This morning, I began the day remembering a day that changed everything – the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on a populated area, Hiroshima, Japan. I ponder how little we seem to have learned in the past 77 years. We still live under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction and act as if the MAD-ness of that “peacekeeping” deterrence is normal. We shiver when the leaders of North Korea and Russia suggest that they might use nuclear weapons to bring their enemies to their knees and yet life goes on.
Typographical errors are sometimes revealing. As I edited the first paragraph, I discovered that instead of “mutually assured destruction,” I typed “mutually assumed destruction.” Deep down, do we think (unconsciously) that we will destroy the human race by nuclear warfare or the more slowly moving global climate change?
As we commemorate the detonation of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6 and 9, 1945, we are still convicted by Albert Einstein’s words, “everything has changed except the way we think.” With growing tensions involving Russia’s rhetoric in the aftermath of NATO’s support of Ukraine, the Union of Concerned Scientists has updated its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight. The signs of the times – the reality of an interdependent planet in which no nation stands alone – are obvious in pandemic, economics, climate change, and nuclear peril, but will we pay attention, or do we care enough to change our way of thinking and act accordingly? We know the risks, but can we overcome our denial and do something meaningful to de-nuclearize our planet? Will we have the spirit and courage to choose peace in a world of nuclear arms, or will we continue to act as if there is no threat and that no one is foolish enough to use nuclear weapons?
The capacity for denial is great. We often don’t make necessary changes until they are thrust on us. That was the case with the pandemic and is the case, for those with eyes to see, about global climate change, still called a “hoax” by prevaricating politicians and seen as a nuisance, and not a real threat, by conservatives whose mantra remains “drill, baby, drill.”
I must admit that I don’t have a solution. I often act as if I have forever in my personal life, put off changes that can ensure better health, and neglect to seize the moment in relationships and possibilities. Most of the time, I live in denial, too. But I need to wake up, feel the ongoing precariousness of our situation, and marshal my resources to imagine meaningful action. I need to feel both despair and hope, as Joanna Macy counsels, and then get on my feet to protest and pray.
I am going to do one thing this year that takes me back to college when I read sections of John Hersey’s Hiroshima for a twenty-four-hour vigil, sponsored by the college chaplains at San Jose State University, where I spent my undergraduate years. I am going to read Hersey’s Hiroshima again and let the emotions flow as they did the first time, fifty years ago, when I was a college sophomore.
I know that this won’t solve the problem of nuclear proliferation. But it is important that I remember the youthful idealism, the hopefulness, and the sense we could change the world. That I can dust off the Doomsday Clock, remember the emotions of the Day After, the film that frightened, agitated, and alerted college students, nearly forty years ago, when I was once more in college, this time as a university chaplain at Georgetown.
I invite you to read Hiroshima this week, open to your despair and hopelessness, and then summon the courage to do something to choose life for our planet and generations to come. We are, after all, the hands and feet of God, and the ones we have been waiting for. If we give up home, and resign ourselves to passivity, what hope is there?
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books, including “Mystics in Action: Twelve Saints for Today,” “Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism,” and “Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision of Contemplative Activism,” and “101 Soul Seeds for Peacemakers and Justice Seekers.” He is the author of the spirituality of politics trilogy, “Process Theology and Politics,” “One World: The Lord’s Prayer from a Process Perspective,” and “Talking Politics: A Process Perspective on the Sermon on the Mount.” He may be reached at email@example.com (A version of this was published in Disciples Justice Action Network Newsletter, August 4, 2022)