Paradigms are, roughly speaking, sets of assumptions about the world around and how we view it. The way we look at things.
Since the 1960s, when the first photographs of earth from space were published, we have been entering a new paradigm. In particular, the beautiful photograph of earth taken from Apollo 17 (the one often called “the blue marble”) has changed how we see our world.
Such photographs of earth are now accessible to the vast majority of people on our beautiful and fragile planet. It is one thing being told about our planet at school, or reading about it in a newspaper. It is another thing entirely to be able to see it. Even hardened Trump supporters (most of whom probably believe the world is flat) have to work hard to deny this as fake news!
I was reminded of this changing paradigm as Janet and I watched an episode of ‘The Crown’ set in 1969 when Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, said “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
It was indeed an extraordinary scientific achievement. One that has changed and continues to change the way we think about our world. It’s like we took a first step out into the rest of the universe. And as we looked back at earth, it was like looking in a mirror for the first time. Seeing ourselves as we are.
So small. And in so many ways this planet has been getting smaller. We can talk to people on the far side of the earth, get news from there just seconds after it happens. We are more than ever one community who all have responsibility to preserve and care for this extraordinary place where we all live.
If the earth was a National Trust treasure, which could be visited and admired, we would be transfixed by the beauty and horrified by the neglect.
Covid-19 has offered us a mirror. The lessons we learn fall into this wider context, in which we are like a spaceship, with limited resources, travelling in the vastness of the universe. We are together and inter-dependent on this small planet.
We have seen that we need international co-operation not competition. The problems of disease like all the big issues we face in our small world can only be addressed successfully together.
As we look in the mirror, we have seen the vulnerable suffer most, although children have been largely spared. We see with shame now much we rely on social carers, but pay them a pittance, and we have seen them suffer and die.
We have seen the value of the NHS more than ever, and also learned the value of so many who keep the basics of life going with little reward and little recognition.
We have seen people across the world suffering just like our own loved ones – cut off from family, desperately ill and dying. We have seen they are no different from us. (Did you know that your DNA is 99.9% the same as any other human being of any ethnic background?)
We have noticed the birds sing and given the environment a breather. We have seen the value of relationships and being with people we love.
We have looked out for one another and ‘seen’ needy folk for the first time. We have found purpose, contentment and happiness when we’ve been able to help others.
There is one world, and one human family, loved and delighted in by God, yet deeply penetrated and driven by forces opposed to God’s kingdom. Our world is plagued by the evils of narrow nationalism, greed and prejudice.
But the mirror doesn’t only show our blemishes, it shows our beauty, character and possibility. It offers us vision. Perhaps we could chant: “Mirror, mirror on the wall. What is the fairest way for all?”
Of course, Jesus is the way. We need to keep looking, asking, praying, growing and living out the vision – so we can become the firstfruits of his kingdom, and people will be able to taste and see that the Lord is good.