Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lifeboat or Tomb? How the Nuclear Weapons Story Ends

The door to the nuclear bunker built for Congress at "Raven Rock."
(Image: RAVEN ROCK: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan
to Save Itself - While the Rest of Us Die

It was the six-hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month that it happened: all the underground springs erupted and all the windows of Heaven were thrown open. Rain poured for forty days and forty nights.

That's the day Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, accompanied by his wife and his sons' wives, boarded the ship. And with them every kind of wild and domestic animal, right down to all the kinds of creatures that crawl and all kinds of birds and anything that flies. They came to Noah and to the ship in pairs -- everything and anything that had the breath of life in it, male and female of every creature came just as God had commanded Noah. Then GOD shut the door behind him.

- Genesis 7:11-16
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

I've looked in various versions, and there is no doubt: it's not "then the door shut," or "then the door was shut" or even "then someone shut the door."

"Then GOD shut the door behind him."

What could this possibly mean?

Noah has had a lot of agency up to this point in the story; God's giving directions, but Noah's the doer. So it's remarkable that here the story very explicitly says that it is God that shuts the door here.

Could it mean God is . . .

(a) ... guaranteeing they are safe?

(b) ... trapping them?

(c) ... leaving them no choice but to continue on?

(d) ... saying when it is "enough"?

(e) ... signaling the end of Phase 1 of the story?

(f) ... all of the above?

(g) ... none of the above?

(h) ... something else?

In part, I suppose the answer you choose depends on whether you think the ark, at this point in the story, looks more like a lifeboat or a tomb.

To me, the significance of the storyteller saying that God closed the door is that it emphasizes the gravity of this moment. And perhaps it is poignant precisely because, at this stage of the story, we don't know how the rest is going to turn out.

As I think about the possible relevance of this part of the Noah story to the "Back from the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war, I think about the people who invented nuclear weapons. When they were doing that work, they hoped and believed that they were building a lifeboat: a device that would prevent wars from happening in the future. In the years that followed, the idea of "deterrence" became something that many people believed in; it seemed like a source of safety, as long as you didn't let yourself think about the underlying horror of the weapons involved.

Over time, more and more people began to see that nuclear weapons were as likely to put an end to us as they were to put an end to war. People are now understanding that we have barricaded ourselves behind a multi-megaton door, and we are at risk of suffocation.

Perhaps our situation today is like the second half of the Noah story, the part where we find out if it will be possible to open that door again and emerge into the light of day. For Noah, the ark did, indeed, turn out to be a lifeboat. It's not yet clear how our story turns out. Can we prevent nuclear weapons from being our tomb?

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Related post:

What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment? Wouldn't they think that was absurd? After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

(See When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Preventing Nuclear War: Recommended for All Ages

Fleabane, or erigeron, sketched at North Pond in Chicago.
The Greek root gérōn means "old man."
It has become my favorite wildflower.

Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters covered the Earth. Noah and his wife and sons and their wives boarded the ship to escape the flood. Clean and unclean animals, birds, and all the crawling creatures came in pairs to Noah and to the ship, male and female, just as God had commanded Noah. In seven days the floodwaters came.

- Genesis 7:6-10
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

I keep coming back to that number: 600. Why is the story telling us Noah's age? (And why is the story so obviously fibbing?)

At first glance, the number "600" seems simply to tie in to the prologue to the Noah story -- the part about "great men" who lived hundreds of years. But Noah's age shows up several more times in the story - in the verses immediately following this one, as well as at the end. What's the point?

At the end of the story, we learn that Noah lived to be 950 years old. That means that the voyage of the ark happened in the middle of his life. It wasn't his final act; it wasn't his initiation into adulthood. It occurred amid a long string of "ordinary days."

As I think about the problem of preventing nuclear war, I sometimes wonder who the "right" person would be to make a difference. Is it a hoary sage, some ancient prophet, whose words will be like a thunderbolt that make everyone stop in their tracks? Or is it a little child -- the David who will slay this Goliath? When I start down that road, it's not long before I'm thinking, "Whoever it is, it's certainly not someone like me."

