Greg Hughson's 2005 Peace Lecture "Creating Space for Grace & Peace in Hiroshima, New York and Dunedin"
Otago University Chaplaincy and Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group’s Annual Peace Lecture
Rev. Greg Hughson, University Chaplain
Burns 1 Lecture Theatre, Monday 12th September 2005. 7.30pm
This lecture was planned to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The night before this lecture was presented an evening service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin to remember all victims of terrorism from September 11th 2001 onwards. At this service in the Cathedral a large white “candle of solidarity” was lit by Greg Hughson (Christian community) Steve Johnston (Muslim community) and David Bisman (Jewish Community). These same three people lit this same candle before Greg’s lecture began . Greg was introduced by Mr Steve Johnston, Chairperson of the Dunedin Jewish, Christian and Muslim Community Liaison Group. Around 130 people were in attendance. Photographs were shown throughout the presentation.
Kia ora tatou. A warm welcome to you all this evening.
In the name of God, peace be with you. Shalom . Salam Aleikum
The title of my lecture tonight is creating space for grace and peace in Hiroshima, New York and Dunedin. In gathering together tonight we are creating space for grace and peace. Thank you for claiming time in your busy lives to come and reflect on grace and peace, and to see how grace and peace can emerge even out of tragedy.
In June and July of this year I had the privilege of visiting both Japan and the USA. Tonight I would like to share with you some images, thoughts and reflections arising out of this adventure. This will not be a highly academic presentation. Rather, my hope and aim is that together we can find encouragement for our journey together as peacemakers here in Dunedin and further afield.
I would like to thank all of those who have helped me prepare for this address tonight, especially Dr Najibullah Lafraie, Dr James Harding, Mr David Bisman , Rev Tim Hurd, Isabel Sutherland and my son Blair for computer assistance with my power-point presentation.
My primary reason for visiting Japan and the United States was to visit family;
my daughter in Japan and my sister in the States. Many of us will have friends
and family in other countries. As an international community we are all interconnected.
We are all members of one human family.
In these interconnected times, when a tragedy occurs somewhere else in the world it can profoundly influence what happens here. The challenge for peacemakers of whatever faith all over the world, I believe is to create space for grace and peace wherever we are. Tonight I will be speaking of the creation of grace and peace in theological, geographical, architectural and dialogical terms. In this lecture I plan to illustrate how in Hiroshima, tragic space has been intentionally claimed for the promotion of peace. I will also share what is planned for Ground Zero, New York and then talk about our Dunedin Jewish, Christian and Muslim community liaison group’s commitment to creating space for dialogue and peace action together here in Dunedin. In the context of international terrorist activity, which sometimes claims religious justification , we have a model of peacemaking here in Dunedin to share with our world.
My presentation this evening is offered from a perspective of faith in God. My starting point is a theological one. I believe that our individual and corporate understandings of the nature of God, or of the absence of God, will link directly with our actions in the world. If as people of faith we believe in a God who creates space for grace and peace, we will long to do the same. Dr Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese theologian and former Professor of this University presented a lecture here last year entitled “The Spacious God” . I found his address profoundly helpful. It is liberating to believe in a God whose love and grace encompasses the whole of creation, a God who is not narrowly pre-occupied with the well- being of a small select group. John Wesley declared that God’s grace is “immense, unconfined and free”. This is the faith into which I was born. For those who are here tonight who are not operating from theological presuppositions, or from theological presuppositions which are different to mine, I hope that you will still nevertheless appreciate some of what I have to say. I am aware of just how limited my perspective is and I look forward to a time of questioning and discussion at the end of this lecture and on into the future.
In August of last year David Lange presented our inaugural Otago University
Peace lecture. His topic was “Old Faiths , New World”. This was
a profound and historical lecture. In his recently released autobiography David
pays the organisers of his peace lecture a great compliment. He thanked us for
the gift we gave him. The gift of being warmly welcomed by a huge and supportive
crowd, to whom he delivered the final public lecture of his life. David’s
gift to us was of course far greater than the gift we gave to him. David was
a peacemaker and he played a major role in establishing the peacemaking identity
of our nation which is now a model and inspiration for other nations.
As organisers of last years lecture we asked David to share with us how we might help create a more peaceful world, how we might make a difference and move our world in the direction of peace as people of many different faiths. He concluded his lecture with these words :
“I think that we all as human beings have a duty to respect the beliefs of others. I think that we should also try to understand the faith of others, even though we have to acknowledge that there are limits to our understanding. We may understand the outward forms of faith, although it is not always easy to do that. We may understand the impulse which leads to belief. But in matters of faith there is always something which is beyond understanding. What matters is that we don’t let our differences become a barrier between us.
