Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Qui se exaltat, humiliabitur

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,” Jesus said, “do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11)

I was a very young and very low-ranking airman on a U.S. base in England when I first heard those words. They sounded superfluous to me. Back then I would never wonder where I should sit at a banquet table. Just about everyone in my field of vision was older, wiser, and more distinguished than I. 

Everyone was also far superior to me in rank. In the Air Force, you always knew who was more distinguished than you: the status was clearly marked on the shoulders or sleeves of the uniforms. 

When I first arrived at RAF Stations Bentwaters and Woodbridge in Suffolk, England, in January 1965, I was barely 18 with a single stripe on my sleeve. The banquet’s seating arrangements could not have been more transparent.

There were giants on base who had the exalted seats on permanent reserve. 

The wing commander was Colonel (later Brigadier General) Robin Olds, West Point football lineman of the year in 1942, a fighter ace in World War II, and future Vietnam War hero. By the time he commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing in England from 1963 to 1965, Olds was a figure of mythic proportions. He automatically occupied the top spot at every table he inhabited.

And so did his spouse, Hollywood doyenne Ella Raines, a cinema star of the forties and fifties. I had not heard of Raines in 1965, though my mother assured me the Lady was famous. Ella Raines was 45 and no ingĂ©nue when I met her. She was three years older than my mother. 

Raines’ residual Hollywood influence was such that Jimmy Stewart, a reserve Air Force brigadier general, frequently donned his blues to visit Bentwaters.  Stewart, who was also clear about his exalted place at the banquet table, schmoozed with Robin and Ella and other brass at the officers club while we GIs were assigned to clean-up details around the base.

Looking back, I wonder if Ella Raines wasn’t a little bored by life in bucolic Suffolk. She would occasionally visit the airmen’s mess hall, ostensibly to check the quality of the food and the morale of the troops. The mess hall was the lowest place at the Air Force banquet, so it could be stipulated that the quality of the food was not great. And the GI’s who didn’t eat and run were on KP for the day, so their morale was not great.

I was on KP one day when the Lady walked in on one of her peculiar inspection tours. I had just finished scrubbing a score of pots and pans larger than me and was standing beside a rack of bananas to catch my breath. Raines was immaculately coifed and dressed and (as I think back on it) quite beautiful. I was dressed in a wet, baggy, garbage-stained fatigue uniform, and I smelled of adolescent sweat. 

The Lady caught my eye and smiled. “Where are you from?”

I cleared my throat and muttered a half-truth. She would not have heard of Morrisville. “New York,” I said. 

She nodded thoughtfully and pulled a banana from the bunch. She peeled it and tested it aggressively with her tongue.

“Are these bananas fresh?”

I might have explained that we KP’s weren’t allowed to eat the bananas, and that she must have a better idea than I because she was pushing one into her mouth. But I just nodded.

She chewed on the banana and smiled. “Well,” she said, “I shall think of you the next time I’m on Broadway.”

I nodded again, and watched the Lady saunter out of the hall. I wrote to my mother to give her a highly embellished account of the incident. Later Mom told her bridge club, “Well, Phil knows Ella Raines.” 

Today what this dim memory invokes for me more than anything else is the realization that there are high places and low places at the banquet table of life, and it can be awkward to find yourself in the wrong place.

I had one other Air Force encounter involving Colonel Olds that confirms this even more clearly.

I was a chaplain’s assistant, an enlisted position akin to being the chaplain’s valet.  The Air Force chaplaincy was a splendidly nuanced course in ecumenical and interfaith relations for me. I learned how to prepare chapel altars for Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant services, and I worked closely enough with each of the chaplains to observe a wide variety of theological attitudes and lifestyles.

Chaplain Joseph McCausland was a Catholic priest from Cleveland. Father Mac was tall and slightly bent-over, with prematurely white hair. I remember him sitting at his desk squinting through the smoke of a Camel cigarette while he used his elegant fountain pen to add items to his growing to-do list. One to-do item he never did in the two-and-a-half years I knew him was, “Get your shots.”

