It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon

I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way.  My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years.  I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war. I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up.  They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day.  During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County.  (Read here about  The Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)

One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.

Suddenly, I was struck with the thought: How must God feel about all this? How must God feel about what we human beings have done to each other, and about what we intend to do, as we stockpile nuclear weapons? I fell to my knees, praying for forgiveness, overcome with a sense of the depth of pain that God must bear because of the horrors we human beings create for each other. To this day, I believe that God weeps for the harm we do and prepare for each other.

When the Cold War finally ended, people around the world heaved a sigh of relief, believing that it signaled the end of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of world peace. Instead, the danger of nuclear war, while less visible in the public eye than during the Cold War, continues to threaten humanity.  In recent years, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the time on its “Doomsday Clock” closer and closer to midnight, that is, “doomsday.”  They warn of a “Second Nuclear Age,”with increasing vulnerability to global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and other harmful emerging technologies.  In January 2017, soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Scientists moved the time on the Doomsday Clock to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.  In addition to unchecked climate change, growing disputes among nuclear-armed nations, nuclear weapons modernization programs, and lack of serious arms-control negotiations, they cited Donald Trump’s statements about using nuclear weapons and about doubting the scientific consensus on climate change.

Now the Trump Administration is planning to take actions that will make the world even more vulnerable to nuclear war.  The Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review includes plans to develop new, more usable nuclear weapons and to “expand the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal,” even in response to a non-nuclear attack.  (See Rising Concerns about Nuclear War as Trump Prepares to Loosen Constraints on Weapons.) This plan heightens global tensions and raises the dangers of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war.

Donald Trump, however, did not bring us to this pass.  The United States has never pledged to refrain from launching a nuclear first strike, and it is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons against another nation.  Although President Obama spoke early in his presidency about eventually ridding the world of the nuclear threat, his administration initiated a trillion-dollar program to upgrade and modernize the US nuclear arsenal.  The plan called for creating modernized nuclear weapons that will be smaller, stealthy, maneuverable, and highly accurate.  These features will make them more likely to be used, but there is no coherent strategy for avoiding escalation if they are launched.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has been the only remaining superpower.  Why, then, has this country not led a major diplomatic effort toward disarmament, peacemaking, and sustainable development in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere? Would this not create a far more secure world? Why do we continue developing increasingly accurate and usable first-strike nuclear weapons, and why are our nuclear weapons still on high alert? Why are we selling advanced war-fighting weapons on the open market and opposing treaties that limit the global arms trade? Why are we launching drone attacks that kill civilians, fuel hatred, and provide a recruiting tool for terrorists?  Why not instead institute a Global Marshall Plan to alleviate suffering and create international goodwill?  Such a policy would go a long way toward creating security for the United States and for the world.

It’s time for a renewal of the peace movement!  I hope that the many people who are actively resisting the harms caused by the Trump Administration will include the challenging work of peacemaking as a priority.  This is certainly a practical issue, for the sake of the world, but it is also a spiritual issue.  I am complicit if I don’t speak out and take action to resist the violent, unjust, and yes, sinful actions of my government.  God weeps at the harm we do and prepare for each other.  “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.”  Another world is possible.

 

This post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.   An updated Second Edition will be released by Fortress Press in the fall of 2018.

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Following Jesus Without Being a Sheep

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This post is based on a sermon I preached on Sunday, May 7, at Nevada City United Methodist Church.  You can watch the whole service here or move the curser 21 minutes into the service for just the sermon.

