created. First I want you to watch this video while I begin the meditation, and then after about a minute, I will invite you to close your eyes.

May it be so. Ashe.

Back to Top