Father Mac had two hobbies: shortwave radio, which he used to keep in touch with friends all over the world; and flying.

Father Mac was an amateur pilot of small, propeller driven airplanes. That must have taken guts and, perhaps, a fair amount of humility when you consider that most of the men who sat at the bar with him in the officer’s club were jet jockeys.  On occasion, one of the fighter pilots would invite Father Mac to come along on a stomach-wrenching F-101 sortie to the Isle of Man, and the priest would glow happily for days. But on most afternoons, when he wasn’t counseling Catholic families or hearing confessions, Father Mac would jump into his Piper club and climb into the breezy skies of East Anglia. He always flew alone. None of us dared go with him.

One particularly windy afternoon, Father Mac brought the Piper club in too low and too fast and, amid a shower of metallic sparks, tipped the aircraft up on its nose. He was unhurt but when he rolled out of the plane to inspect the damage, he could see the prop was mangled and the nose was shattered. 

Colonel Olds happened to be driving his staff car on the flight line that day and he rushed over to the accident sight to make sure Father Mac was okay. The chaplain shook his head in embarrassment. “I’m fine,” he said. “Misjudged the wind sheer.”

Colonel Olds called out to one of the airmen who had also rushed to the scene. “Quick,” he said. “Get a picture of the fuselage. In case we need it for insurance purposes.”

I don’t know what kind of insurance covers Air Force accidents, but the picture was snapped.

That night, a poster-sized blow-up of the picture was delivered to my barracks. There in crisp black-and-white was the small plane balanced on its nose amid pieces of broken propeller, its tail pointed ignominiously at the sky. 

Accompanying the picture was a note from the Colonel: “Jenks, do some calligraphy for me. Some kind of Old English script. Ta, R.O.” The Colonel wrote out in block capital letters the message he wanted imprinted on the picture.

I had drawn cartoons for chapel and base publications, and Colonel Olds must have concluded – erroneously – that I was some kind of artist. I was not, and I was certainly no calligrapher. But orders are orders, and I stayed up most of the night, painstakingly inking letters onto the photograph. 

The next morning the Colonel’s driver pulled up in front of the barracks to retrieve the picture.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

“The old man wants it for Officer’s Call,” the driver said. He grabbed the picture and sped away.

Later that day, senior Chaplain John Donnelly, returned from Officer’s call with the story.

After the Colonel called the meeting to order, he asked Chaplain McCausland to come forward. Warily, Father Mac stood beside the Colonel.

“Father,” Colonel Olds began sternly. Then he flashed a smile, and said, “Actually, he’s not my father.”

The officers roared in laughter (as they do when Colonels tell jokes). “I guess I can get away with that because I’m Episcopalian,” Olds said.

Then Olds took the photograph, freshly framed, and put it on the podium. The officers stared at the vivid picture of the mangled plane and tried to read the laboriously inscribed Latin message:

“Qui se exaltat, humiliabitur.”

Father Mac turned red and smiled through his teeth.

“If you don’t know your Latin as well as Father,” Olds said into the microphone, “it says, ‘he who exalts himself will be humbled.’” The officers in the room, mostly experienced fighter pilots, laughed again. Then they stood and applauded.

“I don’t think they were laughing at Joe,” Chaplain Donnelly said. “All these pilots, from Olds on down, knew it could happen to them, too. It was the Colonel’s way of reminding all of us: don’t get cocky.”

There are many lessons in life that I’ve learned through age and harsh experience. As I approach my 67th birthday this month, I confess most of these lessons are the result of miscalculations and misjudgments, including the always hazardous assumption that I knew more than others or was better than others.

Ironically, that is one mistake I would not have made when I was an 18-year-old airman surrounded by people who ranked higher than me. At any banquet table I approached, I would have instinctively headed for the lowest place. 

“For all who exalt themselves,” Jesus said, “will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

As I approach my seventh decade of life, my prayer is this: that I might reclaim the one kernel of wisdom I had when I was 18: 

The best place at the table is the lowest place. 

