I thought global conditions were bad enough this week that we planned to devote Monday through Friday to publishing hopeful news in troubling times.
THEN — just a couple of days ago, that evangelical bulwark of journalism, “Christianity Today,” torpedoed my Email “inbox” with headlines that began: “A Merciful White Flash.” If that vision of a nuclear blast wasn’t bad enough, the CT newsletter quickly slid downhill toward a second headline: “Spiritual Disaster Preparedness.”
Tyler Wigg Stevenson, an evangelical preacher and writer with a special interest in security issues, wrote these pieces from his home in Nashville, Tenn., complete with alarming sub-heads between sections of his text like this one: “Broad Is the Way That Leads to Destruction.”
In the second of his two terrifying pieces, Stevenson all but predicts a nuclear attack on the U.S., suggesting that the most likely targets will be Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Dallas or Los Angeles. (Hmmm, note that Tyler lives in none of those cities — perhaps a tip that we might all want to head toward the Grand Ole Opry and hunker down in Tyler’s neighborhood.)
Actually, this is not bleak humor. It’s a surprisingly eloquent plea from Tyler Wigg Stevenson. Yes, his pieces start out like scenes from “Dr. Strangelove” — but you’ll never guess where this staunch Baptist eventually takes us. Based on evangelical stereotypes, we might suspect he’s setting us up for a plea to fall on our knees and plead for salvation in such hopeless times. Or, based on evangelical political patterns, we might expect a call for political activism to beef up our American nuclear defenses.
Instead, Stevenson pleads for a complete ban on nuclear weapons.
He argues that U.S. policy should work toward zero nukes — even in our own arsenals.
He says that some very smart and deeply committed evangelicals stand with him in this effort. He writes: “The present champions of a nuclear weapons-free world are not naïve — on the contrary, many of them witnessed firsthand the worst evils of the last century in the same global conflagration that birthed the bomb. Nevertheless, they hope; in hoping, strive; in striving, exemplify courage.”
That’s not the two-dimensional picture of an evangelical that most of us expected to find standing on the horizon in a presidential election year.
As the stakes of global survival have risen dramatically — both in terms of military conflict and ecological damage — something very important is happening out there in that gray area between science, politics and faith.
People are talking.
They’re talking in fresh ways to people they never talked to before.
And, that’s a sign of hope.
Bravo Tyler Wigg Stevenson for tearing a scene from “Dr. Strangelove” and pasting it to a daring affirmation from the very core of your faith! You got our attention this week.
THEN, while preparing a review of a brand-new book called, “The Bridge at the Edge of the World,” for today’s story, I also started reading a review copy of an upcoming book by Ken Wilson for Thomas Nelson, called, “Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back.”
Wilson is a nationally known evangelist who dates way back to the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These days, increasingly he’s causing a stir for his efforts to help revive the traditional practice of fixed-hour prayers — and for his commitment to environmental preservation.
Half way through Wilson’s provocative and inspiring volume, I nearly dropped the book when I found him talking about how impressed he is by James Gustave Speth, dean of forestry and environmental studies at Yale. It turns out that Wilson and Speth attended a faith-and-science retreat where they talked about the dire threats facing our world.
Wilson quotes Speth as saying at this retreat: “I used to think if we threw enough good science at the environmental problems, we could solve them. I was wrong. The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change, as I thought once. They are selfishness and greed and pride. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”
Meanwhile, Speth was on the verge of publishing his own brand-new book — called, “The Bridge at the Edge of the World.” Yeah, that’s the other book I had open on my desk.
Here’s how Speth puts it himself toward the end of his “Bridge”:
“Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness. For some, it is a spiritual awakening — a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all it involves major cultural change and a reorientation of what society values and prizes most highly.”
Scientist. Evangelist. Converging. Talking. Now, both of them are sharing this insight with all of us.
And, that’s a sign of hope.
COME BACK TOMORROW for this week’s final glimpse of hope — coming, in this final case, from a most beloved sourced. You won’t want to miss it.
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