The name Armstrong has been abroad this weekend – a name common to two unrelated men – one a hero and the other … well, the jury would still be out if one had been called.
The hero, the now late Neil Armstrong, needs no introduction as the first human to set foot on an extra-terrestrial celestial body. Those of us who were around in 1969 remember where we were when he uttered those words on touching space-boot on the moon’s dusty floor: “A small step for (a) man; a giant step for mankind.” History was made in our time, and we actually witnessed it in black and white on the small screen.
The other Armstrong – Lance – is surrounded by controversy. Did he or did he not take performance enhancing drugs? Does he deserve to keep the seven Tour de France titles? Is his refusal to keep defending his innocence an admission of guilt or a pronouncement that 13 years of clean tests and no other charge-supporting evidence is quite enough, thank you? The current impasse sees officialdom stripping him of his titles while the ”unbelievers”‘ nudge and whisper “I told you so!” The ”believers” gather and pronounce their undying support for Lance, his innocence and the great cause for families’ fighting against cancer on which he is now focused.
His namesake, Neil, also had unbelievers to contend with – conspiracy theorists who believed the whole moon landing event was staged.
It seems that whether or not you are an Armstrong, to pull off an enormous, almost unimaginable feat is liable to attracting both belief and unbelief.
Ask Jesus. We’ve been in John’s gospel for a few week’s now following the dramatic dialogue of the crowds, the disciples, and the religious intelligentsia in the wake of the feeding of the multitudes. Jesus’ startling claim : “I am the Bread of Life” ignited controversy that led to many, even among his own disciples, falling into either the “belief” or “unbelief” camps.
Whether or not one believes in either of the Armstrong claims may or may not matter very much.
The fourth gospel’s take on the matter of “belief” does raise the stakes somewhat. It has more to do with what you’re willing to bet you life’s focus on. And the focus to which Jesus draws our attention tends to awaken either attraction or resistance which rapidly transmogrifies to belief or unbelief.