catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 11 :: 2010.05.28 — 2010.06.10


Hung up


It’s the first thing I think of when I contemplate the issue of nuclear arms — which should tell you something about how much time I’ve spent in contemplation, that a bumper sticker slogan floats to the surface above all else.

But other memories are coming up for air as well.  In college, I read the novel Obasan by Joy Kogawa, which is mostly about the internment of Japanese people living in Canada during World War II, but contains haunting descriptions of life in Japan after the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs.  Not only were the injuries themselves horrifically debilitating, but they were culturally wrapped up with shame for the injured.  We are the ones who should be ashamed.

In high school, a pilot of one of those WWII planes that dropped the bombs received the opportunity to defend himself and the U.S. military in front of 200 impressionable history students.  If there was any shame then, I did not perceive it. Our teachers taught by their silence.

In fact, most Christians I know are silent on the topic of nuclear weapons.  We may have an abstract fear about nuclear threats, but even the so-called statistics about our levels of fear from various opinion polls are all over the board.  Anecdotally, very few people I know think or talk about nuclear weapons issues on a regular basis, much less organize their churches around related education and action.

And yet: I read about people like Philip Berrigan, who gave so many fatherhood years to prison for protesting nuclear weapons.  I watch a film about three Dominican nuns who were charged with a federal crime for pouring their own blood on a missile silo.  Why are some Christians willing to make great sacrifices to advocate for nuclear disarmament while others mostly don’t care?

Many answers come to mind: nuclear weapons don’t feel like an immediate threat — a “what if…” while very real suffering exists in our homes and neighborhoods. 

Progress on the issue is too slow to hold our ever-shortening attention spans, and maybe we hold no real hope for progress.

The issue is pigeon-holed as one for liberal hippies and feels scientifically complex for Christians who didn’t come up in communities that paid attention. 

We’re not satisfied with work that only needs our advocacy and protest, but still might send us to jail — we’d rather plant trees or serve soup, which are safe, tangible activities.

I think all of these answers are true to various degrees for various people, but I think there’s another one we all need to confront: too many Christians have gotten too comfortable with the idea of ourselves as agents of God’s justice through violence.  In a world in which terrorism is becoming more frequent and less predictable, nuclear weapons are our ring of power.  We hold onto it just in case, to use it for good, only if we need to.  In doing so, we fancy ourselves wise and realistic.

Last week, a friend and co-worker talked about the most recent sermon at his church, which grew out of the story of Noah.  What stuck with him was the pastor’s observation that when God gifted humanity with the symbol of a rainbow, the image was symbolic of God hanging his bow in the sky — that is, publicly declaring an intention to cease the use of such total, violent destruction as a means of control.  We will be in good company, I think, if we choose hopeful gestures over realistic ones, when the options conflict. 

I also think I’ll be in the good company of many admirable Christians if I begin to pay more attention to the topic of nuclear disarmament and clean-up.  I believe that going to jail for the cause of justice is a particular calling for certain Christians, and I’m not sure I’m the one for that task.  However, I also believe that being a faithful citizen calls every one of us to repentance for what is or might be done in our names.  And if repentance is indeed a turning back to the way of God, why then, I shouldn’t be afraid to hang up my bow, too.

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