Life Arises from Hiroshima: Chaplain George Zabelka

By Dan Buttry

At the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we look at the questions of values transformation that saw life, hope, and new questions arise from the ashes.

George Zabelka in uniform

George Zabelka was a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II. Toward the end of the war he was stationed on Tinian Island with the 509th Composite Group. That was the Atomic Bomb Group that included the crews of the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a zealous military chaplain at the time.

Then Chaplain Zabelka visited Nagasaki as part of the occupation forces after the war. He was struck especially by the suffering of the children from the atomic bombing. In a separate story about the 70th anniversary, historians point out that most Americans never saw the extent of the suffering until the 1950s because of strict U.S. censorship of photos, films and reporting on the devastation.

… Zabelka dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and working for peace between people. On the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima he undertook a “Pilgrimage of Forgiveness” to meet with victims and ask forgiveness for his and his Church’s silence. He asked forgiveness “for bringing you death instead of the fullness of life, misery instead of mercy.” (Read the text of a talk he gave on the40th anniversary; or read more about his life on Wikipedia.)Find the rest of the article on Read the Spirit

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Black Lives MatterRight around the time of the rioting in Baltimore, I posted on Facebook a meme with a picture and quotation from, James Lawson, a wellrespected and beloved figure, active in the US Civil Rights movement of the 60s. Lawson says, “Violence has no practical results – toward building a strengthened community or solving the problems of human prejudice, bias, and injustice. People accept the ideological or even religious myth that if you want to get things done, violence is the way. But violence is not even the faster way. It complicates issues, increases and escalates the pain, postpones the hard work of facing the problem and healing it. Violence can kill somebody and destroy buildings. But it cannot build a house or create a community that is more just and fair.” I found these words timely, instructive and inspiring.

Since last fall, when American Baptist Global Peace and Justice Specialist, Dan Buttry, visited our congregation, I have been thinking about the practice of nonviolent resistance. Using one of Dan’s books, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which focuses on stories of people who have dedicated their lives to making peace – both famous and hidden heroes – our Adult Spiritual Formation group spent time meeting some of these figures in the fall. We also took the opportunity to share with each other our own peacemaking heroes. Then, in January, one of the texts we read in my Spiritual Direction program was Walter Wink’s The Powers that Be, again with an emphasis on peacemaking and the genius of nonviolent resistance. Eventually, we also used this resource in Adult Spiritual Formation.

The challenge of nonviolent resistance is that it takes incredible discipline and planning. It asks that we contain our anger in such a way that we can then channel it creatively and constructively rather than acting it out in spontaneous combustion. This is not easy. I have known anger in my life and I have lashed out more than once in ways that were unhelpful and only fueled the fire. Perhaps my early commitment to pacifism (I registered as a conscientious objector in 1965 at age 18) was an attempt to contain angry feelings and destructive impulses in the service of a greater good – the fulfillment of the Beloved Community of God in my own life and in the world around me.

Pacifism in our world often seems as quixotic as Jesus’ proclamation of the Beloved Community. “Get real! No one can live like that. What would you do if someone was raping your sister or threatening your own life?” “What do you mean, ‘love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself,’ ‘love your enemy, ‘love Samaritans and tax collectors and prostitutes?’ You’re a fool. You have to take care of number one first. It’s hard enough just to get along with our own kind.” This is such a common world view. Let’s not upset the status quo.

And isn’t it just this commitment, or at least default, to protecting the way things are that led to the rioting in Baltimore as well as to demonstrations elsewhere? People are angry, fed up with a system that clings to security for some of us while others suffer the pain and indignity of injustice and inequity.  When people are in pain they cry out. They lash out. They act out. I get that. But what I’m looking for is a better way to express frustration and suffering, a way that will lead to real systemic change and not just polarize us into extremes.

In the past couple of weeks, I have seen Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words posted a number of times, “…a riot is the language of the unheard.” It is a powerful perspective. It insists that we look for, listen to, walk with those who have been silenced, forced to the margins, trampled on and ignored. Yes, right here in “greatest country on earth,” there’s work to be done. But let’s look a little more closely at King’s comment. Let’s put it in the context in which he first embedded it.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

“Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” To me this speaks to the wisdom and rich possibilities of nonviolent resistance and peacemaking. In fact, I believe these are crucial dimensions of Christian theology, drawing on the life and witness of Jesus as he attempted to bring God’s Beloved Community fully into existence. This is Gospel. There is no peace, there is no freedom, there is no Beloved Community when we fail to be just and fair.

How do we resist injustice, inequity, evil without resorting to violence? How do we make real peace in a world dying for it? How do we learn to love our enemies and our neighbors and ourselves enough to turn the world right side up and bring to life the Beloved Community God imagined from the foundations of creation? I have no simple answers nor can I promise the work will be easy, but as a disciple of Jesus (along with Lawson, King, Thurman, Mandela, Gandhi, Wink, Dorothy Day, Dorothee Soelle, and so many others in the great cloud of witness,) I want to commit myself to this discipline because I believe it is the only real hope we have of a different, better future. “We make the road by walking” has been our journey this year. If this is so what sort of road do we want to make and leave as a legacy?