One teaching is found in every religious faith. A great deal follows from it, in the secular as well as the religious world. It is the rule of behavior which tells us that we must treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves. This rule has always been the answer, and it is the only answer I can give”.
This is an open peace lecture. But what is peace ?
At the heart of the Abrahamic faiths i.e. the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, is a vision of peace and a commitment to peace. In Judaism , it is the vision of shalom where shalom can be understood as completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfect-ness, fullness, rest, harmony, and the absence of agitation or discord.
David Bisman recently shared with me that shalom is also one of the Biblical names of God; and that it is used for both hello and goodbye. In modern Hebrew, shalom implies wholeness, because peace is not just the absence of conflict. Aaron, the first High Priest was a peacemaker. The Talmud admonishes us to "Be of the disciples of Aaron, seeking peace and pursing it". Shalom is an active rather than a passive peace, it is (like God) a verb. Shalom does not imply meekness or weakness nor even non-violence. In striving for the Messianic Age we strive to maximise Shalom. Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) is one of the descriptive names the Bible uses to indicate the ministry and personality of the Messiah. Christians follow Jesus the Prince of Peace. It was Jesus, Sar Shalom, peace be upon him, whom (Christians believe) came and lived amongst us full of grace and truth. Jesus, was one who sought to intentionally create space for grace and peace wherever he went. Jesus, peace be upon him, was a peace-messenger from God, one who taught “blessed are the peacemakers”
Whatever he said, whatever he did, Jesus created the environment within which people could experience healing and wholeness. The life of Jesus was a life which can inspire all who aspire to be peace makers. Even his death on Calvary , a truly tragic site has, according to traditional Christian belief and contemporary experience, created for us a way in to the experience of grace and peace. For Christians to gaze upon the wondrous cross on which Jesus died is (potentially) to have our entire world-view moved in the direction of grace and peace. Theological explorations of the significance of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection continue to provide us with insights into how we as his followers can create space for grace and peace in our lives. Through Jesus, God longs to create space for grace and peace to flow into our world. As humans we can either co-operate with this “divine influence” and invitation to grace and peace, or ignore and defy it.
Just as we can all be blessed and encouraged by the Hebrew understanding of
shalom so too can we be helped by the Muslim understanding of grace. Almost
every chapter in the Koran begins with these words : In the name of God, the
Most Compassionate and Gracious.
I am grateful to Dr Najibullah Lafraie of Otago University for sharing with me a Muslim understanding of God’s grace . Dr Lafraie writes :
“The phrase with which almost every chapter of the Quran begins has been given various meanings by different interpreters of the Quran. Muhammad Asad translates it as "In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace;" and in his commentary he notes, "Both the divine epithets rahman and rahim are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim ...: the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahim expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effects upon, His creation -- in other words, an aspect of His activity."
Ahmed Zaoui has also written a very helpful article recently in the NZ Spiritual Growth Ministries journal entitled, “The Grace of God in Islamic Thinking”. Ahmed writes : “Grace is central to our relationship with God and with each other, and touches every aspect of our lives. Love, grace and mercy are central to Islamic discourse. Islam comes from salam which means peace and love. The familiar greeting salam aleikum illustrates the concern of Islam to spread this message of peace.”
We hope to have this article by Ahmed Zaoui, and many other interfaith peace resources, on our Dunedin Jewish, Christian and Muslim community liaison group’s website which is soon to be created.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that our understanding of the nature of God
will determine how we as people of faith will decide to live our lives. The
vast majority of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people who believe in God, are
people who are committed to creating space for, and living out God’s rahmah
and shalom , that is grace and peace in our world. Together we believe that
God is the source of this grace and peace, and we long for grace and peace to
be experienced throughout the earth. This is a deeply human yearning which flows
from our belief in a God who is gracious and peace-full. The problem is that
our human frailty, sin, human weakness, selfishness and political rivalries
so easily distract us from the deep commitment to grace and peace which is at
the heart of not only Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but Buddhism and Hinduism
as well, not to mention humanity as a whole.
We are all, I believe born with a human peace impulse, a deeply seated desire and longing for peace, to be safe from danger and to be free of fear and anxiety. This impulse originates from neurons in our brain concerned with self- preservation, and is shared with many other species. Professor McNaughton of our Psychology Department recently gave a brilliant lecture on this topic. I believe that there are neurophysiological reasons why peace education offered on or near a previously tragic site is the ultimate peace education. My commitment to peace, and military-nuclear disarmament in particular, is far stronger since visiting Hiroshima. As we behold and to some extent re-live the horror and tragedy of a nuclear bomb being dropped or a plane flying into a building, our most primitive and basal physiological self-preservation “peace- impulses” receive a powerful stimulation. We are moved to cry out words such as “This must never happen again” , and mean it ! As a species we must, surely, eventually learn to learn from our past tragedies including Pearl Harbour, Auchwitz, Gallipoli, Vietnam, and Iraq. One very important part of the process of learning to learn from our past will be to very wisely and intentionally use tragic sites for peace education. It is a credit to the cities of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki that they have designated the tragic sites of the first ever droppings of a nuclear bombs onto people, as Peace Parks.