That is where you’re most likely to find yourself sitting next to Jesus.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Iron Pipeline

An Iron Pipeline of illegal guns slithers through our neighborhoods like a venomous cobra. 

Congress could stop it, but mesmerized by the cobra’s darting tongue, Congress freezes in the face of danger.

In a recent article in the New York Daily News, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) traces the Senate’s gun paralysis to April 17, “one of the most deeply disappointing days of my short time in the Senate.”

That was the day, Gillibrand writes, when the Senate “turned its back on the families of Aurora, Newtown, and the more than 30 people who die at the hands of gun violence every day when common-sense gun safety laws were filibustered by a minority of senators.”

Gillibrand uses the term “iron pipeline” to describe the flow of illegal guns across the country. Recently, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said 250 weapons from states along the pipeline were seized on city streets. 

According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 90 percent of the firearms used in gun crimes in New York City came from out of state in 2011, compared with 85 percent in 2009, and at least 90 percent of these guns are bought through the black market run by traffickers. 

“While Congress fails to act on a federal statute making gun trafficking a crime, criminal networks continue to brazenly act like it’s business as usual,” Gillibrand writes.

I suspect some politicians who favor the free flow of guns believe they are courting the segment of society in which I was born, the yokel class Garrison Keillor calls the "Yahootude." 

These politicians must have poll numbers showing their largesse will make us Yahoos all weak-kneed with appreciation and maybe even fire a few celebratory rounds in the air. But as an erstwhile hunter, marksman and card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, I wonder if they're right.

By way of full disclosure, my father - a WWII infantry lieutenant with an Army marksman's badge - was ambivalent about guns. A veteran of the bloody Papua New Guinea campaign, Dad had little patience with gunplay, imaginary or real. 

One Christmas when my brother Larry and I were very young, he bought us cowboy hats and Roy Rogers cap pistols, but he insisted that we not point them at each other. (Dude! What else can you do with a cap pistol?) 

Later, in a real-life prologue to Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, Dad gave me a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 shot range model air rifle. I did not put my eye out. Dad carefully designed a BB range in the cellar, with side-guards and padded backdrops so we could safely shoot at targets. That didn't last long, because my little brother accidently shot one of his friends with a BB and gave him a redundant nipple. That must have been quite a conversation piece when the kid started dating. I never saw the air rifle again.

As I grew into early teen-dom, Dad and I had our share of father-son disputes, but the only thing he absolutely forbade was my participation in an organized war game in the woods between Cedar and North streets. (There were a lot of woods and few streets in Morrisville, N.Y.) The game was harmless enough, actually a 1950s precursor to paintball, without the paintballs. About 20 of us teenagers would divide into two warring teams. You knew you were dead when a soldier on the opposing team saw you hiding in the trees and shouted, "Pow! Phil!" The rules required that you lay in the pine needles among the spiders until the war was over. For some reason that eludes me now, I thought it was  fun. 

The very idea of a war game gave Dad a chill, and in unequivocal terms he declared me a conscientious objector. Later, when I learned some of the details of his combat experiences in the New Guinea jungle, I understood, but at the time I thought he was being arbitrary and unreasonable.

Even so, guns were not a problem to Dad's way of thinking - only the frivolous and stupid use of them. When I turned 14 and expressed an interest in hunting, he didn't flinch. He pulled out the .22 rifle his father had given him and said it would be perfect for target practice and small game. Then he went to the local chapter of the National Rifle Association and got himself credentialed as a gun safety instructor. He took me up to the woods and set up paper targets, all of them mounted on thick trees that the rounds could not penetrate. 

Then before he gave me the rifle he presented me with my first NRA card and told me to read the gun safety instructions on the back. The rules included logical precautions like keeping the gun unloaded when it wasn't in use, and -loaded or unloaded - never pointing it at anything you didn't intend to shoot. 