The Gospel of John includes many metaphors.  Just in this short passage (John 10:1-10), there are two:  1) Jesus as the good shepherd, who leads and cares for the sheep, and 2) Jesus as the gate, the point of access, so the sheep can come in and go out and find pasture.  Here Jesus describes his mission and goal:  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

When I read this passage, it reminds me of the wonderful section of Handel’s Messiah, where it says, “He shall lead his flock like a shepherd, and carry the lambs in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”  A poignant and comforting song.  When I read this passage, it reminds me of the wonderful section of Handel’s Messiah, where it says, “He shall lead his flock like a shepherd, and carry the lambs in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”  A poignant and comforting song.  It also reminds me of the 23rd Psalm, which my grandmother taught me, and which I’ve taught my children and at times, my grandchildren.  Passages like this stick with us, and come back at just the times we need them.  For instance, when we feel like we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

When we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, what does that mean?  A shepherd’s goals are to make sure the sheep have a place to roam, pasture, food, water, protection from predators, and if one strays off, according to Jesus, the good shepherd will leave the 99 there in the wilderness and go out to seek the one that was lost.  That’s an image of God.  And that’s a great image of abundant life.

But awhile back, one of my granddaughters said to me, “I don’t want to be sheep.”  So when I started preparing this sermon, I decided to look up the definition of “sheep.”  1)  Any of the various hollow-horned typically gregarious ruminant mammals (genus Ovis) related to the goats but stockier and lacking a beard in the male–specifically one long domesticated especially for its flesh and wool.  2) a timid defenseless creature; 3) a timid docile person, especially one easily influenced or led.  Of course, none of us want to be that kind of a person, and that’s certainly not what Jesus meant.

Jesus didn’t mean for people to follow him without thinking for themselves.  He engaged people.  He used figures of speech, he asked them questions, he challenged them, he sent them out in ministry.  He said, “Follow me, do what I do, teach what I teach, love how I love, serve as I serve.”  He engaged with people in the fullness of their humanity, even though sometimes (like us) they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about).

Nevertheless, with these very limited and flawed human beings, Jesus was able create a community that welcomed the poor, the outcast, the stranger, even women and children.  A community that embodied God’s love and what it means to live an abundant life.  A community that embodied the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.  Today some call it the reign of God or the kin-dom of God.  A kin-dom of abundant life.

This community that Jesus drew together became very popular, so much so that the religious leaders began plotting against him.  They collaborated with Rome to keep the military occupation in place, and they benefited from this collaboration.  Jesus challenged their authority.  He broke their laws, including laws against healing on the Sabbath.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  He and his followers occupied the Temple.  Slept outside, but each day the people all came back to occupy the Temple.  The authorities couldn’t arrest him there.  Why?  Because “all the people hung on his words.”

Finally, the authorities succeeded.  They waited until he was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane with just a few followers.   Then they came out with swords and clubs and Roman guards to arrest him.  They tried him in a mock trial, beat him, and crucified him.  His followers fled, except for a few—mostly women.  They killed the shepherd, and the sheep scattered

Then something amazing happened.  People started saying, “I have seen the Lord.”  According to the gospels, this started with the women—the first preachers, the first witnesses to the resurrection.  The community that had formed around Jesus reconstituted itself, based on the lived experience of the Risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  We read about that early community today in Acts, about how the people pooled their possessions and shared with whoever was in need.

These early Christians continued in the faith of Jesus.  They lived according to his teaching and example, identifying with the poor and outcast.  For the first three centuries, Christians refused to bow to the Emperor and refused to serve in the Roman Army.  Many were martyred for their faith.   They stood on conscience.  Not at all like sheep.

When Constantine made Christianity the State Religion, the church became identified with the power of the state.  Some have called this the downfall of the church, because the Church became aligned with the dominant culture, wherever it was situated.  But throughout history, there have been people and communities who have kept alive the vision that motivated the early church.

One of these people was John Wesley.  John Wesley was a key figure in the 18th Century Great Awakening, and the founder of Methodism.  Wesley worked hard to make sure that the early Methodists were not sheep, that they didn’t just believe what they were told.  He insisted that people move toward a mature faith, and take responsibility and make decisions for themselves.

We still follow that understanding today.  I have been helping with the youth confirmation classes during this school year.  I’ve been teaching some of these kids ever since they were little, when we’d sing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” But faith is not always so simple.  And we don’t want our youth to just swallow something whole, even if they’ve read it in the Bible, even if someone in authority tells them so.  We don’t want them to be “easily influenced or led.”