After all, I just turned 60 a few months ago. I'm still looking over my shoulder, following chemotherapy a few summers back, hoping my lymphoma doesn't flare up again. And I'm up here in a far corner of northern Wisconsin, living on an island!

But the story keeps insisting: Noah was 600 years old!

Perhaps the time has come for us to recognize that the time is now, and no matter what season of life a person is in, it's the right season to take an active role in preventing nuclear war.

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I don't think Alanna and I ever talked about what it must be like to be trying to escape a shower of sparks and hot ash. But she seemed to know that the sparks and hot ash are too important a part of the picture to be left out.

(See The Children Are Waiting )

Saturday, July 13, 2019

ALL ABOARD! (the "Back From the Brink" Campaign, that is!)

"The crew of the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission are
shown in their space suits on their way to the launch
pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Kennedy, Fla.,
Saturday, April 11, 1970." (Image: VOA)

Next GOD said to Noah, "Now board the ship, you and all your family -- out of everyone in this generation, you're the righteous one.

"Take on board with you seven pairs of every clean animal, a male and a female; one pair of every unclean animal, a male and a female; and seven pairs of every kind of bird, a male and a female, to insure their survival on Earth. In just seven days I will dump rain on Earth for forty days and forty nights. I'll make a clean sweep of everything that I've made."

Noah did everything GOD commanded him.

- Genesis 7:1-5
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

Let it be remembered: when the time came, Noah actually got on board the ark.

If you're like me, you may have heard or read this story many, many times without noticing that simple fact.

It's easy to miss - there's so much else going on! All those animals, two of every kind, from the very biggest to the very smallest -- it summons up colorful, exotic images; one can hear (and possibly even smell!) the scene in one's imagination.

And we all know how the rest of the story goes: the flood . . . everything being wiped out . . . . From our vantage point, it can seem like getting on the ark was the only sane thing to do, and that it was obvious that Noah had no other choice. Of course he got on the ark! To have balked would have been suicide.

But here's the thing: at that moment, Noah didn't know how the story was going to turn out. Noah was living in the moment. Noah was making it up as he went along.

It was only upon this most recent reading that I wondered, "Did it occur to Noah to not get on the ark? Couldn't he have backed out at the last minute?" After all, just because he was hearing messages from God, and just because he was expecting a humanity-destroying flood, and just because he had maxed out his credit card buying lumber, pitch, and other supplies at Home Depot, doesn't mean Noah couldn't have bailed out of the whole project at any point.

It's easy to think of Noah surrounded by others -- wife, sons, sons' wives . . . . (And all those animals!) But I'm now thinking of how lonely it must have been for Noah. It must have been a little like the way an astronaut feels, alone inside that spacesuit, walking out onto the launch pad, and realizing that the community of supporters that has been there all along is receding into the background.

*   *   *

In my own life, I often have impulses to back out. And, Lord knows, I have been a quitter more times than I care to admit.

More and more, I need to urge myself, "Just show up." There always seem to be a multitude of reasons to not show up . . .

 . . . this is too hard . . . 
 . . . I'm not going to do a good job . . . 
 . . . nobody even cares if I'm there . . . 
 . . . maybe this wasn't a good idea . . . 
 . . . I don't have the right clothes (yes, really) . . . 

Of course, nothing I have to show up for in my own life is as important as Noah showing up on that ark!

(Well . . . perhaps . . . almost nothing . . . . )

*   *   *

The "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war is like that ark. The looming danger has been identified, the work has been done to build a structure, and now the vessel is ready to set sail. The essential ingredient, of course, is all the people who will make it go.

Inevitably, all of us will struggle with questions . . .

 . . . is this too hard . . . ?
 . . . what if I don't do a good job . . . ?
 . . . does anyone even care . . . ?
 . . . maybe I'm making the problem bigger than it is . . . ?
 . . . will people get mad at me . . . ?

When those questions come up, it can be tempting to push them out of one's mind - deny, repress, entrench.

