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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Drawing Hope

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Clair Boston, Worship Associate and guests Bill Rice and Steve Marshall; Naoko Maeda, guest pianist


Sermon by Bill Rice and Steve Marshall

Exhibit Docents, All Soul’s, Unitarian of Washington, DC

 

Good Morning.  I’m Bill Rice and I’m here with fellow All Souls member Steve Marshall.  Thank you for allowing us to share with you the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings. 

The story of the Hiroshima drawings is a story of the end of a long and terrible war and its aftermath; and the attempts of two small groups to help build a new world for themselves and to make a gesture of reconciliation.  Their story reflects the beginnings of the difficult, but ultimately successful reconciliation of the Japanese and American societies after the bloodshed of World War II.  For the children who survived the Hiroshima bombing, it reflects their struggle to build a life amid devastation.  On the other side of the world their lives are connected by chance to the minister and children of All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington.  This connection and simple gestures of care and good will, arose from the deep focus of the All Souls senior minister, the Reverend A. Powell Davies, and his congregation, on peace and the necessary steps to begin to build a new world and avoid another nuclear holocaust.

Rev. Davies was born in 1902 to a Welsh family in Birkenhead, England – a suburb of Liverpool.  He became an accomplished New Testament scholar and an ordained Methodist minister.  Coming to America in 1929, and upon signing a pacifist manifesto, Dr. Davies foretold, “If there is another war, (after WW I) it will eventually bankrupt civilization.  Civilian populations will be wiped out; and the only compensation, if it is such, will be the fact that their enemies, women and children too, are being murdered on a similar scale.”  After a few years as a Methodist minister in churches in Maine, he became minister in 1933 of a Unitarian church, the Community Church in Summit, New Jersey.  He became senior minister of All Souls Church in September 1944.

There was, of course, to be another world war.  On August 6, 1945), an atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  On August 9, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.  For the next several years, Dr. Davies was dedicated to making his voice heard to ensure a just peace.  From the pulpit and through his work on national committees, Davies worked tirelessly for economic justice for all, the establishment of the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and the civilian control of atomic weapons and power in the United States and in the rest of the world.

On November 9, 1946, the Washington Post published a photograph taken at a celebration at the Army War College for a joint Army Navy task force that had conducted atomic bomb tests.  The photograph was of two admirals and an admiral’s wife cutting a cake in the shape of an atomic bomb mushroom cloud.  On November 10, after delivering a prepared sermon, Rev. Davies delivered an impassioned addendum . . .

 

From the sermon by Rev. A. Powell Davies on November 10, 1946 (read by Steve Marshall)

“I do know that at times, something happens that steeps the soul in bitterness.  I do not mean at the peace conferences or at the meetings of the United Nations, though it is often bad enough.  I mean in the things that are natural, genuine symptoms of a nation’s moral health.  I have with me here in the pulpit this morning a page from a newspaper – from a very fine newspaper.  It contains a picture – as it seems to me, an utterly loathsome picture.  If I spoke as I feel I would call it obscene.  I do not blame the newspaper for printing the picture, or the photographer for taking it.  What fills me with bitterness is the fact that such an event could take place at all.  It is a picture of two high naval officers and a very beautiful lady.  They are in the act of cutting what is called an atomic bomb cake.  And it is indeed a cake shaped in the form of an atomic explosion.  The caption says it is made of tiny angel food puffs.  I do not know how to tell you what I feel about that picture.  I only hope to God it is not printed in Russia, to confirm everything the Soviet Government has been telling the Russian people about how ‘American degenerates’ are able to treat with levity the most cruel, pitiless, revolting instrument of death ever invented by man . . .

If I had the authority of a priest of the Middle Ages, I would call down the wrath of God upon such an obscenity, such a monstrous betrayal of everything for which the brokenhearted of the world are waiting.  But – perhaps fortunately – I have no such authority.  And so I only pray that God will give me patience and compassion.  That I may be just – and merciful – and humble.  And still speak the truth that is in me.”

