Monday, April 28, 2008
Minister in Residence: Rev. Richard Boeke at Meadville Lombard Theological School
L-R Rev. Richard Boeke, Visiting Minister in Residence and Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman, Field Education Developer for the Community Partnership Program at Meadville.
These two dapper gentlemen are L-R Rev. Richard Boeke and Rev. Jim Hobart, Interim Director of Field Education and Adjunct Professor for Unitarian Universalist Polity
L-R Rev. Richard Boeke and Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman in the Curtis Room at Meadville Lombard Theological School.
Dr. Boeke, a former member of the board of Tsubaki America, is the part-time minister of the Unitarian church of sevenoaks in England, his wife, Johanna, is the minister of the Unitarian church in Horsham, Worthing and Godalming in England. The Boekes previously served is ministers of the Unitarian church in Berkeley, CA.
The two essays that follow were written by Rev. Dr. Boeke. They reflect his passion for peacebuilding, internationalism and interfaith dialogue:
1996 IARF Congress in Korea
Over a dozen Tsubaki priests and members attended the August 1996 Korea Congress of the international Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). The IARF, founded in 1900, is the world's oldest interfaith organisation.
At the closing business meeting, Dr. Yukitaka Yamamoto, chief priest of Tsubaki Grand Shrine, was elected president. Dr. Yamamoto is a leader in bringing Shinto into the Dialogue of World Religions. Since he led Shinto prayers at the United Nations 30 years ago, Dr. Yamamoto has taught that the "Kami Spirit" of "Reverence for Nature" embraces the whole earth. Thus Shinto is called to work in harmony with other faiths for peace and understanding.
This was a difficult Congress to arrange. Many Koreans view the Japanese as oppressors. In the days just before the Congress, Koreans who had been used as "comfort women" by the Japanese troops with anger rejected the "unofficial compensation" offered by Japan.
Is interfaith dialogue worth it? Especially in three different languages in a unfamiliar land? A Korean Jesuit described Korea to me as "The Ireland of the Orient." Like Ireland, Korea is divided into North and South. Like Ireland there are violent demonstrations for unification. Like Ireland there is deep resentment of an "imperial" island to the west which often invaded. For Ireland the invaders were English: for Korea the invaders were Japanese. Like Ireland, religion is strong in Korea. Of 40 million Koreans, perhaps 20 million follow various forms of Buddhism. Over 10 million are Protestant Christians. About 3 million Koreans are Catholic.
Our hosts were Won Buddhists, founded in Korea seventy years ago. Their focus of worship is a circle which reminds them of "the interdependence of all things. There is no independent existence." In keeping with their teaching they invited the IARF Congress to meet at the beautiful campus of the Won Kwang University in Iksan City, about 100 miles south of Seoul. The University provided a first rate modern art show, three glorious concerts featuring drums and dance, and an excellent air conditioned center for the Congress.
Japanese/Korean dialogue became a vital part of the Congress. In a moving speech, Rev. Norio Sakai of Rissho Kosei-kai (Japanese Buddhist) apologised to the Koreans. Later, in the Study Group on Religious Practice, a young woman from Japan told her experience as a volunteer aide in a Korean home for the elderly. When the Koreans learned that she was Japanese, several expressed their hatred of her. At night she would go home in tears. She prayed for strength to continue. To be an agent of the Buddha spirit of compassion. After weeks, one of the Koreans thanked her.
In his opening address, John Buehrens, president of the North American Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), said, "The religion that cannot be criticised becomes a threat to religious freedom." His speech on five virtues closed with hope:
"A quiet confidence that the resources are there to make the world a better place of more justice and love and less suffering."
Other speakers included Christine Hayhurst of Great Britain and Dr. Fe.L. Sycip, a Filipino Physician who was co-awarded the Albert Schweitzer Medal. Near the close of the Congress, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Christian told of their friendship in a divided land.
There were no delegates from Romania. A week before the Congress, Unitarian Bishop Janos Erdo died. Others in the delegation stayed at home to join in the funeral, and to take part in changes taking place in the Romania Church. The IARF Interfaith Service on Sunday was dedicated to the memory of Bishop Erdo, a courageous man who had endured a Communist prison for his faith.
Westerners were in the minority at the Korean IARF. There were more delegates from India than from England. In an effort at cross-cultural friendship, most days at noon we met in "Circle Groups" of 12 to 14. In my group was a Korean Priest who ministers to a congregation of Korean Buddhists in Japan. The second day he sang a Korean song about the river which flows between North and South. "A bird can fly across the river, but a human being can not."
At the close of the Congress, Chief Priest Yamamoto led almost 200 of the delegates in buses to a prayer service at an observation point looking across the river to North Korea.
One prayer was by Dr. Peter Gerlitz of Germany who said,
"We, Christians of the reunified Germany, join with the Korean People and pray:
Almighty God, bless the Korean people in their desire for unification and peace. ..."
