Facing Our Powerlessness

Over the last several days I have been gifted with Ribbons coming in via snail mail or email as folks have sent me pictures of the panels they’ve made that depict “What I fear will be lost in a nuclear tragedy.”  Over the next 12 days I plan to share those with you as we go about creating our “virtual” Ribbon.  

The one you see above was created by the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota.  Accompanying the email was this information,  “Incorporating seventy-five hand-folded paper cranes (sent by Japanese atomic bomb survivors (Hibakusha) and their supporters)…we are actively engaging in the days of Remembrance, the 75th Anniversary,1945-2020, through prayerful reflection, reading, and table conversation focusing on historical understanding and empowering actions throughout the Monastery community.” 

The Sisters continued, “Our ribbon will be placed outside of the Oratory at St. Benedict’s Monastery, where Sisters will add their written reflections, prayers, and petitions, reaffirming a communal commitment of responsible living.”  I am looking forward to the time when I might see that Ribbon panel in person.  I am impressed by their commitment to engage in “prayerful reflection, reading, and table conversation” over the days leading to 75th Anniversary Commemoration.    

Marilaurice invited me to be the homilist on August 9.  She and I have exchanged some thoughts on how we might engage this Blessed Community in the sharing that follows the homily.  I am proposing that we commit to a Novena over the next 9 days, following the Benedictine Sisters’ example of “prayerful reflection, reading, and table conversation” but with an added twist.

Justine Merritt, the originator of the Ribbon project in 1985, spoke of the value of acknowledging the fact that we live in a nuclear age.  “I had been unable to confront my own fears of nuclear war…I became angry, grief-stricken, terrified.  I felt powerless.  The idea behind The Ribbon from the beginning was to face that sense of powerlessness.”  She continued, “When I was making my own Ribbon panel, I found that as I would thread my needle, I was confronting the fear, confronting the grief and terror.  As I drew the needle up through the cloth, I was praying for peace, and the prayer became an affirmation of life.”

Over the next 9 days, I am inviting you to engage your prayer-filled energies in creating your own affirmations of life.  Here are two options for you to pursue, both with a bit of challenge to them.  These are not required activities but each holds an opportunity to reflect in a different way to explore this difficult topic. 

Option 1: Take a blank page of paper 81/2 x 11 and draw/color/design your own mini Ribbon piece that depicts “What I fear will be lost in a nuclear tragedy.”  We know that some of what is created will be works of Art.  But every design that is created will be a work of Heart.  We welcome both!

Option 2:  Not comfortable with visual art?  Then how about turning to words?  “Japanese Haiku is an elegant, timeless art form defined by the arrangement of syllables and the spare evocation of a concept, emotion or natural event. When written in English, the classic form is three lines of five, seven and five syllables.”

Here are some examples from a Haiku competition held in Nagasaki in 2010.  The theme was the atomic bomb.

 Diane Mayr wrote:   

    the sun cannot know

    the smudge on the ground

    once had a name

Sue Burke wrote:

    haunting images

    a devastating price to pay

    for peace

Sue Burke also wrote: 

          Nagasaki, Hiroshima

          names etched in the memory

          of our collective guilt


 — A Bowl Full of Peace by Caren Stelson.  This is the latest book written by local author Caren Stelson.  She will be retelling the story at the August 8th Commemoration event in St. Paul.  Please go to her website to learn more about the books she has written and her commitment to this cause.

In Stelson’s Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, “Grandmother’s bowl was the only object Sachiko’s family found when they returned home after the atomic bombing of their city at the end of World War II. As Sachiko’s story unfolds, the bowl becomes an image, a thread, an endowed object on the altar of memory and peace.”   

– Watch “Radioactive” available on Amazon Prime.  “From the 1870s through our 21st century, RADIOACTIVE tells the story of pioneering scientist Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) through her extraordinary life and her enduring legacies – the passionate partnerships, her shining scientific breakthroughs, and the darker consequences that followed.” It did get mixed reviews but I found it interesting.

Kings Bay Plowshare 7

“A just and peaceful world is possible when we join prayers with action. Swords into Plowshares!”  The Kings Bay Plowshares 7

The Kings Bay Plowshare 7

On April 4, 2018, fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, seven individuals–Carmen Trotta, Patrick O’Neill, Steve Kelly, Liz McAlister, Martha Hennesy, Clare Grady, Mark Colville–entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Marys, George where “the group cut a padlock at a maintenance gate at the Navy base that houses six Trident submarines carrying hundreds of nuclear weapons. They spilled blood on a Navy insignia affixed to a wall, spray painted anti-war slogans on the walkway and banged a nuclear arms statuary with hammers made from melted-down guns.” In October, the seven were found guilty of conspiracy, destruction of property, depredation of property and trespassing.   In June, Liz McAlister was sentenced to time served, 3 years probation, and restitution.  The other 6 are expected to be sentenced July 30 & 31. 