 

Newspapers and magazines around the world reported this sermon.  Howard Bell, an educational specialist with the occupying forces in Japan and former aid to the General Douglas McArthur, read an account of the sermon in Time Magazine.  On January 20, 1947 after reading the Time Magazine report, Dr. Bell wrote Rev. Davies that he liked Davies words, though “less profane than mine would be, but doubtless more effective and obviously more printable.”  Dr. Bell described the plight of the Japanese children, like those of the Honkawa Elementary School in central Hiroshima.  On August 6, 1945, though 800 of its children had earlier been evacuated to the country, the 400 remaining students “came there with their tins of rice at eight o’clock in the morning, and had just gotten down to business when the blast baked them to sleep.”  He went on to describe the current conditions of the school:  “There is no glass in the skeleton of this concrete reinforced makeshift school – no plaster, no wood, no heat.  But kids are huddled, six to a ten foot bench – learning democracy.  Blue cheeks and purple hands, some with pencil stubs and some with none; and crude paper or no paper at all.”  Bell asked Davies of the possibility of putting on a ‘desk cleaning project’ that would yield substantial numbers of pencil stubs, used erasers, crayons, and notebooks.”

On February 13, 1947 Davies delivered the sermon, “In Reply to a Letter from Japan,” and after receiving special permission from the Occupation Forces in Japan, and a special export license, the school supply collection, named the Overseas Relief Project, was begun by the ASC Religious Education program on March 29 under the direction of School of Religion Secretary Mercedes Jordon.  Over half a ton of school supplies were shipped to Japan that summer by the Unitarian Service Committee from its New York warehouse.  Supplies were delivered to the Honkawa and Fukouromachi schools and to the Ninoshima Orphanage shortly before Christmas, 1947.

The shipment of school supplies came two years after the devastation of the atomic bomb, so the children of Hiroshima were already imagining a new life.  The arrival of the crates of supplies from overseas created great excitement among the children at Honkawa.  Basic school supplies were things that had been done without.  But they had never seen so many different colors of crayons and colored pencils.  But most importantly, someone from far away cared about them enough to send these gifts. 

The Japanese kids gave in return the most precious thing they had to give – their own visions of the beautiful world they hoped for – and perhaps remembered.  They sent the children of All Souls Church two packages with portfolios of their drawings, Japanese comic books and handmade cloth dolls.   Each of the 48 watercolor paintings and crayon drawings from the Honkawa School carried the name and age of the young artist.  Many were 7 or 8, a few as old as 12.  The artwork covered a wide range of subjects:  a bus loaded with children, kimono clad girls, a boat at sea, a baseball cap, a city street.  Some expressed their thoughts in Kanji:  “Japan, country of cherry blossoms,” Green Mountains of Hiroshima,” World of sky and water,” “Friends of America,” and “Peace in Japan.”

In response to the Japanese children’s gifts, children from the ASC RE program wrote a thank you letter to each of the artists, and collected a second shipment, this time of sports equipment, which was shipped in the summer of 1948.  The shipment of sports equipment received great attention when it was displayed for the visiting Emperor Hirohito at the opening of the Hiroshima Children’s Culture Center.

One of the two portfolios was lent to the old Department of Health Education and Welfare for a touring exhibit of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings sometime during the period 1949-1952.  It was never returned and no government officials have had any recollection of the drawings.  The remaining portfolio was stored at the church for several years and then at the home of a board of trustees member.  The portfolio of 48 drawings and calligraphy was brought out several times to show Hibakusha (survivors of the A-Bomb) visiting ASC during the 1990’s.  Photographs of the drawings taken by these visitors were widely reported in Japanese newspapers and captured the attention of the Japanese public.

In January 2005, ASC Administrator Mel Hardy and church members formed the Hiroshima Drawings Committee.  Hardy envisioned the drawings as Davies’ legacy encouraging peace and reconciliation.  All Souls has learned about the Japanese perspective on the story, largely through the interest of Shizumi Manale, a Washington resident and dancer whose mother had been a teacher at Honkawa School. With the intent of preserving the increasingly fragile drawings, the ASC Davies Memorial Committee had conservator Rachel Ray Cleveland stabilize the art works.  High quality photographic facsimiles have been made by Hand Ferrand for exhibition and travel purposes.  A PBS documentary telling the story of the drawings is scheduled for release later this year.

