Thursday, March 14th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 14th: Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:2-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is π-day, March 14th. π equals 3.14 ad infinitum. I’m hoping our local library can find me a copy of the recently published book The Shape of a Life: One Mathematician’s Search for the Universe’s Hidden Geometry by Shing-Tung Yau and Steve Nadis. The books share’s Yau’s effort to uncover the geometric shape of the universe’s possible hidden dimensions, but told for regular people who have trouble remembering definitions of circumference and diameter. It’s amazing what the human mind can fathom.
And it’s also amazing what the human mind can fathom. We have discovered ways to destroy civilizations. In this month’s Atlantic Magazine, there is an article about how lucky we are to still be here. There are forces unpredictable and uncontrollable in the universe that could destroy our planet instantaneously, but we have also fathomed ways to destroy ourselves.
They share various stories of near-miss apocalypses. Here are two of them:
“On September 26, 1983, a Soviet duty officer named Stanislav Petrov found himself paralyzed. He was manning the Soviet Union’s early-warning system for incoming American nuclear missiles when his computer alerted him to the unthinkable: a highly reliable detection of incoming warheads. It was a nuclear first strike and the possible end of civilization. Or it was a computer malfunction. ‘The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, backlit, red screen with the word “launch” on it,’ Petrov later told the BBC. ‘All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders—but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan ... Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief ... they were lucky it was me on shift that night.’”
“On November 9, 1979, the U.S. national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski awoke to a military assistant solemnly informing him of another all-out nuclear first strike, this time coming from the Soviet side. As he prepared to call the president to advise a counterattack, Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring to let her die peacefully in her sleep with the rest of humanity. With moments to spare Brzezinski learned it was a false alarm.”
Life is a precarious miracle. It is a blessing from God. It is filled with the possible and that is amazing, amazing and possible for what we can become as the Abram and Paul selections relate, but also amazing and possible in that we can stubbornly insist on playing Russian Roulette with humanity’s very survival. The two stories above, thank God, ended without an apocalypse, but the longer we survive the more near misses we encounter, and then our odds become increasingly risky.
During Lent let us consider the wisdom of Jesus’ love and peacefulness, not as some ivory tower idealists, but as rational people who live in an increasingly lucky world that is sometimes only a few seconds away from complete destruction. God has promised us the stars, but we have to be worthy of that promise. In the meanwhile, let us trust in the protective hand of God: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
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