Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Christ

Greymouth Uniting Church

Remembering Hiroshima

Hiroshima 8:15

Readings: Micah 4:1-4, Psalm 85, 2 Corinthians 5:16-20, Matthew 5:1-12.

Our world is filled with imperfect people. This has always been the case. From jumping to conclusions, to exploiting others, to violence in our homes, to war - we live within creation as fragile, dangerous, frightened, violent individuals. But our world is also filled with people of compassion and vision, who create havens for victims of domestic violence, who seek to solve disputes between neighbours, who bear witness of the power of non-violence in places of violent conflict, who live within creation as calm, confident, gentle people. Part of our imperfection is that we may be both - at times the peace-maker and at times violently driving our opponents from our presence.

Something that gives hope is the fact we usually know what is right, even if we don't always achieve it. Our readings today speak of the teachings of peace and the kingdom way of living in peace.

On Monday 6th August 1945 at 8:15 on a sunny morning the crew of Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima with devastating effect. It is estimated that over 100,000 people died in the Hiroshima blast and from the resulting radiation.

Bernard Hoffman was a photographer and war correspondent for Life magazine. Listen to what he wrote when he saw Hiroshima less than a month after the bomb was dropped:

"We saw Hiroshima today - or what little is left of it. We were so shocked with what we saw that most of us felt like weeping; not out of sympathy for the Japs, but because we were so shocked and revolted by this new and terrible form of destruction. What was formerly Japan's most modern, most westernised city, is now nothing more than a two foot layer of twisted tin and rubble."

Nagarekawa_Methodist_Church, Hiroshima

The death toll was a complete cross-section of Hiroshima society in that town at that moment; men, women, and children, babies at breast, babies yet to be born, lawyers, clergy, civil servants, housemaids, pets and plants. All gone in a flash. The only human group under-represented was the military. The only group over-represented was Christians. Hiroshima was one of the Christian centres in Japan.

Today, around the world, 6th of August sees people gather to reflect on what can happen if we turn to violence to solve collective problems. We all know that violence is wrong; we may understand it and justify it in certain circumstances, but deep inside we always want something different to happen.

The fear that was born that day has lasted into our generations. I think every generation of young people have a major fear focus and in my time it was that of a nuclear war.

So how do we and others deal with this, how do we know and do what God wants, how do we, in practice, behave differently. Micah would have us be productive rather than destructive, tilling the soil and producing food and drink. Our Psalm would see us restoring, building up, so that righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Jesus lived in a violent society and many at the time wanted him to be a violent military Messiah. And he refused to do this. He said many things to back this up and to say how the vision of a peaceful productive, restored society could be achieved.

  • Don't use violence to resist evil
  • Love your neighbour as yourself
  • Peace be with you
  • Love your enemies

I found an article about the Hiroshima Drawings that demonstrated a different way of behaving.

On 10th November 1946, A Powell Davies, the minster of All Souls Unitarian Church of Washington DC denounced the obscenity of featuring an angel-food cake in the shape of an atomic bomb explosion at a celebration honouring the atom bomb taskforce. The day before there had been a photo of two smiling admirals in full regalia and a fancily dressed wife cutting a three foot mushroom shaped cake made of angel-food puffs.

The sermon was publicised around the world and was seen in a Japanese paper by Dr Howard Bell, an official with General Douglas MacArthur's provisional government. He wrote to Powell Davies supporting his horror and telling him about one particular school, Honkawa Elementary School of Hiroshima. On August 6th 1945, while many had been evacuated to the country 400 students had come to school at 8 o'clock in the morning. They had just got down to work when the blast baked them to sleep.

He went on to say that, in spite of the horror of the year before, the children of Honkawa School were trying 'to learn democracy' in the skeleton of a reinforced concrete building, six of them huddled to each 10 foot bench, with no heat and almost no school supplies. He had used all the money available to get them tables and benches, but had been unable to persuade the American authorities to provide school supplies. He wished that the children of America would send some of their pencils and notebooks to the Japanese children.

And so, on 13th February 1947, Powell Davies let the request be known in his sermon "In Reply to a Letter from Japan". In the weeks following the children of the church collected over half a ton of pencils, crayons, paper, rubbers, glue, paper clips and shipped them off to Japan.

In return the Japanese children who received these gifts sent back gifts of their own - artwork. Watercolours, crayon drawings, letters of appreciation. All responded to and exhibited. The drawings covered a wide range of subjects - a bus load of children, kimono clad girls, a boat at sea; and with titles like "Japan - country of cherry blossoms", "Green mountains of Hiroshima", "Friends of America", "Peace - Japan".

Boat at sea

In 1949 the American children raised money to buy recreational equipment - baseball bats and mitts, table tennis and tennis equipment. Received with gratitude.

In New Zealand we have Parihaka as an example of responding non-violently.

In 1879 when settlers demand for land was seeing pressure and abuse put on the system for dealing with Maori land the people of Parihaka in Taranaki responded by pulling up survey markers and ploughing their own land. As each ploughman was arrested, another would take his place. When exasperated settlers finally marched into and destroyed part of the village, they were greeted by women and children with food.

Parihaka inspired Mahatma Gandhi. It now hosts Peace Conferences. It stands up there as something to be proud of as a way of building nation, a way of responding to violent threat.

We can be rightfully proud of much of the monitoring and peace building work done by our armed forces in many places. Could it be done without them being 'armed'? Could we commit the same level of spending to train and keep them as a rapid response civil defence force?

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

We, as individuals and society aren't perfect. But we can reach out towards perfection. We can seek out new ways to make real and present the eternal Shalom Kingdom, a world in which violence and hatred and suffering does not abound. We can sow the seeds of a new world by turning away from what we know harms others and trying to ensure that what we do does not add to the suffering of the world.

A minister wrote these words

It has to start somewhere
In the here and now war is being waged
and in the here and now the seeds of peace are being looked for.
The war is waged in someone else's name. Not in mine.
The work for peace is in the hands of us all. Including mine.

And we don't have to wait until we achieve perfection before we accept this responsibility.

In an Antiques Roadshow a pottery china expert was presented with two bowls melded together - usually a misfiring in the kiln and waste. The presenter explained that his father was one of the early people to go into Hiroshima after the bombing and picked it up there. An item now valued differently because of the context. What would normally be considered rubbish now valued because of its story – and everyone has a story. We need to share ours and listen to others with this same sense of valuing and recognising.

Imperfect people can still stock food banks, drive a neighbour to the doctor, donate to a homeless shelter, bite their tongue to avoid speaking in anger, refuse to kill. Imperfect people doing good things is at the heart of the shalom kingdom - we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we all can also be a loving reminder of the loving presence of God, showing what is possible if we open ourselves up to what God offers all. We can be an instrument of God's peace, we can plant a harvest of righteousness sown in peace, we can be a channel of peace for others and our world.