 

On August 6, 2011, the current senior minister of All Souls, together with a delegation from our congregation, was invited to Japan to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima.  Rev. Rob Hardies wrote to us from there:

“I, along with five All Souls members, have the honor of being in Hiroshima to commemorate this terrible event, and to celebrate a seed of hope that was planted in its aftermath:  the small but significant exchange of gifts of peace between the children of All Souls and Hiroshima’s Honkawa Elementary School.  In a moving ceremony last Saturday, these drawings – recently restored – were reunited for the first time with the children (now in their 70’s and 80’s) who created them.  They are now on exhibit at the Honkawa School Peace Museum and in the last week alone, have garnered thousands of visitors and significant attention from the Japanese press.  I am reminded during this trip that relationships place upon us responsibilities.  We have a duty to be morally accountable to the relationships we’ve entered into.  I believe our relationship with the people of Hiroshima places a responsibility on us to continue to share the story of these drawings and to work for a world that is no longer threatened by the specter of nuclear annihilation.  We are called to be peacemakers.”

While I don’t remember too much about sophomore year—it held neither “fresh start” of freshman year nor the rigor of junior and senior year—I do have fond memories of constantly working in groups. Most of our projects were fairly straightforward: we debated foreign and domestic policy issues in teams in government class, we wrote plays together in English, and we made short films in TV studio. But it was our “Change Project” that didn’t quite have the structure of the others. Our assignment was simple: we had to identify a problem in society, figure out how to fix it, and then attempt to make change. We would be graded on how well we were able to make a difference.

My group’s issue was literacy. We put together a book drive and a reading day for pre-kindergarten students who were just beginning to learn how to read.  We were happy with our project, but some of us were concerned that it wouldn’t quite measure up to some of the other groups. Selfishly, we worried about our grades.  Other groups were sending shoes to Thailand, hosting benefit concerts for AIDS awareness, and putting on adoption fairs for shelter animals. We worried our project would seem inferior, and perhaps not worthy of an “A” grade. We worried as our teachers lurked in the background during every step of our project planning: they approved our projects, they orchestrated our meetings, and above all, they graded us on our work.

While my group members and I enjoyed working with the pre-kindergartners, it occurred to us that were it not for this school assignment, it would have been unlikely that any of us would have done a project like this on our own. As we talked, we began to almost feel bad about what we were doing—because everything we did came with a grade attached, it felt forced and less real.

My group agreed that we needed to make sure we found meaning in our project before we finished working with the pre-kindergarteners. As we tried to brainstorm ways to make our project less about our grades, we ended up talking to many of the other students who had been assigned the same project. As it turned out, many other groups, whose projects we once considered “better,” were also concerned with how their projects still felt like schoolwork, or even chores. As a class, we concluded that that only way to make our work more meaningful was to take the “school” out of our work.

We continued to work on our specific literacy project, but we also began to help out other groups. We donated to other groups’ bake sales and attended other benefit events. When we made our community service about class collaboration, and not just grades, we began to see our service less competitively. Our class dynamic shifted: we were not a collection of groups all fighting for that “A” grade. Instead, we were simply a group of people who were willing to help each other support a number of different causes. When my group helped our classmates meet the goals of their own projects, our own work felt more meaningful. By the time the Change Project ended, our class had collectively raised several thousand dollars for worthy charities and school groups.

Forgetting that our projects were tied to school actually ended up making our community service more successful. A year later, several groups even reprised their projects—this time, no grades attached—and raised even more money. The Change Project was designed to be a learning experience, but what I most got out of the project was an unlikely message, given the project’s school setting: I realized that the internal motivation to make change results in more meaning than any mandatory school assignment.

 

Chalice Reflection by Claire Boston, Youth Worship Associate

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

While I don’t remember too much about sophomore year—it held neither “fresh start” of freshman year nor the rigor of junior and senior year—I do have fond memories of constantly working in groups. Most of our projects were fairly straightforward: we debated foreign and domestic policy issues in teams in government class, we wrote plays together in English, and we made short films in TV studio. But it was our “Change Project” that didn’t quite have the structure of the others. Our assignment was simple: we had to identify a problem in society, figure out how to fix it, and then attempt to make change. We would be graded on how well we were able to make a difference.