But maybe Noah can show us another way. Like Noah, we have to admit that there are many difficult questions -- real questions -- questions that we don't know the answer to, at least not in any definite way. And, also like Noah, we really only need to know one thing: right now, showing up is what matters.

Oh, and one more thing: we have something going for us that Noah didn't.

For Noah, the looming danger was a belief, a supposition, a warning that had come to him out of thin air. He could never be certain that he wasn't just imagining it. For us, the looming danger is concrete: the nuclear weapons aren't an abstraction. They exist right now -- thousands of them -- and they are primed for launch.

The world's nuclear warhead count - June 2018
(Image: Nagasaki University)

Could there be any clearer reason to show up?

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Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Multitude of Reasons to Work to Prevent Nuclear War

Red-winged blackbird pair (Image: Birds of Pennsylvania)

" ... You are also to take two of each living creature, a male and a female, on board the ship, to preserve their lives with you: two of every species of bird, mammal, and reptile -- two of everything so as to preserve their lives along with yours. Also get all the food you'll need and store it up for you and them."

Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

- Genesis 6:19-22
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

Dawn comes early during the summer up here on Lake Superior. I don't have to set an alarm, because the birds begin to wake me as the first hint of light appears.

It takes me a while to get my eyes open, and to get out of bed, and get dressed. It takes another few minutes to boil water and make coffee. And then, while the house is still quiet, I like to go to my desk and begin to write.

But between pouring that first cup and heading into the front room to open up my laptop, I go out into the backyard and refill the bird feeders. I will look forward throughout the day to peeking out the window, watching the ballet of birds -- mostly red-winged blackbirds -- swooping in to take turns at the feeder. And now, as I start the day by filling the feeders, I wonder if the birds have been waiting long for me. I imagine them looking at their watches, shrugging their shoulders, turning to each other, and saying, "It's about time . . . ."

*   *   *

In the course of re-reading the many wonderful sections of the Noah story, the section above about "two of each living creature" has seemed to me to be the single most wonderful part of all.

Just as earlier verses raise a profound question about the possibility of the un-creation of our world, these few sentences signify the ability to encompass the immensity of the living world in a few words. I'm imagining the story's creator -- a sort of ancient Linnaeus (or Darwin) -- saying, "There are a lot of creatures . . . and I don't know them all, personally . . . but it's clear to me that the outlines of the living world have a definite shape!"

In fact, the writer of this account sets up an interesting dynamic. In one breath, God is saying, "I'm fed up with the entire thing, I'm going to wipe it all out, I don't care if all these creatures disappear." In the next breath says, "But . . . on second thought . . .  all these creatures are kind of cool!"

So: one thing we have here is a distinction between the actual instances of the various species on Earth -- in other words, the many actual creatures who are doomed to die in the flood -- and the idea of each species, which is to be preserved on the ark. (The writer couldn't possibly have known about DNA and genes, and yet has captured the essence of genetics.)

The second thing we have is the suggestion that God isn't satisfied with just the idea of the species. Otherwise, why bother to re-populate the Earth after going to all the trouble of wiping out all the creatures in the flood?  It's as if the writer is pointing out that the species-as-idea (species-as-DNA) is a moot point if no more of these creatures are actually living in the world!

It is then a short step for us, as readers, to take up and struggle with what we today would understand as the fundamental idea of ecology: life doesn't occur in isolation, in the abstract. Life is only real in a web of interconnectedness. In theory, Noah can preserve all of the living world by making sure a breeding pair of each creature survives. But in reality, that will only become meaningful if the ark, itself, survives the flood, and the creatures can return to the world and intermingle again.

*   *   * 

It seems to me that attention to ecology must be an integral part of our work to prevent nuclear war. One way in which it is important is the need to protect biodiversity in the abstract. Equally important, I believe, is the role of the actual creatures that make our lived experience meaningful.

I often wonder: where are we going to get the strength needed to carry out the "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war? It is not the work of a few hours, or even a few days, or a few years. It would be the easiest thing in the world to lose heart, to start to wonder if it can be done, to say "What's the use?"

