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The movie “Oppenheimer” opened in theaters a week or so ago. I don't know if they planned for that date, or if it was coincidence, but it was relatively good timing. I can't comment on the movie because I haven't yet seen it. That said, though, I do want to give you some historical facts around the time of Oppenheimer that you may or may not have known, and which the movie may or may not (probably not) address. Also notice the emphasis on SOME facts, because otherwise we'd be here all day.

In 1933, Leo Szilard conceived the idea of using an atomic chain reaction in a bomb. In 1934 he filed a patent application using neutron-induced chain reactions to create explosions. In January, 1939, Otto Frisch observed atomic action in an ionization chamber, and with the help of William Arnold, he coined the term “fission” to describe that process. Both Oppenheimer and Szilard heard of this new discovery later that month. In August of 1939, Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt warning of the prospect of an atomic bomb.

In July, 1941, an English research committee wrote a report laying out the feasibility of an atomic bomb. Over the course of the next several years, scientists are assembled and progress is made on developing an atomic bomb. Various places, including Oak Ridge, TN, Hanford, WA, and Los Alamos, NM, are developed and tasked with various projects in the creation of the bomb. And on December 6, 1942, construction began on the Los Alamos site which was advertised as empty and desolate.

It turns out, though, that the site for the Manhattan Project wasn't empty and desolate; it was inhabited by Hispanic farmers and ranchers. Those people were given less than 24 hours to vacate the area, after which their homes and farms were bulldozed, and cattle and other livestock killed, to make way for the research center. As compensation for their loss, the government paid white landowners $275/acre, while Hispanic landowners were paid only $7/acre, with most not even actually receiving that money. Hispanics were forced, then, to work menial jobs at the new laboratory, often without protection from the radiation.

1945 saw the creation of an initial target list in Japan. The Trinity test, the first atomic explosion in history, took place on July 16. Eventually the target list was narrowed to Hiroshima. A B-29 bomber crew was selected, and a plane called Enola Gay was loaded with the Little Boy bomb, the first atomic bomb to be used in combat in human history.

On August 6, 1945, at 8:16 am local time, the crew of the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy over Hiroshima, Japan, with an explosive force estimated at 15 kilo-tons (15 thousand tons), killing approximately 70,000 people instantly.

In that moment there was a blinding light and the world was transformed for ever.


Moses went up the mountain to receive the Torah, the law, from God. During his time with God he was changed. He didn't know it, of course, but his face shone with a brightness that required him to cover it when he was with the people.

When discussing this incident, one commentator notes that, as the moon reflects the light of the sun, Moses reflected the blinding brilliance of God. Another author said much the same thing in that the brilliance of God literally rubbed off on Moses.

Moses' connection and contact with God would change the Israelites, and the world, for ever. They were moving from an enslaved people in service to Pharaoh, to a free people in service to God. Through the Israelites' relationship with God, many other peoples would come to know God. From the example of Moses, we can learn that the more we are in touch with God, the more we ourselves will be transformed in such a way that we also reflect the light of God.

Similar to Moses, Jesus also was on a mountain. But where Moses was alone, Jesus had friends with him. Those friends noticed that his face changed in appearance, and his clothes became dazzling white, which all happened while he was praying – while he was in contact with God. While they were gathered on the mountain, a cloud overshadowed them and a voice proclaimed, “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!”

The disciples still have a ways to go before they figure it all out, but in that moment on the mountain, Peter, James, and John were transformed in a way that they didn't yet understand. As Peter would later write, “We had been eyewitnesses to his glory.” This transfiguration of Jesus, this revelation of Jesus' true nature as fully human and fully divine, not only transfigures Jesus, but also transforms the world for ever.

Today, August 6, provides us with a unique opportunity to witness two transformational events. One is the awesome power and blinding light of atomic warfare. The other is the transfigured faces of those who have been in the presence of the awesome power and blinding light of God.

Both of these events have changed us. With the bombing of Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, and then with the proliferation of nuclear arsenals, we have been changed in many ways. For those old enough to remember, recall life before the nuclear age. For others, recall the movement from “Duck and Cover” to realizing that “Duck and Cover” wasn't going to help anyone. For myself, my friends, and others my age, it was an understanding that we were doomed, it was plans to head directly to ground zero when the EBS told us missiles were on their way because we didn't want to survive a nuclear attack, and it was reoccurring dreams of nuclear war.

Contrast that with how the transfiguration of Moses and Jesus can change us. We see Moses being changed to reflect God's light and we understand that spending time with God will affect us. We see Jesus' true nature being revealed and those on the mountain being overshadowed by a cloud. In that moment we know God is with us, and in that moment we move toward reflecting the presence of God to those around us.

This is both the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima as well as the Feast of the Transfiguration. Both events are transformational. The question we must always ask is will we allow ourselves to be transformed by fear, destruction, and death, or will we allow ourselves to be transformed by a loving, creative, and living God?

August 6. How will you be transformed and transfigured?


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