My group’s issue was literacy. We put together a book drive and a reading day for pre-kindergarten students who were just beginning to learn how to read.  We were happy with our project, but some of us were concerned that it wouldn’t quite measure up to some of the other groups. Selfishly, we worried about our grades.  Other groups were sending shoes to Thailand, hosting benefit concerts for AIDS awareness, and putting on adoption fairs for shelter animals. We worried our project would seem inferior, and perhaps not worthy of an “A” grade. We worried as our teachers lurked in the background during every step of our project planning: they approved our projects, they orchestrated our meetings, and above all, they graded us on our work.

While my group members and I enjoyed working with the pre-kindergartners, it occurred to us that were it not for this school assignment, it would have been unlikely that any of us would have done a project like this on our own. As we talked, we began to almost feel bad about what we were doing—because everything we did came with a grade attached, it felt forced and less real.

My group agreed that we needed to make sure we found meaning in our project before we finished working with the pre-kindergarteners. As we tried to brainstorm ways to make our project less about our grades, we ended up talking to many of the other students who had been assigned the same project. As it turned out, many other groups, whose projects we once considered “better,” were also concerned with how their projects still felt like schoolwork, or even chores. As a class, we concluded that that only way to make our work more meaningful was to take the “school” out of our work.

We continued to work on our specific literacy project, but we also began to help out other groups. We donated to other groups’ bake sales and attended other benefit events. When we made our community service about class collaboration, and not just grades, we began to see our service less competitively. Our class dynamic shifted: we were not a collection of groups all fighting for that “A” grade. Instead, we were simply a group of people who were willing to help each other support a number of different causes. When my group helped our classmates meet the goals of their own projects, our own work felt more meaningful. By the time the Change Project ended, our class had collectively raised several thousand dollars for worthy charities and school groups.

Forgetting that our projects were tied to school actually ended up making our community service more successful. A year later, several groups even reprised their projects—this time, no grades attached—and raised even more money. The Change Project was designed to be a learning experience, but what I most got out of the project was an unlikely message, given the project’s school setting: I realized that the internal motivation to make change results in more meaning than any mandatory school assignment.

 

Homily “Drawing Hope” by Rev. Diane Teichert

Minister, Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

As our guests reported a moment ago, last August, the senior minister of All Souls, and a small delegation of members traveled to Japan to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima.  Rev. Rob Hardies wrote in a message to the congregation while they were in Hiroshima,

“I, along with five All Souls members, have the honor of being in Hiroshima to commemorate this terrible event, and to celebrate a seed of hope that was planted in its aftermath:  the small but significant exchange of gifts of peace between the children of All Souls and Hiroshima’s Honkawa Elementary School.”

A seed of hope…the small but significant exchange of gifts of peace between children…

The trailer for the video about the Hiroshima Drawings that is due out later this year shows that visit, during which some of the artists, now adults, came to see their own drawings on display, drawings that are now 65 years old. Moved to tears by the memory, one of them recalled the arrival of the school and art supplies, and remembered noticing they had a pleasant aroma – can you imagine? The smell of a new box of crayons and construction paper? I, too, know that aroma – it’s a first day of school kind of smell for many American kids, or on Christmas Day when my sisters and I used to receive a box of 64, with the sharpener on the side, and a new color-by-number coloring book. The Japanese woman recalled exclaiming, “And this is what America smells like!”

I wonder what the American children, now adults, remember? I wonder if they felt truly involved or, or like Claire Boston said in her Chalice Reflection in regard to a required and graded school project, did they feel that it was something they “had” to do? Their Director of Religious Exploration organized the gift exchange, but did it really connect with the children? Do they remember shopping for new crayons, and helping to box the piles of donations? Do they remember the excitement of receiving thank you notes in reply?

We can draw hope from these drawings. They are the result of moral indignation and outrage by Rev. Davies, which evoked a challenge from a US official in Japan to not just talk but DO something, to which the congregation responded by taking up a massive collection for children whose school was destroyed by the bomb, in which they involved Unitarians from around the country, and now today – by this touring exhibit sixty four years later – we are reminded, because of it, that something fine and beautiful resulted. Small acts of reconciliation create waves of goodwill and promote peace.

Let us tap our moral indignation and outrage for the energy to take up the tasks of peace and justice in our times. May we find, to quote Claire, “the internal motivation to make change” and draw hope… from these exquisite drawings from Hiroshima.

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