Nuclear weapons eviscerate the rule of law, enforce white supremacy, perpetuate endless war and environmental destruction and ensure impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity.”

The above quotation is taken from the closing paragraph of the Kings Bay Plowshare 7 Action Statement.  The full statement follows:  

“We come in peace on this sorrowful anniversary of the martyrdom of a great prophet, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Fifty years ago today, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as a reaction to his efforts to address “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to “beat swords into plowshares” by disarming the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine.  We repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world. We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. We believe reparations are required for stolen land, labor and lives.

Dr. King said, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.” This remains true in the midst of our endless war on terror. The United States has embraced a permanent war economy. “Peace through strength” is a dangerous lie in a world that includes weapons of mass destruction on hair-trigger alert. The weapons from one Trident have the capacity to end life as we know it on planet Earth. Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage, and dumping, primarily on Indigenous Native land. This weapons system is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet.

As white Catholics, we take responsibility to atone for the horrific crimes stemming from our complicity with “the triplets.” Only then can we begin to restore right relationships. We seek to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons, racism and economic exploitation. We plead to our Church to withdraw its complicity in violence and war. We cannot simultaneously pray and hope for peace while we bless weapons and condone war-making. Pope Francis says the abolition of weapons of mass destruction is the only way to save God’s creation from destruction. Clarifying the teachings of our Church, Pope Francis said, “The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned … weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

Nuclear weapons eviscerate the rule of law, enforce white supremacy, perpetuate endless war and environmental destruction and ensure impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity. Dr. King said, “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” We say, “The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.” A just and peaceful world is possible when we join prayers with action. Swords into Plowshares!”

Joan Wittman’s husband Wayne was a passionate supporter of Veterans For Peace.

Learn More about Veterans for Peace Chapter 27 and their determination to end the arms race and to eliminate nuclear weapons.  In their Fall/Winter newsletter, chapter president Michael McDonald reported, “By late October of this year, over 22,600 residents from all 851 incorporated Minnesota towns had signed this petition calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons.”  According to the newsletter “Driving a bus with ABOLISH WAR painted on the back of it from South Minneapolis through rural Minnesota can turn heads. Ask Steve Mckeown.

Veterans For Peace Gathered 25,000 Ban Nuclear Weapon Signatures

Mckeown, a Vietnam Vet and local member of Veterans For Peace (VFP) is part of a collaborative effort between Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) and VFP collecting signatures from residents of all 851 incorporated Minnesota towns on a petition to ban nuclear weapons globally. Armed with a clipboard and map of Minnesota mounted on cardboard, he usually drove alone around the hinterlands to sign up folks he’d meet in small towns or at county fairs. He kept accurate tallies and was careful to put stickpins in towns on a map after receiving signatures from each city.”  Steve is pretty sure they collected 25,000 signatures.

And so for what shall we pray? 

— Give us eyes, and the courage, to see the ways we participate in supporting racism, extreme materialism, and militarism

— Light a fire within us so that we, with passion and commitment, can help to “bring about a world free of nuclear weapons, racism and economic exploitation”

— Guide us to be advocates for reparations for “stolen land, labor and lives”

— Strengthen our political will to achieve global disarmament.

— and for our country in this time of turmoil  

Be well.  Stay safe.


The On-going Toll

If you go to the Energy Department’s Office of Legacy Management website you’ll read this about the Trinity Project: “The world’s first nuclear explosion occurred on July 16, 1945, when a plutonium implosion device was tested at a site located 210 miles south of Los Alamos on the barren plains of the Alamogordo Bombing Range….Hoisted atop a 100-foot tower, the plutonium device, or Gadget, detonated at precisely 5:30 a.m. over the New Mexico desert, releasing 18.6 kilotons of power, instantly vaporizing the tower and turning the surrounding asphalt and sand into green glass. Seconds after the explosion came an enormous blast, sending searing heat across the desert and knocking observers to the ground. The success of the Trinity test meant that an atomic bomb using plutonium could be readied for use by the U.S. military.”  

This week I introduce you to a coalition of anti-nuclear activists representing a variety of organizations nationwide.  Their tag is #StillHere because they “specifically want to honor nuclear survivors [and] acknowledge that in the 75th year of the nuclear age, survivors and the weapons are still here.”

Survivors include not only the Hibakusha, those men and women now in their 80s and 90s who experienced the actual bombing.  Survivors also include those identified as “down-winders”,  individuals who “grew up near America’s nuclear testing and production sites in places like Utah, New Mexico and Washington State. 

They are survivors. 

People from the Marshall Islands [who] endured 12 years of U.S. nuclear testing, and continue to face the negative health consequences of those tests. 

They are survivors. 

U.S. military veterans sent to observe nuclear tests and clean up nuclear waste [and] have fought for years for compensation for the harm they’ve suffered. 