Perhaps we need to make a promise to ourselves. Perhaps we can vow to take as inspiration those amazing creatures we share this planet with. Like Noah, we can stock our personal arks with the images of birds and fish and mammals -- and, yes, even reptiles and insects and other creeping things -- that give us the determination to carry on.

For my part, I know there will be days when I'm feeling frustrated with this work -- just like there are days when I lose patience with the demanding red-winged blackbirds in my backyard. On days like those, I will try to remember there are an abundance of reasons to take a deep breath, recover my energy, and stay in the struggle  -- just like there is more than one type of bird on Madeline Island.

Bald eagles on Madeline Island (Image: Joe Scarry)

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I love to walk around North Pond here in Chicago and notice the asters as September stretches into October. They make me think of my mom . . . .

(See Asters for Eva

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Earth On the Brink. (What's the deal?)

 Czech poster for the film Lucky Dragon No. 5

"I'm going to bring a flood on the Earth that will destroy everything alive under Heaven. Total destruction."

"But I'm going to establish a covenant with you: You'll board the ship, and your sons, your wife and your sons' wives will come on board with you."

- Genesis 6:17-18
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

When I introduced the "Back From the Brink" resolution to the committee at the 2019 UCC General Synod, I made a number of arguments about why it would be important for the full body to adopt the resolution. One of those arguments was a paraphrase of former secretary of defense Robert McNamara, from the documentary The Fog of War:

"And the conventional wisdom is don't make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. They'll be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations."

I shared this story with the committee, and I noticed that, of all the arguments I presented, this was the one that found its way to the Synod floor verbatim. Committee chair Rev. Rose Wright Scott concluded her recommendation for a "yes" vote on the resolution by saying, "There is no learning from nuclear weapons because there is no second chance."

*   *   *

So: here we are with God and Noah, and God seems to be saying, "Noah, you get a second chance!" The text describes it as God's "covenant."

Now, I remember the part of the story about God and Noah and the rainbow, and how that represented a covenant. In that instance, God made a "never again!" commitment. (More on that in a few weeks when we reach Genesis 9). But I had not remembered that the language of "covenant" appears here, too, at the beginning of the Noah story.

I wondered: what does it mean to say "God has established a covenant with" Noah? What does it mean when we say "God has established a covenant with us?" Is it a unilateral promise? Or is it more like a two-way deal? And if it's a deal, what are the terms of the deal?

In particular, I'm interested in this part of the deal: Do we get a second chance? or not?

*   *   *

Frequently, we talk about our relationship to God in ways similar to the way we talk about a child's relationship to a parent. Sometimes we invoke the image of a parent who is eternally loving and forgiving, unconditionally, in conditions under which the child needs give nothing in return.  Other times we summon up the image of a "tough love" parent: love is a part of a deal and it continues to flow if, and only if, the child holds up their end of the bargain. At still other times, we think of God as a "nightmare" parent: full of wrath, impossible to please.

Which "parent" was Noah dealing with? I had hoped that I could take a shortcut to the answer by doing a little research about covenant theology. Perhaps some theologian had worked it all out already. Or, better yet, perhaps the meaning of the covenant in this story was already common knowledge and I was the only one still in the dark.

What I discovered is there are so many views about the meaning of covenant in the Bible that you are probably better off going back to the original text and wrestling with it yourself. I found that invoking the word "covenant" does not end the discussion about what God intends, but rather marks its start.

So I went back and looked at the story again. I wondered if it was really as cut and dried as the text suggests: did God just say some words, and then Noah shrugged his shoulders and started sawing and hammering?

I like to imagine that, confronted with this momentous pronouncement from God, Noah (or I) would have had the curiosity to ask, "What are you talking about? What's the deal here?"

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that this isn't a story about a one-way promise, but rather a story about a two-way relationship, a "God covenant" as "being in covenant with God." And that that essentially boils down to "being in conversation with God."

Yes, in the most ideal situation I can think of, there would be a conversation between Noah and God. In my imagination, it might go something like this:

NOAH: "God . . . please . . . tell me what you desire. How do you want it to be?"

