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Monday, August 7, 2017

Second Thoughts: "My beloved Son" and "Little Boy"

"His face shone like the sun…a bright cloud cast a shadow over them" (Mt. 17: 2, 5)

"…the sudden flare of harsh light was the first indication that something unusual had happened. In that eerily silent moment, white clouds sprung from the clear blue sky." (Allan Bellows, "Eyewitnesses to Hiroshima and Nagasaki")

I'm sure a lot of you sat there during your church services Sunday remembering that it was on August 6, 1945, that a US B-29 bomber dropped a bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" over Hiroshima, Japan, and perhaps 80,000 people lost their lives in the blast and ensuing firestorm. Half as many again died three days later in Nagasaki, and within a few months the death toll had climbed to well over 200,000.

What got me started on this was just the images in the gospel: the face of Jesus shining like the sun, a bright cloud casting a shadow. It was like the language that was used in books and articles I had read about the events of August 1945 to describe the atomic blast, though the latter was an event of historic disfiguration, not transfiguration, as the feast celebrates. And the language is peripheral, even disproportionate and dismissive to the seriousness of the devastation; but I hear words, I can't help it. In spite of the destruction wrought by "Little Boy," language of eyewitnesses like Isao Kita, a weatherman about two miles from ground zero, borrows the language of a poet to describe his first reaction to the event: "…white clouds spread over the blue sky. It was amazing. It was as if blue morning-glories had suddenly bloomed up in the sky."

"Be Thou My Vision" was what we sang to initiate our celebration of the Transfiguration yesterday, and these two memorials represent distinct visions of the future of humanity. In the white flash and heat of Hiroshima, the bright cloud that continues to cast a shadow on our planet after over seventy years, there is the specter of escalating violence that seems to have no upper limit, a road for humanity that is epitomized and encapsulated in the horrific moniker of "mutually assured destruction." The normalcy of civilization requires that various nations and ethnic groups defend themselves against aggression and the possibility of aggression, the buildup of arms, the tangle of vassal states and alliances that compose the fragile network of the balance of power. The explosion at Hiroshima which vaporized a square mile and snuffed out tens of thousands of lives in an instant was an act of retributive "justice," revenge masquerading as necessity. It was disfiguration of our race.

In stark contrast, though, the transfiguration of Jesus on his trek toward Jerusalem and the cross was a moment of revelation, its radiance being another moment of God's unveiling an alternative path for humanity. God was saying, "Yes, here I am," in the face of the one who preached love of enemies, the blessedness of the poor, of the meek, of peacemakers and justice-seekers. "Listen to him, my beloved son" was what the voice in the cloud had to say of him of who, with Moses and Elijah, two faithful witnesses to God against the violence of Egypt's pharaoh and Ahaz, Jezebel, and the court prophets of Israel, was bathed in the sunlight and cloud of the theophany.

"Little Boy" fell on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on a Monday morning in 1945. It was still Sunday here in the United States, where the people who gave the orders had attended church services a few hours before, celebrating "the beloved Son."

No one mentioned Hiroshima at my church yesterday. Do we ever even talk about the choice? Or do we think we are following Jesus even when we choose to support the very rivalrous powers of "normal civilization" that put Jesus to death? The choice between gods and empires is the choice between disfiguration or transfiguration, as Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John all know, there in the company of Jesus, the beloved of God.