They are survivors. 

Uranium workers [who] mined and produced the raw materials to make nuclear weapons, often on Indigenous land, without ever being told of the severe health risks. 

They are survivors.

hiroshimanagasaki75 has collected a wide variety of testimony from survivors.  I hope you’ll take the time to browse through them using the tab “Voices”.

— Support the Expansion of Radiation Exposure Compensation Act:  Call on your members of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 3783 and S. 947, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019, to extend and expand RECA.

The Call to Be Instruments of Peace

In September, I had the pleasure of hanging out downstairs with my daughter Amy, mother of my two youngest grandchildren ages 5 and 8.  We’d had a hectic week and were both enjoying the quiet of my little basement apartment. Not only had we experienced a hectic week, but the world had been challenged by a gallant 16 year old named Greta who stared at us and asked, “How dare you?!” in condemning complacency regarding climate change.

The Star Tribune was on the couch and I commented that I wanted to cut out that Sunday’s editorial–the one entitled The Nuclear ThreatIt begins, “The climate crisis rightfully received the most focus at this week’s United Nations General Assembly.  But another existential threat–nuclear weapons–needs to be met with the same alacrity as global warming.”

Amy looked at me and asked, “Did you ever wonder if your kids would ever grow up?”

I answered, “Yes.”  

It was a somber moment.

My husband and I were parenting in the 70 & 80s and it was not a peaceful time. There was the Vietnam War.  There were the college students gunned down on campus.  There were race riots where city blocks were burned.  And there was the Cold War with the build up of nuclear arsenals.  We lived in Western Colorado where Project Rulison was conducted just 40 miles east of us.  It was an underground 40-kiloton nuclear test project.  My son Andy was a toddler.  I was terrified the day of the test.  Wikipedia reports that the site “remains under active monitoring by the U.S. Department of Energy.”  

As fearful as I felt 50 years ago, it does not compare to today.  

In April at a meeting convened to support the Non-Proliferation Treaty Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, warned that the use of nuclear weapons–either intentionally, by accident, or through miscalculation–is one of the greatest threats to international peace and security.  She went on to identify several examples that governments are currently engaged in that increase the risk: 

  • use of dangerous and casual rhetoric about nuclear weapons’ use
  • an increased reliance on nuclear weapons in security doctrines
  • modernization programs to make nuclear weapons faster, stealthier and more accurate

Back From the Brink, a national grassroots organization seeking to change U.S. nuclear weapons policy has extended a call to all of us to support five common-steps to reform U.S. nuclear policy. Our government must:

Step 1:  Renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first.

Step 2:  End the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. president to launch a    nuclear attack.

Step 3:  Take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

Step 4:  Cancel the plan to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced    weapons.

Step 5:  Actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to    eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Back From the Brink invites all of us to be involved:  “Scientists, doctors, faith leaders, elected officials, artists, musicians, authors, working folks, organizations big and small. You, me, all of us. The Call gives everyone a simple way to speak out, be involved… and make a difference.”

Here are some ways:

  • Learn about the Minnesota Peace Project, a network of citizen activists working to build a more peaceful world by influencing U.S. foreign policy through their Congressional Representatives.  This will take you to their Peace Agenda.  It’s good reading.
  • Invite your friends or co-workers to join you in creating a Ribbon panel.  It gives you an opportunity to talk about your concerns and your hopes.  And it is a positive way to transform your fears into Tangible Hope confirming that we can bring about change on behalf of the world.

In August our plan is to tie together however many panels of material are created, each depicting “What I cannot bear to think of as being lost forever….”  We will remember the bombings that occurred 75 years ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We will be involved.  We will make a difference.

Pope Francis, in a recent visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, asserted that, “One of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability.  The possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer to this desire.”  He concluded with the hope that by remembering the past we will be stirred from our indifference. He prayed that we learn to be “effective instruments of peace.”

The Star Tribune editorial concluded: “So just as they have put the climate crisis high on the public’s agenda, activism regarding nuclear weapons needs to return, too.” 

That’s the call.  And the time is now.

The Ribbon Around the Pentagon

For inspiration we look back to 1985 when thousands of people gathered in Washington DC to wrap a symbol of Peace (The Ribbon) around a symbol of war (The Pentagon).

Carried by loving hands, The Ribbon was made up of over 25,000 individual segments and stretched for 15 miles. People from many religious, philosophical, ethnic, cultural, economic, and political traditions joined the effort.

Justine Merritt

Justine Merritt, the woman who in 1982 conceived the idea of tying a Ribbon around the Pentagon, described the panel pieces as signs of “Tangible Hope.” She wrote, “When I was making my own ribbon panel, I found that as I would thread my needle, I was confronting the fear, confronting the grief and terror. As I drew the needle up through the cloth, I was praying for peace, and the prayer became an affirmation of life.”