No, I'm not talking about the recent movie which I have not seen. Rather, today's events provided a stark contrast between two lives --- that of writer Kurt Vonnegut, who died today, and that of Apollo 16 astronaut and 10th man on the moon, Charles Duke, who I heard speak tonight. both of whom pursued happiness. Duke became a believer in 1978, four years after he walked on the moon. Vonnegut never did.
I am not intimately familiar with Vonnegut's books, though I know the titles --- like Slaughterhouse-Five, the one most people know about. My wife can summon to mind a disturbing image from this book, which was required reading in her high school. Slaugterhouse-Five is an absurdist classic, a crazy part sci-fi trip through time with Billy Pilgrim (also later the name of a quite good band) which is also a plea against the butchery of war (hence, the title Slaughterhgouse-Five, which was the name of the POW camp in which Vonnegut was confined during WWII). Vonnegut was intimately familiar with the hell of war, having witnessed Nazi cruelty as well as the firebombing of Desden by the Allies. He made it a darkly funny and yet deeply serious polemic against war. Some men come to faith in such circumstances; some don't. A modern day Mark Twain, he did not embrace faith but, according to what I read of him, believed that the only thing redeeming in mankind was human kindness. And yet what a slender reed upon which to ground hope.
Charles Duke, on the other hand, presented a very common life story, one we have all heard. He pursued a career in military avaiation, became a test pilot under Chuck Yeager, entered the NASA Astronaut Corp in the Sixties, and eventually went to the moon and back on Apollo 16. And yet at the pinnacle of success his life as husband and father was a shambles. His wife came to faith. Later, he came to faith. He experienced a turnaround in his family life. Now that's an old story, one you can read about in his book, Moonwalker, and when I listen to such stories, I hear the broken record of human existence. It's like life is one story of men making idols of everything but their Creator, and I'm tired of the song and ready to move on, not just in my life but in the big story of human life. I want a new song. I appreciate what God did in Charlie Duke's life, but part of the story (the pre-conversion part) is like fingernails on chalkboard. I want to say "Please stop."
Thinking about these two men makes me both sad and glad: glad that Charlie Duke found a new song, and sad that Kurt Vonnegut, a man who knew much of the fallenness of man, settled for one outward indicia of God's grace, human kindness, as the only answer to what he perceived as the meaninglessness of life. Would that he had followed that evidence to its source and embraced the Singer Himself.