Monday, November 4, 2019

Want to "Save the Planet"? What Might We Learn from the Way of Jesus?

When I was a teenager in New Jersey in the '70s, I played in a rock band. Among the artists we loved and emulated were Edgar Winter and his brother, Johnny. Edgar and his band performed a song called "Save the Planet":




(... and check out the live version of "Save the Planet" here.)

The lyrics go like this:

Save the planet!
Who will save our planet?
Who will volunteer?
Save the planet - don't you know we love our planet?
Judgement time is here.

Who will it be? Will it be Mr. Black?
Who will it be? Will it be Mr. White?
Who will it be?  Will it be Mr. Wrong?
Who will it be?  Will it be Mr. Right?
Will it be you? Or will it be me?
Lord knows who will be . . . .

Every time I've listened to this joyful gospel hymn over the course of the past forty years or so, I've been filled with a sense of tremendous hope. Until relatively recently, that was a hope that stood in the face of a vague sense of the possible threats to our environment. I still get hope from this song, but I now realize the challenge is right in front of us, and urgent.

And as I listen to these words with a new sense of urgency, I'm hearing an important message. I have tended to think a great deal in terms of physics and chemistry -- how to offset the dangers posed by carbon dioxide and nuclear radiation -- but perhaps what Edgar Winter is telling me is that there is a more fundamental question: "Who will volunteer?" Hmmm ... what does it look like to be a "volunteer"?

The more I think about it, the more I think that being a "volunteer" -- that is, someone who has decided for themselves what is important and has set out on a chosen path -- is central to addressing the crisis the planet is facing. And that makes me, as a Christian, wonder what I might learn about this from reflecting on how Jesus lived. After all, Jesus was the ultimate "volunteer."

I was recently challenged to take a look at some scripture passages that are used during the Lenten season -- the six weeks leading up to Easter -- and think about them in light of this question. In 2020, people in churches around the country (and around the world) will reflect in common on six stories:

* How to pray ... how to fast ... what to treasure (Matt 6:1-6, 16-21)
* Tested in Wilderness (Matt 4:1-11)
* Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9)
* Samaritan Woman (John 4:5-42)
* Healing a Blind Man (John 9:1-41)
* Lazarus (John 11:1-45)

(See: Revised Common Lectionary - Lent 2020)

In the weeks ahead, I plan to delve into these stories and offer reflections. I'm not sure where it will lead me. But I'm remembering some of my past reflections on Lent, Holy Week, and East (see "Thoughts Before Holy Week: Talk About the Passion" and reflections on the R.E.M. lyric "not everyone can carry the weight of the world") and feeling that it may lead me toward some basics that will help me on my journey.


Related post


Searching the story of Noah for insight about the situation we face, what we might do about it, and where God is in all this. (See BFtB-WWND: "Back From The Brink": What Would Noah Do? )
















How a confession of faith may help us think through our response to problems like drone killing and drone surveillance. (See Awake to Drones: Confessions of Faith)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Harvard Conference Resources




Below are links to resources from the November 4, 2017, conference at Harvard, "Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?"

Six-minute summary video of "Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?"

Full text of "Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?" presentations on Public Books website.

Event summary: Nuclear weapons strategy in the United States is designed around “presidential first use,” an arrangement that enables one man, the president, to kill and maim many millions of people in a single afternoon. What legal or philosophical principle differentiates the moral harm or moral wrong that would be attributed to a terrorist, non-state actor or hacker who delivered a nuclear weapon from a presidential launch of a nuclear weapon? The conference will bring together international and constitutional scholars and statesmen to examine the nature of presidential first use in the United States, as well as parallel arrangements in the other eight nuclear states.


Videos of full proceedings

(Links to video of full panels and individual presentations.)

Elaine Scarry, “Introduction: Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons”

Panel One: Presidential First Use: An Overview

Chair: Jonathan King
Bruce Blair, “The Nuclear Doomsday Machines”
William Perry, “Can the President’s Cabinet Act as a Constraint on Presidential First Use?
Sissela Bok, “The Use and Misuse of the Language of Self-Defense”
Audience questions and comments

Panel Two: Presidential First Use vs. the U.S. Constitution

Chair: Richard Fallon
Bruce Ackerman, “Presidential Lawlessness: The Case for Fundamental Reform”
Rosa Brooks, “Nuclear Weapons and the Deep State: Can Bureaucracy Constrain Nuclear Weapons?”
John Burroughs, “International Law and First Use of Nuclear Weapons”
Audience comments and questions

Senator Ed Markey: Comments 

Panel Three: Presidential First Use vs. Congress and the Citizenry

Chair: Elaine Scarry
Congressman Jim McGovern, “Presidential First Use vs. Congress”
Kennette Benedict, “Congress and the Citizenry”
Hugh Gusterson, “Democracy, Hypocrisy, First Use”
Audience comments and questions

Panel Four: Parallel Executive Arrangements in the Other Nuclear States

Chair: Joseph Gerson
Zia Mian, “Nuclear Weapons Use in South Asia”
William Perry, “Nuclear North Korea: 1999 and 2017”
Bruce Blair, “The Protocol for Nuclear First Use by the United States, Russia, and China”
Audience comments and questions

Speaker profiles:

Bruce Ackerman, named one of the top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy in 2010, is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale and author of We the People.