GOD: "Thank you for asking. The fact is, I can barely be said to 'want' anything. Look at creation! My main sensation is joy, all the time. But I'd like to invite you -- look and tell me, what do you see? What would be good?"

NOAH: (He looks around him.) "I don't know!"

GOD: "Well, think about it."

The word covenant comes from the root meaning "agree"; and that in term is connected to the root of the word "convene" - meaning "meet together." It seems to me that it has less to do with unvarying behavior, or terms and conditions, and more to do with getting on the same page by being in conversation and not abandoning the relationship.

So: when I read this part of the Noah story, I no longer wonder about "second chances." I am filled with wonder at this chance. I think it is a miracle that we are invited into conversation with God, and that our eyes may be opened, and that we possess the potential to act in the light of that conversation.

For a 21st century gloss on this conversation, one that bears on the "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war, see the powerful two-minute video of a conversation between two young men on a beach, created by the International Committee of the Red Cross, "What would you choose? Live or die?" ("Let's decide the future of nuclear weapons before they decide ours.")

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Does "God" "care" that the ultimate outcome of the damage to the Earth's climate may lead to the end -- not of the Earth itself, nor of life on Earth, but of the existence of the human species on Earth?

(See Does "God" "care" about the climate crisis?)

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What Will Modern Noahs Build?

"The Gadget": Manhattan Project nuclear bomb prototype awaits
testing, summer of 1945.(Image: Nuclear Weapon Archive)

This is the story of Noah: Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting -- life itself corrupt to the core.

God said to Noah, "It's all over. It's the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I'm making a clean sweep."

"Build yourself a ship from teakwood. Make rooms in it. Coat it with pitch inside and out. Make it 450 feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Build a roof for it and put in a window eighteen inches from the top; put in a door on the side of the ship; and make three decks, lower, middle, and upper."

- Genesis 6:9-16
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

When I heard this story as a boy, I wondered about such a peculiar command coming from out of nowhere. (I mean, who's ever heard of an "ark"?)

In later years, I wondered at the specificity of it all -- "eighteen inches from the top"? --  and I wondered at whether I would be able, if given a similar command, to follow instructions.

But now what I wonder about is this: what if the clear command and the specific instructions weren't the first thing Noah perceived? What if the first thing was Noah sensing that something was wrong, and that danger was coming, and that he needed to do something? And how many possible solutions did he have to sift through before he got to the one that was right?

Yes, that's definitely it! I'm now not so interested in the building of the ark, per se -- and I notice the biblical account doesn't dwell on it, either. (Once the concept is in place, it just ... happens.) No, if we have learned anything by now, it's that people can build anything.

The real question is: what's the right thing to build?

Earlier this year, I watched the series MANH(A)TTAN on TV. It's a series about the Manhattan Project and the creation of nuclear weapons. It helped me understand the degree to which many people -- confronted with a worldwide war spinning out of control -- believed that building bombs of unprecedented size would be "the" way to put an end to war once and for all and save humanity.

Part and parcel of the physical invention of the bomb was the invention of a social construct called "deterrence" -- the idea that with enough nuclear weapons, people could prevent other people from engaging in war. Ironically, the deterrence construct has always circled back to construction in the material world: more and more programs to build bigger, more lethal, and more numerous nuclear weapons. (The US is now in the midst of a $1 trillion nuclear weapons upgrade.)

And then there's the problem that the idea of building an "ark" consisting of nuclear weapons is that it leaves a lot of us on the outside.

During the early part of my life, ordinary Noahs struggled to find a way to preserve life even if a nuclear war happened. There was a fad for family fallout shelters.

Family fallout shelter: "This free-standing, double-hulled steel shelter
 was installed beneath the front yard of Mr. and Mrs. Murland E. Anderson
 of Ft. Wayne, Indiana." (Image: National Museum of American History)

A significant number of people built them, and everybody was talking about them. (You can read more about the diverse opinions on fallout shelters in this article by Matt Novak.)