The NRA also insisted that you keep your finger off the trigger when you weren't about to shoot, to know your target and what was beyond it, and - vital in our neck of the woods - to never climb a fence with the gun in your arms. Modern updates to the rules include wearing goggles and ear protection when you fire a gun, but that never occurred to us in 1960.

As time went on, Dad offered the same training to all my brothers and my sister. I took the .22, and later a 20-gauge shotgun, into the woods a few times, originally for fun and later because wandering in the woods without a gun looked a bit effete. I rarely shot an animal, not because I didn't shoot at them but because rabbits and pheasants (and rats at the dump) are very good at eluding your aim. On the rare occasion that I shot something, even a rat, I found it a nauseating experience and I quickly lost interest in the whole gun thing.

Dad's training did serve me well when I joined the Air Force. I was comfortable around the M-1 carbine and could shoot it accurately enough to earn the Air Force expert marksmen's ribbon, the only decoration I earned for doing something other than showing up. But by the time I had spent hundreds of lonely hours on guard duty on a USAFE base in England, my interest in firearms ebbed.

During my time in England, I once sat next to a major's wife on a bus trip to London. I regarded officer's wives as an inaccessibly superior species, but she was also a beautiful young woman with a seductive Alabama accent. She may have sensed the crush I had on her because she talked constantly about her husband, an F4C fighter pilot. "He's just mah AH-ll," she said, batting her eyelashes as I tried to look pleased. A few weeks later, the major accidentally shot and killed her while cleaning his pistol (or so he claimed). But I didn't blame the gun. I blamed the damn fool for not following simple NRA guidelines.

Growing up in Madison County, New York, was certainly a gun-intensive experience. In the 18 years I spent there, I learned that guns were fun when used right, and bad when used stupidly. And they were used stupidly at times. During hunting season, you'd hear stories of errant rounds whizzing past people's heads or into their laundry because distant hunters weren't following NRA rules. And Uncle Bob (the deer hunter in my family) would warn us with widening eyes not to shoot a gun straight into the air no matter what we were celebrating, because the damn bullets tended to come back in the same direction. He never told us how he knew that.

But those of us who grew up in the sticks - in the Yahootude - understand that guns were an essential tool in the building of the nation, and continue to be a wholesome and enjoyable instrument for recreational activities like hunting, skeet shooting and target practice.

We may not be able to argue the legal nuances of the Second Amendment with Congressional experts. But don't be fooled by the way we wear our baseball caps backward or smear oil on our noses when we lube our cars. We're not dumb.

And most folks I know will tell you: allowing an unrestricted flow of illegal guns along the iron pipeline is a dumbass idea.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

50 years after 'I Have a Dream,' remembering the real Martin

NOTE: I'm taking August off from sermon/blog preparation. In the meantime, following a practice of the late, great Roger Ebert, who reposted many of his blogs when he thought a topic needed revisiting, I'm updating some stories I wrote several years ago for the National Council of Churches.This one looks back on the 50 years since the 'I Have a Dream' March on Washington.

Memories of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are particularly vivid this month as we anticipate the fiftieth anniversary of the historic civil rights march on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Martin’s familiar image appears in churches, government offices, department stores and on flyers hawking January sales. Teachers point to his picture in classrooms and require their classes to read his biography. He is quoted in sermons and in political ceremonies, almost always including "I have a dream" from the March on Washington.

Artists of all ages try to capture his likeness in pencil, ink and oil, but only few of them get it just right. Each April television broadcasts brief clips of his April 3, 1968 speech the night before he was killed: "I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land."

With each passing year Martin the human being is mediated with fewer dimensions. He's becoming a "marble person" like the striking sculpture by Lei Yixin in the King Memorial in Washington -- beautiful to behold but cold to the touch.

But a still vigorous ecumenical and interfaith leaders who knew him have not forgotten the real man. 

"Sooner or later it happens to everyone who passes on," says a Baptist pastor and ecumenical leader who marched with the martyred civil rights leader. "But it's sad people will never know the real Martin." 

Most people have no idea Martin could make you laugh until your stomach hurt with his imitations of other preachers, or that he considered himself a pool shark on a par with Minnesota Fats.