Kennette Benedict is former executive director of Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, senior advisor to Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and lecturer at University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Bruce Blair is a former missile launch officer, the co-founder of Global Zero, and a professor at Princeton.

Sissela Bok is senior visiting fellow at Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies and author of A Strategy for Peace (1989) and Lying: Moral Choice in Private and Public Life (1978).

Rosa Brooks is Georgetown University Law Center professor and author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything.

John Burroughs is executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and director of the UN office of International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms. He is the author of the Legality of Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons: A Guide to the Historic Opinion of the International Court of Justice (1998).

Richard Fallon is Rhodes Scholar and Story Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and author of The Federal Courts and the Federal System, as well as The Dynamic Constitution.

Joseph Gerson is disarmament coordinator of American Friends Service Committee, director of Peace and Economic Security Program, author of Empire and the Bomb, and founder of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security.

Hugh Gusterson is professor of international affairs and anthropologist at George Washington University, president of American Ethnological Society, and author of works on executive weapons, Nuclear Rites and Drone: Remote Control Warfare.

Jonathan King is emeritus professor of molecular biology at MIT, past president of the national Biophysical Society, chair of the Nuclear Disarmament Working Group at Mass Peace Action, and co-chair of this conference on Presidential First Use.

Ed Markey has served in Congress for four decades, first as US Representative of Massachusetts 7th District (1976-2013), then as Senator from Massachusetts (2013-present). Throughout that time, he has been a leading voice on the nuclear peril and is currently co-author of the Markey-Lieu bill (S200, HR669), the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act.”

Jim McGovern is US Representative of Massachusetts 2nd District, first co-sponsor of the Markey-Lieu bill restricting presidential launch of a nuclear weapon, and a leading advocate in Congress for peace.

Zia Mian is physicist and co-director of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security, co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, and co-author of Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation.

William Perry, senior fellow at Stanford University, is Former US Secretary of Defense, author of My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (2015), and co-founder of the Nuclear Security Project.

Elaine Scarry is Cabot Professor of Aesthetics at Harvard and the author of Thermonuclear Monarchy. She is co-organizer of the “Presidential First Use” conference

Jonathan King
Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This event was cosponsored by Harvard Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard’s Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Mass Peace Action, Mass Peace Action Education Fund, American Friends Service Committee, Council for A Livable World, Future of Life Institute, World beyond War, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Boston Review.



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Preventing Nuclear War: The Work of a Lifetime

Boat at Rest Under a Tree, Rocky Acres Berry Farm, Bayfield, WI.
(Image: Joe Scarry)


Noah lived another 350 years following the flood. He lived a total of 950 years. And he died.

- Genesis 9:28
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)


The flood occurred in the 600th year of Noah's life. He lived another 350 years. Undoubtedly, the adventure on the ark was the highlight of his life. And he had plenty of time -- the last one-third of his life -- to reflect upon the consequences.

As someone who recently turned 60, I can really relate to the 600-year-old Noah. If I'm lucky enough to have another span of years, as he did, what will I be reflecting back upon?

The "Back From the Brink" campaign has the potential to have big consequences. If we can really succeed in preventing nuclear war . . . imagine the feeling of that accomplishment!

And if we don't? For most of us, it's unthinkable.

Since the dawn of the nuclear weapons age, many people have spent the autumn years of their lives in regret. Perhaps this vision of the aged J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Manhattan Project, is the most painful of all:




What do we want to be reflecting upon in our future years?


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Related post:

Soon, Kazashi was able to visit the U.S. again, and we had the opportunity to renew our friendship. He told me about his work: "When I obtained a position at a university, it turned out to be in Hiroshima," I remember Kazashi telling me. "So it was very natural that I became connected with the peace movement. I became a peace worker."

(See Obama in Japan: How About a Pivot Toward Peacemaking? )

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"Back From the Brink" - Clear-Cut and Messy

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Noah Curses Ham for His Mockery


The sons of Noah who came out of the ship were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah; from these three the whole Earth was populated.

Noah, a farmer, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank from its wine, got drunk and passed out, naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked and told his two brothers who were outside the tent. Shem and Japheth took a cloak, held it between them from their shoulders, walked backward and covered their father's nakedness, keeping their faces turned away so they did not see their father's exposed body.