For me, the most memorable moment came six days later at the close of our tour of Buddhist Temples. We were at Pusan at the graveyard of the United Nations Troops who turned back the invading Communist Forces. Several of my friends died in that war. We saw graves from Turkey with Islamic Symbols. We saw Dutch graves, and English graves, and American graves. I believe 21 nations were represented. That week an American Presidential Candidate was saying that "Americans will never again serve under the Blue Flag of the United Nations." I thought of the contrasting teaching of the Won Buddhists, who know that "there is no independent existence."
In the dialogue of religions there will be agony. But there will also be ecstasy as we move beyond dialogue to friendship, trust, and hope for our world.
May Ancient Hatred Become Present Love
by Rev. Richard Boeke
For many, the life transforming experience comes more quickly. In a magazine, Roger Rosenblatt tells this story: "I was being given a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum by its director, who had survived the bombing as a 13-year-old schoolboy. Translating for me was a woman in her mid-20s, who was born in Hiroshima, though long after August 6, 1945.
"As we walked along the exhibits, the museum director was talking about the effects of the bomb that August day: how his schoolroom had been flattened like a cardboard house, how he had trudged through streets in flames, over bodies, past children crying for their mothers. His narrative was intensified by the photograph of shadows on a bridge that remained after the people who made them had been obliterated. Suddenly the translation stopped- I looked from the director to my translator.
The young woman was weeping and gasping so frantically I thought she would faint. 'Oh,' she said as last, 'Oh, I'm so ashamed, referring to her loss of composure, but I never really knew about the war before this week. Of course I knew, but I did not know- The pain, the suffering. This is new to me.'
"Whenever I think of Hiroshima, I do not picture the bomb, but rather that young woman translator, trembling in tears, and I saw war for this first time in my life. The poet Shelley wrote, We must learn to imagine what we know. "
An Ancient Shinto prayer says: "I pray that the wind will soon puff away the clouds which hang like rocks on the mountaintops." Fifty years after the Atornic Bomb fell on Hiroshima, we have many reasons for saying that prayer. Our prayers go to the People of Bosnia and Croatia. We pray that somehow the bloodshed will end and they will move to Peace. We pray for all those who suffer violence and oppression throughout the world: in Africa, in Israel, in Russia, in Burma. And we pray for those who suffer violence here, in our land: for murdered children and their families. We pray for all who live in fear and mistrust William Faulkner spoke for us when he said in his Noble Prize address: "Our tragedy today is a general and universal fear, so long sustained by now that we can even bear it, There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?"
Fifty years after the bomb, we sense in the words of Robert Jay Lifton, that "we are all survivors of Hiroshima." We are all Atomic Bomb Victims: our sense of life transformed by the Bomb. For centuries, humans have dreamed of immortality through monuments, or children, or poetry or music. With the existence of Atomic Bombs, when we symbolically dial the future, sometimes the answer comes back, "Sorry you have been cut off." There may be no future.
Some react by fleeing to dreams of a "rapture" in which the good people will be taken up to heaven. I prefer the motto of Christian Aid, "life before death. Millions have turned to ecology: the awareness of the fragileness of lift makes us appreciate the beauty of nature. In preserving forests or flowers, we are preserving something of ourselves. The planet is our larger self.
The evening of August 6th each year, a million people make a pilgrimage. A million paper lanterns are placed in streams around the world. The stated purpose is to pray for the souls of those who died on August 6th at Hiroshima, or on August 9th at Nagasaki. But for those of us who light the candies and place the lanterns on the water, the prayer is also for ourselves. Like those who survived the bombs, we pray to overcome the psychic numbing" that keeps us from life. We pray to acknowledge the survivor guilt" we feel, that we are alive while our friends and loved ones are dead.
The survivors rebuilt Hiroshima as a "City of Peace", with a "Peace Park" in the center. On the central monument which marks ground zero for the bomb, they wrote, "Rest In Peace. The mistake shall not be repeated." And the rusting atomic dome was left as a symbol, not to be forgotten.
Would the war have ended as quickly if the bomb had not been dropped? This debate will continue- But from the lessons of two bombs we know the risk of Atomic Warfare is a nightmare that can destroy earth and reduce us all to dust and shadows- All the science from Newton to Einstein flowed to produce August 6, 1945. We moved from Newtonian Certainty to "Chaos Theory" and knowledge of "M.A.D. - Mutually Assured Destruction."
We fear we, or our children, may be victims or survivors of some future Holocaust. With candies and paper cranes, we come to renew connection with the music of our hearts. What distant drummer do we hear? Do we hear the drums of hope or of some demonic dream that would lead us to destruction? Are our lives being frustrated by some ancient grief, some ancient unhealed wound?
Ancient unhealed wounds come back in Bosnia and Korea today. "And the sins of the parents are visited upon the children until the utmost generation." Ancient unhealed wounds fragment Christianity. We are isolated from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Jew.
Recently, I read the report of an Interfaith service at Auschwitz, There were 30 Buddhist monks and nuns from Japan along with Christians and Jews. At the end of the service, one of the Japanese monks gave each of the people there ten beautifully folded origami paper "peace cranes-" Across the world the love of the survivors was reaching out.
The story of the service ended with these words, "The holiest place on earth is where ancient hatred becomes a present love. In every land and in every heart, may ancient hatred become present love.