Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Church and World Re-Imagined

Last week’s anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminded me of a deeply moving visit to a church that had faced a difficult transition.

Nearly 30 years ago I led workshops for a congregation in the state of Oregon. The next day, the pastor who was hosting me took me to “his” church—not the congregation he pastored, but the one he attended when he just wanted to be on the receiving end of ministry. As we drove through the hamlets and villages of the state, he told me how this church experienced a crisis when its sanctuary burned down to the ground and they had to decide what to do—whether to rebuild or buy another property.

My new friend continued his story as we drove into what appeared to be a motel and parked in its parking lot. The church decided, he said, to practice what it preached, and instead of building some grand new sanctuary with the insurance money, to purchase this motel instead. Services were conducted in what had been the motel’s large lobby, and its rooms were made available to the homeless.

As if that were not enough, the speaker that day was a survivor of Hiroshima, it being the 40th anniversary of the bomb being dropped on his city. Some of you may know that Hiroshima was not so much a military target as a spiritual target, intended to strike a demoralizing blow to the Empire of Japan.

As the gentle, elderly man rose to speak, I was mindful that my father, en route to Japan during WW II, was said to have been saved from actual combat by the dropping of the bomb. Eventually my father saw the devastation of Nagasaki firsthand, debarking from his troop ship in its harbor. Soon, as part of the occupying forces, he was welcomed into one family’s life in another part of the country, to whom my family sent packages of goods long after his return to California. At the same time, a Japanese-American family down the street from us, who became friends, had been among those sent to a so-called “relocation center” during the war.

The dignified survivor stood behind the pulpit. He carefully pulled his notes from the pocket of his suit jacket, and unfolded the silk scarves in which they were wrapped. The effect was that of unveiling the Holy Grail.

He spoke of being a child in school when the blast occurred; of hearing planes overhead and taking cover; of being burned by the flash and bloodied by flying glass, yet having somehow survived radiation poisoning. He described losing family and friends, either immediately or eventually. He told us of the physical devastation to the city and to his own body.

Yet he did not speak of recrimination. He spoke of redemption. Having seen the horror of war, he had devoted his life to peace. And that was his gospel to us that morning. Peace. Peace on earth, good will toward all. In that former motel lobby, I both saw and heard the gospel of peace and redemption.

You might also be interested in my article, “AIDS and A-Bomb Disease,” applying Robert Jay Lifton’s analysis of Hiroshima survivors to the experience of people living with HIV/AIDS. (After clicking on the title above, scroll down past the initial page to find the article.) It was first published by Christianity & Crisis in 1987 and then in the New England Journal of Public Policy in 1988. At the time I wrote the article, there was no remedy, and so I write that I had chosen not to be tested. Of course, once that changed, I was tested. If some of the sentences in the article sound familiar, it’s because they were used verbatim without attribution in a subsequent book by another author.

Progressive Christian Reflections is an unfunded Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 


  1. This is sentimental nonsense. First of all, if we had nothing but motels for churches, there would be no Chartres, or very little of civilization at all. Beauty for God and humane charity are not antithetical. I'd be more impressed if those who sheltered the poor also provided lovely Houses of God and gave up their own homes. Secondly, as far as the dignified Japanese go, ask our WW II soldiers about Japanese prison camps, (many of my Dad's friends died in them - after torture) or ask the Chinese about the Japanese rape of Nanking. War is not won by the muddle-headed. The firebombing of Japanese cities killed far more than the atom bombs did. It is conservatively estimated that the atomic bombings saved at least 650, 000 lives (Allied and Japanese) - since the Imperial government was planning to use their own civilians as suicide fighters and human shields. Hiroshima did not stop them - only the the second bomb forced the Emperor to surrender. - The reconstruction of Japan by US occupying forces under General MacArthur was one of the great humanitarian achievements in history - and certainly more benevolent than if a defeated USA had been occupied by Japanese forces. Si vis pacem para bellum.

    1. Examples of good in the world do not exclude examples of other good, such as Chartres cathedral, nor do they deny evil or horrific acts. They simply show another way.