Just when it was all going so well, a random tweet slid this little tidbit into my awareness. It’s a strategy report from BCA (or is it “alpha”) Research, an organization that focuses on global investment strategy. According to their website, they have been “turning original macro insights into market actions since 1949.” The lead article in their current report describes the “Rising Risk of A Nuclear Apocalypse.”
The article focuses on the nuclear implications of the Russian war against Ukraine. “If Putin concludes that he has no future,” the report suggests, “the risk is that he will decide that no one else should have a future either.” The researchers acknowledge a huge margin for error in their predictions. Nonetheless, they “assign an uncomfortably high 10% chance of a civilization-ending global nuclear war over the next 12 months.”
Of course, the writers keep their eye on the investment strategy ball, even in the shadow of such a dire prediction. The nuclear doomsday may well be averted, they argue, but markets could “experience a freakout moment over the next few months, similar to what happened at the outset of the pandemic.” That being said, there is no reason for investors to participate in that market freakout. Either investors will be here in twelve months to participate in the market, or there will be no market or investors to engage in said participation.
“Despite the risk of nuclear war,” the report argues, “it makes sense to stay constructive on stocks over the next twelve months. If an ICBM is heading your way,” the authors note “the size and composition of your portfolio becomes irrelevant. Thus,” they continue, “from a purely financial perspective, you should largely ignore existential risk, even if you do care about it greatly from a personal perspective.”
The bottom line, according to this strategy report? “The risk of Armageddon has risen dramatically. Stay bullish on stocks over a 12-month horizon.”
After I read that line, I had to confirm that BCA Research is a real company and that this report is not a hoax. Indeed, this is a real report from a real company. As I continue to process what I read, I must admit that it makes sense within the framework of the company’s mission and goals. If there is still a market in 12 months, my portfolio will matter. If not, then why worry about it now? If an ICBM is heading my way, my stock portfolio will be the least of my worries.
Stay constructive on stocks. In financial matters ignore existential risk. Jane, how do I get off this crazy thing? (Google “The Jetsons” if you missed that one).
I find it hard to articulate the casually unexamined despair that stands behind the words of this report. The collapse of human civilization, the end of the world as we know it, is assigned a distressingly large probability value. And that’s that. If it happens, it happens. Nothing we can do will change that, it would appear. And there’s nothing we can do to prepare, since all our preparations may be reduced to glowing nuclear dust.
Such blithe and bland resignation is neither uniform nor universal across our cultural landscape (here in the United States). But it certainly infects a great deal of our discourse these days. A significant response to the COVID-19 pandemic goes something like this. “It’s too big for me to think about or manage. There’s really not much I can do about. The little I can do makes no difference and inconveniences me. So, I’m done with masks and vaccines and lockdowns and working from home. I’m just going to live and let the consequences manage themselves. Besides, I’ve got all this expensive office space sitting empty. So, get your butts back into the office.”
I think people have a similar response to the climate catastrophe. Sometimes I do. It’s so big and complicated and terrifying. There are factors in place and in motion that can’t be changed. It keeps getting worse no matter what I do. About all I can do is deprive myself of stuff and experiences while the rest of the world appears happily to trip along in blissful and willful ignorance. Why shouldn’t I do the same?
Similar thinking is applied to mass incarceration, white nationalism, racism, poverty, education, and a host of other concerns facing us as a state, a nation, and a world. This isn’t new thinking, of course. It is the spiritual and moral malaise of a century of capitalism, war, and national aggrandizement with neither moral center nor boundary. I can’t help but think of the lyrics made famous by Peggy Lee in 1969:
Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is…
I’m waiting for the song to make yet another comeback in our current moment of bleak bliss.
It strikes me today that perhaps Jesus offers a counter-narrative in our text for this week. Is that all there is? No, that’s not all there is. There is God-granted time for a change, if only we would take it! Perhaps this is why the discipline of Lent continues to matter. We are given a time, a season, to reflect on what can be changed, what must be changed, for us to be fully available to the grace of God in Christ. The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, but that’s not all there is.
I must confess that dogged hope in the face of despair is not my natural response. Many times, in the face of trials and troubles, I have been a leaver. I tend not to negotiate but rather to go straight to surrender. As I write, I realize that’s one of the things I can continue to repent. After all, sticking with something in the face of resistance is a form of faith.
In composing this halting and disjoined post, I realize that perhaps we ought to read Luke 13:10-17 along with the appointed text for the day. Jesus heals the crippled woman on a Sabbath, and that becomes a controversy for “the leader of the synagogue” (verse 14). It strikes me that Jesus says to him, “Man, you’re missing the point! If we have the chance to do something, no matter how small, to set people free, we need to do it!”
Even if it’s just digging a little dirt and scattering a bit of manure, that’s more than nothing! Don’t worry about whether your action has a big enough scale or scope to make a difference. Just keep on digging!
I’m always preaching to myself, and this is no exception. I’ve been one of those people who has wrestled many times with the “meaning” of my life. At some times, I’ve sung the Peggy Lee song. If I can’t extract that meaning from my life, then life in general must be meaningless. If life in general is meaningless, then what’s the point? Of course, in my case that has too often been a deceptive way to escape responsibility or to flee from trouble.
But it’s not up to me to make life meaningful. That’s why above my pay grade. It’s just up to me to live and to do so fully as often as I can. The world may be going to hell in a handbasket. The Doomsday clock may be perilously close to midnight. But that’s not a reason to do nothing and wait for the missiles to launch. Instead, Jesus followers are called to keep on digging.
I read not very long ago about a ministry that specializes in helping Christian churches make the most of their institutional demise. Fifty percent more Christian congregations are closing than are launching in any given year, so a business model based on closure is a relatively safe bet at this point. The focus of the business is to assist congregations in using their physical, financial, and social assets to continue to benefit the community when they are no longer there. Congregations may close, but ministry continues.
That only makes sense if we believe that God remains faithful even when we are long gone. That’s really the heart of the Christian good news. Isn’t that really what Jesus’ resurrection means? In the Lukan account, Jesus surrenders his spirit and dies. That should be the end of it, but God isn’t finished with Jesus – or with us. Even on the cross of Christ, that’s not all there is.
I imagine I’m not the only one who needs to hear such good news as we near the halfway point in Lent. It’s not time to give up. It’s no time to despair. Things look incredibly bleak, but we declare that’s not all there is. And then we keep on digging.
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