The silly season?

Can you remember what the news used to be like during the summer? It was often called ‘the silly season’ as the news media, print and broadcast, would hunt around for stories and end up presenting us with ones that were just, frankly, silly. But it served as a kind of light relief as we settled down in our deck chairs, made sand castles and waited for September to arrive with the party conferences and politics and the news and we could reengage with reality.

But there is nothing silly about this season.  True, I’ve watched some heart-warming videos of dogs licking cats and a cat rescuing a puppy which people have posted on Twitter but beyond that it feels like we are moving inexorably into a vortex of destruction.


The crew of the Enola Gay

I was on holiday in Spain when the Feast of the Transfiguration occurred.  It was lovely to be at Mass in the church of Santa Maria del Mar in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, a church sometimes called ‘The Cathedral of the Sea’, a gorgeous gothic building, the construction of which inspired the novel of that name by Ildefonso Falcones, a kind of Spanish equivalent of ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Anyway, I was at the International Mass that they have each week at 12 noon, a great service if you are in Barcelona on a Sunday.  But this was the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord and so my mind was captured by the strange conjunction of two images, the first of the Lord Jesus bathed in divine light and the second, the demonic intense light that came with the explosion over Hiroshima that day in 1945 of the first nuclear bomb to be detonated. The immediate horror for me was that the rhetoric between two unpredictable and dangerous leaders – Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un – was drawing us closer to another nuclear conflagration.

On the holy mountain the three disciples, Peter James and John, saw the Lord

‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.’ (Matthew 17.2)

In that amazing light the disciples were able to see clearly who Jesus really was, the light revealed it, they saw him in both his human and divine natures in that moment of theophany. We know that light can do this.  Let the sunshine into a room that has been closed up and its rays reveal the cobwebs and the dust that have accumulated in the corners, unnoticed in the gloom. We see clearly as never before – the beauty and the chaos.

When the American aircraft, Enola Gay, discharged her payload over Japan we saw clearly what humankinds intellect, at its best and at its worst, could achieve, a weapon that could destroy the whole of creation, a weapon that could destroy what God had so beautifully created.  It was a moment that should have brought us to our senses, and to be fair, for many people it was and it did.  Those great days of the Aldermaston Marches, the time when CND was at its strongest and most vibrant, amazing people like Bruce Kent, who for me was an inspirational figure, a priest-prophet as an activist against nuclear armament.

In September 1980 a pop group called ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’, more often called OMD, released a single called ‘Enola Gay’ – those of you as old as me may remember the song and the chilling line in the lyrics

These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.

I suppose it was that song and beginning my formation as a priest at Mirfield with strong priestly figures like Bruce Kent and others around, that made me join CND. I may not agree with all that Jeremy Corbyn says but when he was being pressed as to whether he would be prepared to press the nuclear button I wanted him to stand up for not being prepared to do so.  How could any person be asked to slaughter millions of innocent people? No nation, no regime, be they capitalist or communist, be they democratic or despotic, have the right to hold weapons of mass destruction and to threaten, like kids in a school yard, to unleash them on each other.

Phrases like ‘fire and fury’, ‘locked and loaded’ fit neatly into Tweets but as that pop song of 37 years ago said ‘These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.’

I still believe, and you can call me naïve, that the only way to control nuclear weapons is by not having them, through multi-lateral disarmament.  I know we cannot ‘un’-invent them, I know that the technology will always exist, I know that the terrorist groups which will always emerge might try to get hold of them, but the very fact that legitimate, democratic and supposedly responsible nations have them gives them a global legitimacy and those not in the ‘nuclear club’ will always seek to get in by fair means or foul.

transfiguration 6

In your light shall we see light

Look, I am only a priest, these things are bigger than I can deal with, but at some stage those like me who are petrified at what seems to be happening have to be able to say STOP! Until then all I can do is fall on my knees before the one who in divine, dazzling, blinding and healing light reveals God to us. As the Psalmist writes of God

‘with you is the well of life
and in your light shall we see light.’
(Psalm 36.9)

This is the psalm prayer from Common Worship : Daily Prayer that was written in response to Psalm 36 – pray it with me, please.

O God, the well of life,
make us bright with wisdom,
that we may be lightened with the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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