And so, in our classes, we’ve often turned to John Wesley.  Wesley said that of course we need to read scripture.  But we also need to look to tradition, reason, and experience.  We need to look to Christian tradition, especially to traditions of the early church, which he said demonstrated “no other than love.”  We also need to use our own God-given faculty of reason.  And we need to be true to our own experience, our experience of the world, our experience of the divine.  It we turn our back on our own common sense or our own experience, we turn our back on ourselves.

We’ve put a lot into challenging the youth.  And when the time comes for them to decide whether to be confirmed, some may say “yes,” some may so “no” or “not yet.” But they will know what they are deciding.   I’m grateful to Pastor Kris, to Peggy, Eleanor, and Jenny, and to this congregation, who have all supported the youth in this process.

Pastor Kris suggested that I preach on the themes in my upcoming book, but I decided instead to go with the lectionary.  Still, I am putting in a plug about the book, which is called Love in a Time of Climate Change:  Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.  It will be released in July, and there are cards on a table in the Fellowship Hall if you want to know more.  It’s based on the teachings of John Wesley.  It uses scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to explore the themes of creation and justice.  The point is not to convince people what they should think.  Instead, it’s a challenge for readers come to their own understanding about climate change, and to decide for themselves how to respond.

We face many challenges, not just climate change.  There are so many challenges today that change may seem almost impossible.  We may be tempted to give up hope, but now is not the time for that, not if we are truly committed to following Jesus.  Christ is risen.  God who is Love can bring light out of darkness and life out of death.

Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God… the reign of God, the kin-dom of God.  However we name it, following Jesus means following him into the heart of the struggle for a better world:  a world where all have access to food and water, where all are cared for and offered shelter, where even the stranger and outcast are sought out and brought into community.  A world where the abundance of creation is a shared gift, offered to all people and all species and preserved to all generations.  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

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There’s Still Time

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Winter Garden

It’s a beautiful day, with a light rain following last night’s storm.  The winter veggies and daffodils are happy, the fruit trees are happy, the birds, squirrels, and frogs are delighted.  Sunny days will return soon, and it looks like we’ll have a glorious spring after the first real winter in years.

I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for any weather, really, and for life itself.  I’m glad there’s still time—time for us as humans, even here in the United States, to come back to ourselves, to remember what it means to be human, dependent upon the Spirit for life, breath, and all things and interdependent with the rest of the natural world.  There’s still time for us to interrupt the insanity that has possessed us as a culture, that has led us to believe that current conditions are “normal,” even though all the warning (and warming) signs of economic, social, and environmental collapse are plain to anyone who has eyes to see.

How then shall we live?  I hope to play a small part in the hope for a “great turning,” for a transition to the other peaceful, just, and life-sustaining world that I know is possible.

It’s not time to give up.  It’s not time to simply provide hospice for the earth—that time could come, but it’s not now.  It’s not time to escape into our own private, personal worlds.  It’s time to awaken.  It will take many people from many different life experiences and ways of seeing the world, awakening 1) to what is at stake, 2) to what our responsibility is to the earth and the future, 3) what the alternatives are to the current path we are on, and 4) what we can do together about it.  Each of us can go deep within ourselves and cultivate courage in resisting the harm of the dominant institutions and systems of our day and to practice persistence in working for global transformation.

As I enjoy the rain and look toward spring, I know that God is alive and magic is afoot.  I am confident that there is still time for the change that needs to come.  I, for one, pray and act for “God’s kin-dom to come and God’s (loving) will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Awakening a Sleeping Giant

Sign at Occupy Wall Street .

Sign at Occupy Wall Street .

Update, June 13:   Fast Track was defeated in the House of Representatives… for now.  We can do this if we are in the struggle for the long haul.  Success!

My dear friends,

If you ever plan to participate in decisions made by so-called “leaders” on your behalf, today is the day to do it.  The Senate already passed “Fast Track” trade negotiating authority, and it is scheduled to be voted on in the House of Representatives today.  If passed, it will be much harder to stop upcoming free trade agreements, which increase corporate rights and make it harder to protect public health, communities, human rights, and the earth itself.