When Noah woke up with his hangover, he learned what his youngest son had done. He said,

Cursed be Canaan! A slave of slaves,
a slave to his brothers!
Blessed be GOD, the God of Shem,
but Canaan shall be his slave.
God prosper Japheth,
living spaciously in the tens of Shem.
But Canaan shall be his slave.

- Genesis 9:18-27
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)


I would love to be able to ignore this part of the story. I'd be very happy to end the story of Noah and the ark with the part about the covenant and the rainbow. Noah drunk and naked, and hungover and cursing his son, is more than I wanted to hear about.

Why does this even have to be part of the story?

Moreover, this is one of the Bible passages that was used to justify slavery in the United States. That's a reminder that the passage goes beyond dwelling on messy, complicated behavior to being used as an excuse for systemic injustice.

One possibility is that the people who originally told the story wanted us to remember: even superheroes have complicated lives. If this were a fairy tale, Noah would save the world and then everyone would live happily ever after. Instead, Noah saves the world and life goes back to being messy.

What possible connection does this have to the "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war? For me, this part of the story reminds me that, no matter how clearly the campaign is able to dissect the issues and prescribe a pathway to action, it's still going to have to be carried out by people  -- and that means it's still going to be complicated and messy.

Perhaps now would be as good a time as any to offer up a prayer -- a prayer for forbearance as we set out to do important work that will try our patience and challenge our interpersonal intelligence. We should all be as lucky as Noah to share this work with those we love most in the world; and we should all be prepared for our relationships to be tested.


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Related post:

What's the image in your mind of the human behavior that induced God to want to bring the flood? What I remember from Sunday school was that people were misbehaving . . . .

(See They were awesome. (But they really screwed things up.) )

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Come Together to Pull Back From the Brink

Rainbow above Joni's Beach - Madeline Island, WI, July 15, 2019
(Photo: Joe Scarry)


Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: "I'm setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you -- birds, farm animals, wild animals -- that came out of the ship with you. I'm setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth."

God continued, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I'm putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I'll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I'll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth."

And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I've set up between me and everything living on the Earth."

- Genesis 9:8-17
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)


This is the part of the Noah story that everyone focuses on, and that is as it should be.

A lot of people think the rainbow represents God's promise to us. That's certainly what I have always thought. "I promise: never again with the flood thing."

But now I'm looking at the words more closely, and I'm realizing that's not exactly what they say. Instead of saying, "I'm making a promise to you" -- one way, all the commitment on one side -- or even "We've got a deal" -- tit for tat, I'll hold up my end if you hold up your end -- the words speak of being in covenant.

The word "covenant" is root in the word "convene" -- to come together, to assemble. It is used seven times in this part of the Noah story, and the Message Bible translation I have cited here emphasizes the "coming together" aspect of the word covenant each time it is invoked:

"I'm setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you."

"I'm setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters"

"the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you."

"my rainbow . . .  a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth"

"my covenant between me and you and everything living,"

"the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth."

"the covenant that I've set up between me and everything living on the Earth."

I notice an emphasis not just on God coming together with people living now, but also an emphasis on all of us coming together with all generations; and not just God with humankind, but also all of us with "every last living creature on Earth."

I'm not sure what the people who first told the Noah story thought this coming together might look like, or what the next disaster to be avoided was. But it is as clear as day -- as unmistakable as a rainbow -- to me now that people in every nation need to come together, and do so with a reverent regard for all life on Earth, both at present and for generations to come, in order for us to forestall the twin threats of nuclear war and climate destruction.

"Come together" -- easy to say, not always easy to do. In fact, sometimes there seems to be a streak in human nature that incites us to separate at the very moment we need most to work together.

The big news yesterday was the formal withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty - the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In a nutshell, it was the result of the US and Russia getting fed up with trying to work together, and instead saying, "I'm going it alone from here." Reflecting on this in light of the Noah story, I can't help feeling our governments are setting forth an example of how not to behave!

I can't help reflecting on the experience of the '80s. The presidents of the US and the USSR met together and arrived at historic arms reductions agreements. The really interesting thing is that they didn't know before they sat down together that they were going to be able to achieve anything close to what they accomplished; those breakthroughs in peacemaking were (mostly) simple consequences of coming together.

The Noah story is helping me understand that, as we work on the "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war, the fundamental building block will be coming together with others -- especially those who don't agree with us -- and saying, "How can we solve this -- together?"


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It can all happen very fast . . . . No one really knows ahead of time what will happen . . . . That's why it's so important for people to get together and talk.

(See The Lesson of Reykjavik: TALK About Nuclear Disarmament (You Never Know) )

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Time to Re-write the Noachide Laws and Pull Back From the Brink?

Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom


God blessed Noah and his sons: He said, "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the Earth! Every living creature -- birds, animals, fish -- will fall under your spell and be afraid of you. You're responsible for them. All living creatures are yours for food; just as I gave you the plants, now I give you everything else. Except for meat with its lifeblood still in it -- don't eat that.

"But your own lifeblood I will avenge; I will avenge it against both animals and other humans.

"Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans let his blood be shed,
Because God made humans in his image
reflecting God's very nature.
You're here to bear fruit, reproduce,
lavish life on the Earth, live bountifully!"


- Genesis 9:1-7
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)


If you're like me, you've heard the story of Noah and the flood lots of times, without every really noticing this section. It directly precedes the part about the God's covenant and the rainbow, and, I think, that's the part most of us remember best.

Now that I'm paying attention to verses 1-7, I'm wondering: are these conditions for the covenant that God makes in the next section? God seems to be saying, "Behave!" The language about God's vengeance seems particularly harsh.

In fact, on closer inspection, God's admonitions here don't make much sense. They're the kind of thing that, when spoken with vehemence, can initially sound conclusive, but when you really think about it, don't follow logic:

* "All living creatures are yours for food." Why? "Because I said so."

* "[M]eat with its lifeblood still in it -- don't eat that." Why? "Because I said so."

* "Whoever sheds human blood, by humans let his blood be shed." Why? "Because I said so."

Further, I even wonder if the whole flood story isn't just a set-up, a way to introduce these rules -- sometimes referred to as the Noachide Laws.

All in all, I don't find this situation very satisfying. These feel like some pretty crappy rules.


*    *    *


Since 1945, the world has been governed by some other pretty crappy rules. They fall under the general rubric of "nuclear deterrence," and they boil down to this: "Do what we say, because we can destroy you and the whole world."

At the time the atomic bomb was developed, people were still traumatized by the experience of World War I, and the recurrence of a second worldwide war, and they were desperate for a way to put an end to war once and for all. They thought this new, powerful weapon would be better than the alternative. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

As a friend pointed out to me recently, "Even if a foreign country attacked the US with a nuclear weapon, what would possibly be acceptable about launching a nuclear attack against one of their cities and killing hundreds of thousands, or millions, of civilians?" Oh . . . well, right, there's that . . . . "

When I spoke on the webinar in June about the UCC "Back From the Brink" resolution, one of the audience members commented in the chat box, "I served on a nuclear submarine. The intent was that we would never have to launch our nuclear weapons, because if we were to do so, it would mean that our mission of deterrence would have failed!" Unfortunately, that doesn't quite rise logically to meaning, "Nuclear weapons will never be used."


*    *    *


It seemed like a good idea at the time. I think what we can take from this episode in the flood story is that sometimes rules were made because they were the best that people could think of at the time. Rather than thinking that those rules can never be changed, we are free to use logic and come up with new rules that work even better. We can re-write old rules that were based on vengeance, and we can change the global security architecture predicated on mutually assured destruction.


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How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

NOAH: A Model for Advocacy?

Paper cranes - frequently used as a devotional object, including
in connection with the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan.


Noah built an altar to GOD. He selected clean animals and birds from every species and offered them as burnt offerings on the altar. GOD smelled the sweet fragrance and thought to himself, "I'll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I'll never again kill off everything living as I've just done.

"For as long as Earth lasts,
planting and harvest, cold and heat,
Summer and winter, day and night
will never stop."

- Genesis 8:20-22
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)


Noah made an offering to God. Was it an offering of thanksgiving, for the end of the ordeal? Or an offering of supplication, that he not be subjected to the ordeal again?

These days, at least in US culture, we do not have the custom of selecting birds and animals to make burnt offerings on an altar. And yet we do hold solemn observances to reflect on where we've been, and where we're going, and to offer prayers of thanksgiving and supplication.

One week from today, I will go to Madison, WI, for a remembrance of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (There will be events in other cities, too.) There will be time for quiet reflection, time to share stories, time to pray.

Every year at these Hiroshima commemoration gatherings, I wonder: are we mainly grateful that nuclear weapons haven't been used against people since 1945? Or are we mainly hoping and praying that they will never be used again?

This year, in addition to the quiet reflection, and the story sharing, and the praying, there will be calls to action. People will be called to work to pull the world "Back From the Brink" and prevent nuclear war.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say that part and parcel of the prayers will be the call to action to support the "Back From the Brink" campaign. Pope Francis has said, "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works." Knowing that Pope Francis is a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament, I believe he would endorse this paraphrase:

You pray for nuclear disarmament.
Then you get to work as a 
"Back From the Brink" advocate.
This is how prayer works.


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"To see the atom bomb museum," I said. And again I wondered, what can a child in Nagasaki think when they see a person from the US who has come here to see the atom bomb museum?

(See Encounter in Nagasaki )