Close friends remember but rarely mention that Martin chain-smoked cigarettes, slapped Aramis aftershave on his cheeks, and – after checking to see if there were Baptists in the room – happily accepted offers of bourbon on the rocks.

Although it seems sacrilegious now, his close friends called him "Little Mike" to distinguish him from his redoubtable father, "Big Mike." The elder King was born "Michael," and he named his son, "Michael, Jr." Later they changed their names to Martin Luther King senior and junior, in part to invoke the German reformation leader. But to many friends they were still "Mike."

"Big Mike" King was the widely respected Baptist pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. 

"They were a middle class family," recalled the late Samuel DeWitt Proctor, pastor of New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church, co-director of the Peace Corps, and a classmate of Martin Jr. at Crozer Theological Seminary. 

Proctor would recall with a combination of fondness and chagrin that the young Martin had financial advantages other students didn't. "He'd come to class in a tie and wing-tipped shoes," Proctor once told a gathering at The Interchurch Center in New York. "He didn't have to bus tables or sweep floors like the rest of us to pay tuition. He always had his assignments done on time, or early."

In December 1955, when Rosa Parks' act of civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, Martin was a young Baptist pastor with a hat and tie and wing-tipped shoes. He was chosen to lead the boycott in the name of integration because he was a little known and noncontroversial figure. But that would quickly change.

By the spring of 1956, 27-year-old boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was internationally famous. A Baptist executive made an entry in his diary: "Young King is brilliant but inexperienced and not prepared for the huge stage on which he finds himself." 

Later, the executive said, "he learned fast."

The boycott continued for months until November 13, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Alabama District Court ruling that racial segregation on buses was illegal. 

The success of the boycott was due in large measure to the fact that it was motivated by ecumenical and interfaith commitments to justice. Virtually all African American congregations and several white churches and synagogues supported the movement. 

And around the country, leaders of national denominations, communions, ecumenical and interfaith organizations offered their support. The Rev. Edwin Tuller, General Secretary of the then American Baptist Convention, declared his support and invited King to address the ABC annual meeting in 1957. 

Another American Baptist, the Rev. R.H. Edwin Espy, then associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches, provided financial support for the boycott. 

Although the Civil Rights movement was controversial in many American congregations, communion leaders such as the Rev. Eugene Carson Blake of the United Presbyterian Church and Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America stood literally in support of the movement and marched hand-in-hand with Martin in often hazardous venues.

Throughout Martin Luther King's lifetime, church and ecumenical leaders walked by his side and got to know him in many different circumstances and emotions -- when he was angry, scared, worried about his family, but also when he was relaxed and funny. The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, who was later general secretary of the National Council of Churches, met King when she invited him to her church in Cleveland. "His presence changed that church forever," she said. 

The Rev. Andrew Young, later a Member of Congress, United Nations Ambassador and Mayor of Atlanta was on the youth staff of the National Council of Churches when King invited him to serve as his lieutenant in a myriad of marches and causes. Young, ordained in the United Church of Christ, was NCC president in 2000-2001.

Ecumenical leaders who supported King are legion. Christian activist Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, was a civil rights leader when Martin was still in school and founded the YWCA's Center for Racial Justice in 1965. Dr. Paul Abrecht, an American Baptist ethicist and member of the staff of the World Council of Churches, worked closely with Martin on international issues. Methodist Arthur Flemming, an educator and Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Eisenhower, was president of the National Council of Churches -- and perhaps the NCC's most eloquent spokesperson on civil rights -- when Martin was killed in 1968.

The Martin these ecumenical leaders knew was anything but a marble figure. He was a laughing, weeping, compassionate human being. 

The late Rev. William T. McKee, the first African American to lead an American Baptist national board, was on the staff of the denomination's pension board in 1968. "Martin had no pension and no life insurance the whole time he was in the movement," McKee would tell friends. "We were after him to sign up (through the ABC Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board) but he was always on the road or too busy." A veteran MMBB executive, Martin England, "pursued King all over the South" to make sure he signed the papers to protect his family from financial ruin.