Go to Credo Action for the phone number for you to call your congressional representative.  Simply tell whoever answers that you urge your representative to vote “no” on Fast Track.

If you want to know more about this, see my blog on Fast Track to Hell, which spells out what’s so bad about the upcoming Trans Pacific Partnership, the first in a series of very bad agreements that don’t just deal with trade.  You can also watch the video presentation that I gave with Emanuel Sferios on Toxic Trade Agreements and the TPP.  Finally, the book that I wrote, Shaking the Gates of Hell,  is about the process of “corporate globalization,” in which transnational corporations write and promote these corporate bills of rights in their quest to consolidate global corporate rule.

There are many among the 1% who would benefit materially from increased corporate profits, but so many more among the general population who would be harmed.  Fortunately, more and more people are awakening to the extent of the damage being done by these misguided policies, and realizing that only “the power of the people” can stop them.  Even if Fast Track passes, the struggle will go on.  As the sign says, “The 1% has awakened a sleeping giant and filled us with great resolve.” Join us!

As I wrote in Fast Track to Hell:   “We don’t need to leave these decisions to government “leaders” who are blinded by allegiance to their corporate sponsors.  The fact is, we who can see what is at stake are the only ones who can stop this fast track to hell.  I trust that God and all the powers of the living earth are with us in this struggle.”

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Do We Have the Wisdom to Survive?

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Fires are burning week after week again this year here in the West.   The smoky skies aggravate asthma, give people headaches, burn people’s eyes, and make people grouchy.  We are warned to stay indoors due to unsafe levels of particulates.  As climate change continues to accelerate, other people in other places are also experiencing record-setting fires, heat waves, droughts,  floods, and other extreme weather events.

Do we have the wisdom to survive?  Will humanity rise to the challenge presented by climate change?  Will we change our ways of thinking and acting, will we transform our institutions and systems, in time to prevent climate chaos?  This question is always with me, even as I gather my grandchildren close to me and play and laugh and learn with them.  What will this overheating planet be like for them in twenty or forty or sixty years?

I do have hope.  I am grateful to be part of a world-wide community of people who are aware of what is at stake with the earth’s changing climate and who are willing to take action.  Tomorrow, the largest People’s Climate March in history will be held in New York, as world leaders gather in New York to discuss the climate crisis.  There will be solidarity demonstrations around the world, including here in Nevada City (meet at the Nevada City Vets Hall, 415 N. Pine, at 4 p.m.).  I hope that everyone who can come out will come out.  The time is now.

Or, if you aren’t convinced about climate change or have given up because you don’t think there is anything you can do, come tomorrow night to see the film “Wisdom to Survive” at 7 p.m. at the Nevada City United Methodist Church.  Here is the blurb I wrote for Old Dog Documentaries to help get the word out about the film:

Wisdom to Survive:  Climate Change, Capitalism, and Community is an exquisitely filmed documentary that presents an overview of the climate crisis, including its causes, effects, and directions of hope.  Poignant scenes illustrate the sacred beauty of the natural world, the tragedy of its diminishment, and our human interconnectedness with the rest of creation.

“The film unflinchingly names global free-market capitalism as the system that underlies the current plunder, with scenes of massive technological resource extraction causing industrial devastation.  Indigenous leaders, people from poor and vulnerable nations, scientists, scholars, religious leaders, activists, farmers, and poets make the case for “climate justice” and point in the direction of hope.

“Do we have the wisdom to survive?  The answer is related to community.   We are connected by our shared grief at what is happening to the earth and by our shared hope and commitment to the future.”

I hope you will join us here in Nevada City or at a Peoples’ Climate Rally near you.  This is not the time to give up, but the time to rise up and recommit ourselves to the earth and to the future.  Surely God is with us in this struggle.

One day our children and grandchildren will ask us what we were doing when there was still time to prevent the worst of climate change.  What will your answer be?

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