Common Ground


On the morning of April 11, 1970, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert sat in their command module, Odyssey, atop a Saturn V rocket. The Apollo 13 crew would be the third group of astronauts to step onto the face of the moon. At approximately 1:13 p.m. CST, the powerful rocket began its liftoff to send the three men on a journey that would make history, but not as planned. The three sailed smoothly through space for two days in a near-perfect trajectory toward the lunar destination. On April 13, at fifty-five hours, fifty-four minutes, and fifty-three seconds into the flight (Approximately 8:08 p.m. CST), Jack Swigert was told to stir the oxygen in the cryogenic tanks. The stir caused faulty wiring in the tank to spark, and an explosion shook the modules. Swigert radioed the famous words, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Mission control asked for confirmation, and this time Lovell answered, “Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” At this point, the journey to the moon became a journey to save three men in a lifeboat 200,000 miles from home. The story has been told several times, the most popular being the book, “Lost Moon,” and the movie “Apollo 13.”

There’s a point in the movie where the Mission Control team works frantically to figure out the problem and what wasn’t working correctly with the Command Module. If you have seen the movie, you might remember the line when Flight Director, Gene Krantz, portrayed by Ed Harris, listening to all the problems, calls out, “Can we review our status here, Cy? Let’s look at this thing from a standpoint of status. What have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”

As I thought about the scene, I realized, in a way, that that’s how we go about life in dealing with our enemies and even those people, we find difficult to be around. People tend to only focus on the bad things or those with which they disagree, making it difficult to see the good side of others. When confronted with those we find in conflict, the comment from Apollo 13 can help us. Stop and look at the status of the relationship and “what can we see good?” If we can learn to find “common ground,” it gives us a starting point to mend problem relationships. 

Have you ever been somewhere and found yourself lost in a sea of unknown people, not knowing who to approach or to whom to speak? You walk around and finally discover someone from your home state or town, and the “common ground” ends up being something that opens up a conversation. We join clubs to be with people of similar interests as ours, and our closest friends are people with whom we share common interests. With these relationships, we focus more on the good and minimize those areas where we have conflicted feelings.

What if we apply this same attitude toward those with whom we are at arms-length? Finding “common ground” can tear down the walls that cause us to have issues with one another. In the Apollo 13 incident, it became apparent that the priority was to get the astronauts home as quickly and safely as possible. There was an issue with oxygen and the safety of the craft. The fate of three men in space was on people’s minds worldwide. Even countries that many would call our enemies offered to help with the recovery if necessary. Differences didn’t matter; everyone had the common ground of safely bringing three stranded men home. Nationality didn’t matter. Whenever any country faces a significant disaster, everyone worldwide seems to embrace that “common ground” feeling of caring for people.

Jesus always found “common ground” with people to become close to them. He would eat with tax collectors, men hated by the masses. He would spend time with the poor and sick, much to the dismay of religious leaders. He never turned anyone away and looked for the good in everyone, even to the end. As he hung in agony on the cross, he looked down upon those who had hammered the nails in his hands and feet and those who came to watch and asked God to forgive them. “They don’t know what they are doing,” he prayed.

Looking at our enemies and those difficult to be around with the eyes of Jesus makes a difference in how we develop relations. Find “common ground,” looking for something good instead of dwelling on the negative. I used the comment before from the movie, “Pollyanna,” but it’s one that I use to remind myself how to view those around me. In the film, she attributes it to Abraham Lincoln; however, a scriptwriter coined the phrase. “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” Another way to phrase it might be, “If you look for the good in people, you can make your enemy your friend.” 

Danny Minton is a former Elder and minister at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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