Fortunately, Martin had signed the papers before he was assassinated in April 1968. Clearly King was supported by church and ecumenical friends -- spiritually, emotionally, physically and, in the end, financially -- all his life.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a member of the ecumenical family, and we were proud to be a member of his. For persons of faith and good will who still remember him, he will never be a marble statue.

As we look back a half century to the March on Washington best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, his warmth and passion for justice seem as alive as ever.

The Bombs of August

NOTE: I'm taking August off from sermon/blog preparation. In the meantime, following a practice of the late, great Roger Ebert, who reposted many of his blogs when he thought a topic needed revisiting, I'm updating some stories I wrote several years ago for the National Council of Churches. This one marks the 68th anniversary of church reaction to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The way Harry Truman saw it in August 1945, there was a sickening possibility that the Second World War would end in a historic bloodbath. 

The only alternative to a mutual massacre of American and Japanese troops, he believed, was the Atomic Bomb that his scientists told him was ready to use.

Months earlier, in land battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, U.S. forces suffered 75,000 casualties. On Iwo Jima, the president was informed, 21,000 Japanese troops fought fanatically to hold the island and 20,000 were killed. 

In July, as secret plans were underway for a U.S. invasion of Kyushu, the interception of Japanese messages indicated their military build-up on Kyushu was four times larger than earlier estimates. In Truman's estimation, the Japanese military government was prepared to fight on until every soldier was dead or wounded.

The atomic bomb, he said, was the only way to "end the agony of war." On his orders on August 6, an American B-29 dropped a bomb on Hiroshima killing 80,000 people. The total swelled to 140,000 as people injured and suffering from radiation poisoning succumbed. An additional 80,000 died August 9 when a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. 

Whether the numbers fell short of projected deaths in an invasion of Japan has been the subject of debate for 68 years.

When Truman went on the radio to announce the use of the bomb, many Americans regarded it as a hopeful sign the war was about to end. But even hopeful Americans were sobered by the number of people, including civilians, women and children, who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and it was immediately clear that the world had entered a dark and uncertain age.

Member churches of the Federal Council of Churches were appalled by the evils the new age had unleashed. Church spokespersons such as Presbyterian John Foster Dulles – known later for his policy of nuclear "brinksmanship" as President Eisenhower's Secretary of State – urged a moratorium in further use of the bomb.

The Rev. Samuel McCrea Cavert, general secretary of the Federal Council, sent a telegram to the president on August 9, the day Nagasaki was bombed:
Honorable Harry S Truman,  President of the United States,  The White House 
Many Christians deeply disturbed over use of atomic bombs against Japanese cities because of their necessarily indiscriminate destructive efforts and because their use sets extremely dangerous precedent for future of mankind. Bishop Oxnam president of the council and John Foster Dulles chairman of its Commission on a Just and Durable peace are preparing statement for probable release tomorrow urging that atomic bombs be regarded as trust for humanity and that Japanese nation be given genuine opportunity and time to verify facts about new bomb and to accept surrender terms. Respectfully urge that ample opportunity be given Japan to reconsider ultimatum before any further devastation by atomic bomb is visited upon her people.Federal Council of churches of Christ in America, Samuel McCrea Cavert, general secretary
Harry Truman, in office only five months, struggled with diplomatic language in his quick response. In a letter dated August 11, he wrote:
My dear Mr. Cavert: 
I appreciated very much your telegram of August ninth. 
Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. 
When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true. 
Sincerely yours, 
Harry S. Truman
The nuclear age had begun virtually over night, and Truman's eleven successors made decisions that built, expanded or maintained the American nuclear arsenal. The political rationale from the very beginning was that the bomb was needed to end conflict or as a deterrent to conflict.

But to millions of church people, the potential for "indiscriminate destruction" of God's creation became a daily nightmare and the focus of millions of sermons, statements and theological debates.

The churches began preaching that sermon of peace in August 1945, and 68 years later it continues.