Yours on the journey,
Pastor Rick

Of pianos, violence and peacemakers

Sunday was a good day at FBCPA. Dylan and Dustin Ha delivered the commandments from the heights of the sanctuary, the choir sang about “Many Gifts, One Spirit,” celebrating that “though we move on different pathways, we are walking to [God’s] your throne,” we considered those things that keep us in captivity and we prayed for the freedom that God promises to all. Special thanks to all those strong backs and willing hands that helped to lift one piano off its rollers and another onto that same set of rollers. We have been gifted with a nice piano for the Fellowship Hall, which will enhance the musical possibilities for that space.

Dustin and Dylan deliver the law
Dustin and Dylan deliver the law

This Sunday, the theme is “From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges.” I think this week’s exploration is crucial to the journey we are on. I am sure that many of you share my distress with some of the awful images of violence and destruction in the Bible, often portrayed as God’s command or will. What do we do with those “texts of terror”? Brian McLaren gives a way of looking at those texts as markers along the road we’re walking but not as the destination toward which we’re moving. The passages from Deuteronomy and the Psalms are exemplary of the glorification of violence and destruction in our biblical tradition, but in Matthew 15, we get a different perspective on God’s desire for justice, peace and well-being for all of creation.

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will conclude our consideration of Dan Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers. We were introduced to several saints and heroes in the business of peacemaking and we will meet more this Sunday, especially some from our American Baptist tradition. And while we’re speaking of peacemakers, I encourage you to read the witness of a young African peacemaker, Boaz Kiebarak, in the “In the World” section above. This is one those Dan Buttry told us about when he was here.

Come join us as we worship in community and learn together what it means to be a peacemaker. See you Sunday at 10:00 AM.

God grant us more light, more love, more life as we journey together.

Pastor Rick  

A Season of Gratitude

IThree candlest’s difficult to believe it’s November 5 when it is 80 degrees outside with a cloudless sky. We have to be careful not to gloat though in this time of dire drought. If any of our friends out there have a few spare rain clouds they could send us, we would be more than grateful.

And speaking of being grateful, November marks a “Season of Gratitude.” As we are inundated with mandates to buy and consume, let’s remember that all we have is gift from God. In a spirit of gratitude for all that we have, I invite you to be generous in your support of our congregation and its ministries. Not only do we “make the road by walking,” it is a journey we are on together. It takes all of us, side by side, hand in hand, moving forward toward the future that God has for us as her children.

I’m reminded of a song, popular in the 70s, by Doris Ellzey Blessoff, which sings, “We’re travelin’ on a road we’ve never seen before, and, O, it’s hard to know which way to go, but somewhere there’s a promise ‘bout some distant shore that those who seek will someday know.” We may not know what lies ahead but as we journey together we trust that the way will become clear and God’s reign will be realized in and through us. So we share from that with which we have been entrusted to support one another along the way and move us closer to that “distant shore” where God’s creation will be once more fulfilled.

Sunday’s focus is on great biblical commandments – the Decalogue as well as the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor. The question we are asked to consider is what binds us from within and keeps us in slavery to its power? These great commandments can be quite liberating but we can also find ourselves enslaved by certain religious expectations and traditions. How does love ultimately set us free at the same time it calls us to responsibility?

In Adult Spiritual Formation we have begun a three part consideration of Dan Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers. We began with a time of sharing on what it might mean to be a saint or a hero and who some of our personal saints and heroes are. This week people in the class will introduce us to some of the peacemakers featured in Dan’s book – Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez, Thomasine Allen, the Berrigan brothers and others.

Come join us as we worship in community and learn together what it means to be a peacemaker. See you Sunday at 10:00 AM.

God grant us more light, more love, more life as we journey together.

Pastor Rick

Dan Buttry’s visit

candleringWhat a great day we had on Sunday. It was such a treat to have Dan Buttry, Global Specialist for Peace and Justice, American Baptist International Ministries, with us for worship, adult education and lunch. Dan represents the kind of meaningful, contemporary mission work that keeps us, as a congregation, supporting American Baptist missions. His sermon and his sharing helped us see what a difference the gospel can make when communicated in a way that helps people live into peace and justice. And Dan’s work stretches around the globe, touching the lives of all kinds of people in all kinds of places. We heard stories from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the Naga area of India. Philippines, Mexico and Kyrgystan. I was especially impressed with the stories of courageous, passionate young people who are learning conflict transformation from Dan and boldly practicing it in very dangerous situations. Our support for this work is surely well-spent. I hope this inspires us to give a little more to meet and even exceed our goal for the month’s World Mission Offering.

This Sunday, we will continue to “make the road by walking” it. Both Wally Bryen and Dan used texts from McLaren’s book so we are still on schedule. This week’s theme is “Rivalry and Reconciliation.” We have a choice of four great texts – the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, the celebration of those who care for “the least of these” in Matthew and the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think we will focus on the Joseph story for worship, though each of these passages teaches us something about rivalry and reconciliation. Even in situations of murderous rivalry the face of God may appear in compassion, forgiveness and healing of broken relationships. This is good news.

Don’t forget the potluck and pumpkin carving Friday evening and our Quarterly Business meeting Sunday after worship.

See you Sunday at 10:00 AM for Worship and Sunday School.

God grant us more light, more love, more life as we journey together.

Pastor Rick