I am caught between
an emotional rock
and a theological hard place.
Here is what I mean.
That story from Luke,
which appears in other Gospels too,
is just a problem.
That is the theological hard place
I will get to in a minute.
The emotional rock
is that they named
the test of that first plutonium bomb, Trinity,
and they dropped next one
on the Feast of the Transfiguration — August 6th.
It is absolutely blasphemous on the one hand,
but utterly predictable on the other.
Human beings are nothing
if not blasphemous — always placing ourselves
alongside God in some way.
Despite what some reports say,
it is not clear that Oppenheimer named
the July 1945 bomb-test “Trinity”
after a John Donne poem.
There is competing evidence that it was
named Trinity after an army officer’s comment
that they would need the Holy Trinity
to help them move the two-hundred plus ton bomb
to the test site.
But there is no evidence
that the date for use of that first bomb,
that would demonstrate human beings
could now destroy themselves,
was chosen because it was
the Feast of the Transfiguration.
It had more to do
with the weather
and Soviet Russia’s planned invasion
of Manchuria on August 8th.
Trinity and Transfiguration
so intimately intertwined
with the age of human Armageddon?
even by my low and heathen theological standards.
Think about this.
Some of science has declared this,
the time we are living in,
as the Anthropocene Age.
Basically, that means the time of humans.
They date the beginning
of this Human Epoch to Trinity —
the first tests of the plutonium bomb —
because there are geochemical traces of those tests
found all over the planet today.
The Anthropocene Age
is the one in which humans
have done more to influence the environment
than geological events.
So here we are,
teetering on the edge of the apocalypse
with ever increasing heat
accompanied by evaporation of water
and at the same time,
more terror-weapons than ever.
And this whole episode begins
with taking the name of God in vain
by giving it’s igniting moment the name of God,
and then using that weapon
on the Feast of the Transfiguration.
A feast commemorating
a mythical moment
when God declared love for Jesus.
I actually have a gut emotional
response to all of that
even though I am pretty indifferent
most of the time,
to the on-going cross contamination
of our spiritual tradition
and our worst historical actions.
The history of institutional religion
is not a shinny coin
in comparison to the history
of human empire
with its political and military obscenities.
But entangling God
with the logical conclusion of our worst
is too much, even for me.
But up against this emotional rock
is the theological hard place
of the actual Transfiguration story.
We all know the credibility
is hanging by a thread
in this highly secularized age of ours.
I dare say doctrinal faith is a struggle
for some people who are here right now.
In fact, I know it is.
I routinely talk with people
who are hesitant to walk into a church
because they think everyone
inside a church
believes things that they don’t believe
so maybe they don’t belong there.
I tell them they would be surprised
what people inside churches don’t believe.
Even in this group here today,
we would discover there is a wide, wide
gulf between the faith
held within our hearts and minds.
But my point is,
asking post-modern people to accept
the story that Jesus danced on a cloud
with long-dead mythical figures
while God audibly spoke to the witnesses,
is just not a good sales technique.
Now we can make a good stew
out of some of the details —
you know, the silliness of Peter
offering to make little shrines to the moment.
Or we could stand it up alongside Exodus
and tie the two stories together
by showing how they parallel each other
even though a thousand years apart,
and talk about how ancient people
said important things
about their spiritual heroes.
But that’s a lot of work.
Now frankly, I love Jesus.
The spiritual wisdom held within
the stories about
the life and ministry of Jesus,
I have read the spiritual texts
and holy sayings
of many of the world’s religions
but I remain the most moved
by the body of wisdom
associated with Jesus.
But I could not go out and tell
most of the unchurched people I know,
that these big gaudy wonder-stories
claimed for Jesus
are factual historical events
or that they are the important parts
of Christian spiritual practice.
So when the transfiguration story
visits us in the lectionary readings,
which it does every year
I want to duck
I apologize for failing
at this part of my job — but not really.
And yet, even though I feel this way
about the transfiguration story
I get hopping mad
about it’s tragic association
with the suffering inflicted upon
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945
and the history of the world since.
We can argue history
and whether or not Truman’s choice
was the right one —
his war cabinet was divided about it
and so we can be too.
But surely we aren’t divided
in rendering it a deep human flaw and tragedy
that we are hell-bent
on inventing such weapons
and other science that becomes
the source of our suffering and endangerment.
We just can’t seem to help ourselves.
let us back up from this sorrow
and recall what else we know.
there are transfigurations
and transformations aplenty.
You and I, I bet every one of us,
has witnessed more than one
in our lifetimes.
I am thinking of people
I have known
who never thought they would
love or be loved again
after terrible things had happened.
But then very late in life,
fresh new romance and love was discovered
and it changed the trajectory of their lives.
I am thinking of people I have known
who were told they had Stage Four cancer
and not long to live, only to live
and live and live
with a gratitude and joy
that transformed how they remembered
the past as well as how they lived the future.
I am thinking of people I have known
who were locked into binary ways of thinking
about the world — you know,
those either/or ways of seeing and believing
that frame how we perceive things.
People who were stuck,
hemmed in, often angry
who were changed —
transformed even —
by something small or unexpected.
It just happened
and then they were different.
I am thinking of that wonderful poem
by the Rochester native, Marie Howe,
an Episcopalian even, or was
at one time.
How she describes seeing “something
rise from the dust in the yard, like the soul
of the dust, or from the field, the soul-body
of the field – rise and hover like a veil in the sun
billowing — as if (she) could see the wind itself…”
And how there are moments
all of us have had, when we see something
or imagine we see something
that makes no sense
and yet, if we allow ourselves the permission,
we may just see it.
They are wisps of hope
and the knowings against evidence
and the truths that may not be fact
and clouds of unknowning
seen through the thin veil
held always between God and ourselves.
They are those things
we can’t hardly believe we saw
even five minutes
after they pass —
and yet we do.
These are the things that change us.
Sometimes even transfigure us.
Sometimes make us different enough
that tragedies and heartaches are averted
and history changed for the better.
I know you know
what I am talking about,
and that you have had one or more
There can be other ones too
we if stay open —
if we keep our hearts
pried open against the winds
blowing so hard
against us these days.
I believe in you,
and I believe we will
have more such moments.
And that’s what I have
to leave you with
for about the next five Sundays.