Passion for the Possible: A Sunday Meditation…


This morning I read an excellent, well-balanced article in the Kansas City Star (Yes Virginia, fair and balanced journalism is not dead yet) about nuclear weapons (U.S. trims its nuclear arsenal while upgrading production, Saturday, February 26, 2011) using the new Kansas City bomb plant as the central character in this endless story of nuclear madness.

And by the way; the article confirmed that “the biggest concentration of the operational nukes is at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific at Bangor, Wash., which sends out Ohio-class submarines operating in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Throughout the story we see that our nation still, after more than 65 years, relies on the archaic concept of DETERRENCE.  Of course we can argue concepts like deterrence until we are blue in the face.  What one cannot argue with is that should we ever use nuclear weapons on another nation we will most likely not prevent the incineration, obliteration and irradiation of possibly millions of people as well as the spread of radioactive fallout far from where the missiles or bombs fall.  Once released we will also be powerless to prevent, depending on the number of weapons used, the potentially global effects of radiation causing cancer and birth defects, as well as nuclear famine, and quite possibly the extinction or near extinction of humanity.

Last night before bed I picked up a well-worn copy of A Passion for the Possible: A Message to U.S. Churches, (C1993), by William Sloane Coffin, and re-read the chapter titled “Beyond War.”  Coffin, ever the prophet, conveys a message that is as fresh and pertinent today as it was when he wrote it shortly after the end of the Cold War.

Coffin presents a litany of presidents who “always sounded as if they were determined to end the arms race”: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter… and now we can add Obama to the list.  Their words always were, and still are, trumped by national security and superiority.  The costs, both economic, environmental and spiritual have been and continue to be astronomical.  From a spiritual perspective, Coffin describes its foundation and folly quite well: “Imagine the vanity of thinking that your enemy can do you more damage than your enmity.”

Indeed, our enmity continues to lead us down a self-destructive path of continuing to build up nuclear weapons; of seeking status through power; of arming ourselves so vastly beyond anything resembling “defense.”  Coffin again says it eloquently:

As always, the stated goal is lofty, this time to provide stability in a volatile world.  But if we look at our pattens of action, our basic interests, and our power relations, we have to conclude that just as before, so now our primary concern is to preserve a status quo favorable to us.  We are far more concerned with disorder than with injustice.  And nations more concerned with disorder than injustice invariably produce more of both.  Said Amos to such nations, “You think to defer the day of misfortune, but you hasten the reign of violence” (Amos 6:3).

Of course, Coffin was writing to a very specific audience – THE CHURCH!  He reminds us the that “churches should see that it is our pride-swollen faces that close up our eyes, that no nation is well served by illusions of its righteousness… that Churches have a special obligation to point out that ‘God’n’country’ is not one word, and to summon America to a higher vision of its meaning and destiny.”

So just where IS the church today in all of this?  Does it stand out as the moral conscience of the nation or does it stand behind (or with) the flag, mocking the cross as it does so?  Does it call on the people of God to truly love one’s neighbor(s) and come to an understanding of what that means in our relationships not only as individuals, but as communities and nations?  Does it speak truth to power, knowing that there is a cost, and is it willing to pay that cost?  Is it taking great risks for the sake of others, to build the kingdom of Heaven on Earth?

The Disarm Now Plowshares – Anne, Bix, Lynne, Steve and Susan – were willing to risk everything for the sake of others. They challenge, through their actions, churches to live up to the very teachings of the sacred texts.  Their passion reminds us, as Coffin says, “that God is not mocked: we have to be merciful when we live at each other’s mercy: we have to learn to be meek or there will be no earth to inherit.”

May we first challenge ourselves, and then challenge our churches, to speak truth to power and to “affirm the psalmist’s contention that ‘the war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save’ (Psalms 33.17).”  And may we continue to do so without ceasing until the day that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Such a world is possible.



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