Today, interest in fallout shelters has waned; people don't talk about them as much these days as when I was young. I'm hoping it's not because people have grown complacent about the nuclear threat, but because they realized those shelters aren't much of a solution.

What's the polar opposite response to the nuclear threat -- compared to a reinforced concrete-lined hole in the ground? A structure called a "council ring" comes to mind.

Council ring (Image: Lance M Hatleli)

I have frequently encountered beautiful circular structures in Chicago's beautiful parks designed by the landscape architect Jens Jensen. These "council rings" are a signature element of Jensen's designs -- a place for people to sit together in a circle, in emulation of Native American tradition.

How different these council rings are from fallout shelters! Above ground instead of below ground; in the open instead of sealed up; made for sharing instead of made for escaping; designed to facilitate communication and growth rather than to prevent contact.

As I have worked on the "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war, I have realized that what we must build, if we can possibly figure out how, is a construct for civic engagement, a way for more and more of us to take a role in dismantling the nuclear threat. Perhaps the way to do so won't be as obvious as building a boat out of teakwood and pitch; but the spirit of the endeavor is very much of a piece with what Noah did.

How might we build an ark for the 21st century in the form of a container for social action to prevent nuclear war?  Social structures are not always as outwardly impressive as soaring skyscrapers, powerful machines, sleek ships ... or thundering bombs. But, if measured in terms of potential impact, nothing could be more effectual.

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The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers -- Obama, Putin, the other agents of government -- hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Are we prepared to think about un-creation?

"Earthrise" (William Anders, 1968)

GOD saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil -- evil, evil, evil from morning to night. GOD was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. GOD said, "I'll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep; people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds -- the works. I'm sorry I made them."

But Noah was different. GOD liked what he saw in Noah.

- Genesis 6:5-8
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

Wait: what?

God can DO that? Just ... get rid of it??

Well, I suppose . . . . Yes, somehow, the world came into being. I guess I need to be able to wrap my head around the idea that the opposite could happen.

Somehow creation happened.  So what about un-creation . . . ?

The people in the ancient world who put the Bible together grappled in Genesis with a question that most of us try not to think about. They made use of old stories that attempted to cope with the possibility that the world could end. No one had ever seen a world-ending flood, but they had seen plenty of smaller floods. And that had made them think . . . .

With respect to the "Back From the Brink" resolution, I see a connection between the Noah story and the fundamental question: what are we prepared to think about? And: what's the use of thinking about it?

A while back, it dawned on me that the catastrophic risk we face from nuclear weapons is unlike any other, and it is particularly difficult for people to think about.

Today I will go a step further and say that the vast majority of us probably won't think about it, at least not until something very shocking jolts us into awareness.

Sleepers wake!

Boy Scout Second Class Rank Emblem
When I was a kid, back in the '60s, I was a Boy Scout. I devoted many hours to learning first aid and other survival skills in the hopes of earning an array of brightly colored badges. It was never quite clear to me what exactly we were being asked to "be prepared" for; our parents weren't telling us. I can't help thinking that the high level of anxiety in US society in those days about nuclear weapons had something to do with it.

Ironically, we are now being told by the International Committee of the Red Cross that, when it comes to nuclear weapons, that sort of preparedness simply won't be enough. (See ICRC video "Nuclear weapons: A disaster we cannot prepare for") Instead, the ICRC is now urging us to do the mental and political preparedness that takes the form of advocating to get rid of nuclear weapons -- before they are used.

My sister delved into this very challenge in her book, Thinking in an Emergency.

When all of us finally do truly come face-to-face with the possibility of un-creation, who among us will not be paralyzed by fear or despair? Who will be prepared to do the work that needs to be done at that moment to continue moving us back from the brink? How do we prepare ourselves?

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In 1945, László Moholy-Nagy invited us to hold three things in our minds at the same time, even if we didn't want to: the image of a skyscraper, that monument to human society and endeavor; a rendering of the way that image is fragmented by a crystal ball; and the word "nuclear." (See: 9/11 Fourteen Years On - A Visual Reflection (á la Alfred C. Barnes) )