First Congregational United Church of Christ
August 9, 2015
Ephesians 4:28-5:2 Listening through Anger”
Rev. Diane K. Hooge
I remember the day years ago, when a woman came to my office and asked me to work with her to put together a funeral for her mother. The unique part of this planning was that the woman’s mother was still living. When the day came that we made our trek to the cemetery, and spread out a blanket and went through the readings, prayers and music, it was about grief…the grief of this woman who felt she never had the mother that she had needed, hoped for and expected to become a reality.
One does not deal with that kind of grief, without also dealing with a great deal of anger. Although this woman had been through years of therapy, she came to the church seeking another component to her healing work. She needed to tend to her spirit, and she needed permission to rail against God. She needed me to hear about her disappointment and her deeply held anger that came with having a mother who had never met her needs as a child. As an adult, she had learned how to find those missing pieces through the community, but she needed a ritual to help her get out of her “stuckness” and to more fully heal.
The tricky part of this text from Ephesians is that if we don’t see the bigger picture of this lesson, it can fall into becoming a set of rules or merit badges. What is being offered is personal transformation. However, what we all know is that when we seek to live out a new way of being, we don’t have a well-worn path to follow. Ephesians was written to offer depth and integrity to our daily living. It offers a foundation on which to live out our interior work. It’s written to offer life coaching. It challenges us as a community to collectively seek to live into the work of transformation.
The follower of the Apostle Paul who wrote the Letter to the Ephesians kept his focus on breaking down divisions—and primarily the focus was on the wall that divided Jews and Gentiles. It is addressed to the followers of Christ everywhere and offers mentoring as to how to live fully into the household of God. And, in this passage, the focus is on anger, not an easy topic for any of us, and certainly not an easy topic for church communities.
The challenge is to do our own work. The baggage I carry from this text comes from my mother who quoted Ephesians 4:32 on a regular basis to me when I was a child—only she offered it in the King James Version. I don’t think my mother was alone in believing that the best way to handle anger is to squelch it. I know I’m not the only one who lived with the spoken or unspoken rule that in order to be tenderhearted anger needed to be stuffed. It often takes therapy or spiritual direction work to figure out just what to do with anger. Reconciliation and peacemaking are some of the hardest work we do.
By the time we are adults, many of us have some hefty pieces of store-housed anger. Some families and communities do a better job of speaking truth to one another than others. And, learning how to speak truth respectfully is a skill. Learning how to acknowledge our own anger, and then figure out where it is coming from is hard work.
Although I can appreciate our text’s mandate that we not let the sun go down on our anger, perhaps another way of viewing that is to have a plan of action. Timing is worth a lot. I’m far better at dealing with a conflict if I’ve had sleep than if I’m worn out.
When South Africa made the move away from the horrendous polices of apartheid, a key to the healing process was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Black South Africans were invited to come before the Commission to speak their truth about what they had suffered under apartheid. As our text from Ephesians puts it, “we must speak truthfully to our neighbor so that we can be members of one body.” Truth telling is the key to trust.
Every August 5 there is a memorial service held in the Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima Japan. 70 years ago on August 6th, 1945, they lost about 400 students and 10 teachers. The school was re-opened in February of 1946 with 45 students and 4 teachers. What I’m always so aware of is the amount of grief and anger that is held by countries, communities and families because of war. I have occasionally been the recipient of confessions of veterans who have lived with the horror of war and their unresolved issues that they have carried with because of their actions during combat.
Our text from Ephesians begins with the mandate to put away falsehood. It calls for all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
On Sundays like today, it is important to remember significant truth tellers around this painful war anniversary. In November of 1946, The Washington Post society column featured a photograph showing two admirals smiling as a well- dressed woman cut a three foot high cake topped with angel-food puffs commemorating the November 1946 celebration of the atomic bomb taskforce.
Dr. Arthur Powell Davies, minister of the Unitarian All Souls Church in Washington D. C., channeled his anger and disdain into his sermon, titled “Lest the Living Forget.” Dr. Davies was an outspoken advocate for permanent civilian control of atomic energy. The sermon was widely publicized. His sermon ended up on the desk of Dr. Bell a civilian official with General Douglas MacArthur’s provisional government in Japan. Dr. Bell wrote to Pastor Davies asking for help from American children because the Japanese children had next to nothing for school supplies.
Dr. Davies then preached a sermon titled, “In reply to a Letter from Japan.” The children of all Souls Church collected a half ton of pencils, crayons, paper, erasers, paste and paper clips. The supplies landed in Japan in December of 1947 and were distributed to the Honkawa School, the Fukuro-machi School and an orphanage.
The small band of children from Honkawa School thanked the children of All Souls Church by sending a gift of two portfolios, that each contained forty-eight drawings that they had made using the gift of the art supplies. Those drawings became part of a tour by the US government that took place in 1948. Unfortunately, only one portfolio was returned to All Souls Church.
For years the drawings were shuffled around in the safe of the church along with various valuables. Occasionally, the drawings were taken out to show Japanese visitors, who stopped by the church in their role as a peace delegation. As survivors of the atomic bombings, they desired to see the historic drawings.
Over time, the drawings began to deteriorate. In 2005, some church members formed the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings Committee. They began to investigate how the drawings could be preserved. The committee also decided to see if they could locate any of the surviving children of the Honkawa School who had sent the gift of drawings more than 50 years earlier.
A documentary filmmaker, Bryan Reichhardt, became intrigued with the story. He and Japanese American artist and dancer, Shizumi Manale, embarked on a journey to locate the surviving artists to record the efforts of the church and to share the story with the world.
The church committee obtained a grant to restore the drawings. I was so moved to learn that part of the money came from former pastor Dr. Davies memorial fund. In 2008 the restored drawings were returned to the church and placed in an art storage facility.
Shizumi Manale located more than twenty of the children artists. Relationships were established between the alumni of the Honkawa School and the congregants of All Souls Church. The church sent a delegation to Hiroshima with the original drawings made by the living artists. They were exhibited during Peace week 2010 in the restored original building of the Honkawa School which is now a museum dedicated to peace. The completed film entitled “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard, was released two years ago.
What I am often so aware of is how generations carry the unresolved grief of past generations. The work of All Souls Church enabled them to be the bridge to layers of healing that was so needed in this country as well as Japan. Those pictures gave an opportunity to break through political barriers and to acknowledge the emotional toll and horrendous pain and horror of war on innocent lives.
When Rabbi Harold Kushner’s son died of a rare degenerative disease at 14, he wrote a book. The title of the book is often misquoted as Why Bad things Happen to Good People, rather than the authentic title which is, When Bad things Happen to Good People. Rabbi Kushner’s whole focus was to help the reader get over the why questions that focus on the past and the pain, and move on to ask the questions that lead to one’s future. Kushner’s whole focus is on the path of the future that is not yet worn—it is unfamiliar yet has the potential of framing one’s future.
This is what I believe the gift of the Pictures of the Hiroshima Schoolyard is all about. It became a truth telling vehicle that was able to become a bridge of hope, healing and peacemaking.
On the All Souls Church website, are these words from Rev. Dr. Susan Newman Moore:
“In every age and every culture-after a great evil, after a devastating event—when it seems as if the world is coming to an end–there are those who begin again.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
“If we are to teach real peace in the world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”