In the book of Ezekiel , the prophet speaks out of his awareness of the Spirit
of God taking him places . He uses phrases such as “the spirit lifted
me up, and brought me unto……”(Ez 11:1) and “Afterward
the spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into….”
(Ez 11:24). During my time away I felt similarly led by God to visit both Hiroshima
and Ground Zero New York. These places are “tragic sites” , places
which have influenced my life from afar. I felt drawn to them to gain greater
awareness and understanding. In visiting these sites I did not know what to
expect. I certainly did not go with any pre-set ideas of agenda. I went with
an open mind.
It was the Enola Gay which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8.15am on the morning of August 6th 1945. A few weeks after visiting Hiroshima, during my visit to America I was able to see the Enola Gay (in all her glory) displayed in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport .
On August 6, 1949, with the enactment of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City
Construction Law, it was decided that the entire Nakajima District on which
the bomb was dropped, would be devoted to "peace memorial facilities."
That was the beginning of what is now the Peace Memorial Park. The park covers
approximately 122,100 square meters. It was designed by Kenzo Tange, a professor
at Tokyo University, and three others, whose proposal was selected through a
design competition that drew 145 proposals. At the south edge of the park is
a line of three buildings: the East Building and West Building of the Peace
Memorial Museum, and the International Hiroshima Conference Center
One of the most moving memorials I viewed in the Hiroshima Peace Park was the Children's Peace Monument which was completed on May 5th 1958 (Children's Day)
It was built by the Hiroshima Society of School Children for Building World
Sadako Sasaki was a child living in Hiroshima . At the age of two she was exposed to the radiation emanating from the bomb dropped on her city by the Enola Gay. Ten years later Sadako contracted leukemia and died. Shocked by her death, her classmates put out a national call to help build a monument to mourn all the children who died from the atomic bombing. With the support of students in more than 3,100 schools around Japan and in nine other countries, the Society was able to build a bronze statue that stands nine meters high. On the top of the three-legged pedestal stands the bronze figure of a girl holding up a gold-coloured "folded" crane. On opposite sides of the pedestal are suspended boy and girl figures symbolizing a bright future and hope. On the stone underneath the pedestal is inscribed, "This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world." The monument was created by Kazuo Kikuchi, then a professor of Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music. A gold crane modelled after an ancient bronze bell hangs under a bell inside the tower. This piece was contributed by Dr. Hideki Yukawa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, who was much moved by the feelings of the children. It was made as a wind chime.
The Hiroshima Peace Park stands as a witness to the power of grace and peace.
The City of Hiroshima has intentionally created an environment , a museum and
a peace park. From this Peace Memorial Park and Museum the message of peace
continues to be proclaimed internationally. It is not possible to visit the
Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum and to come away unmoved. Here the tragic story
is told and encountered . The context for the bombing of Hiroshima was, as we
all know, protracted violent warfare. I will not tonight discuss the issue as
to whether or not the bombing of Hiroshima was justified. My focus tonight is
on how tragic sites may be used afterwards to create space for peace education
and to nurture our neurophysiologically based human peace impulses. The art
of memorialisation is a profoundly important one. Thanks to all those who intentionally
planned and built the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, Hiroshima is a prime
example of how tragedy need not have the final say. Tragedy can elicit a deep
and powerful commitment to peace, a commitment driven by our deepest emotional
and spiritual desires for self-preservation which emerge from the most primitive
regions of our brains. Having visited the Hiroshima Museum and Peace Park I
came away shocked, but also hopeful. It is imperative that there never be another
nuclear bomb dropped ever again. No one who has seen the carnage and ongoing
despair elicited by the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
or the non-nuclear bombs dropped anywhere else before or since, would ever want
to see such carnage and tragedy repeated .
Each year on August 6th, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima the Mayor of Hiroshima reads a Peace Declaration for all the world to hear and appreciate . Listen to some of his words from this year’s 60th anniversary speech:
“This August 6, the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing, is a moment
of shared lamentation in which more than 300 thousand souls of A-bomb victims
and those who remain behind transcend the boundary between life and death to
remember that day. It is also a time of inheritance, of awakening, and of commitment,
in which we inherit the commitment of the hibakusha to the abolition of nuclear
weapons and realization of genuine world peace, awaken to our individual responsibilities,
and recommit ourselves to take action. This new commitment, building on the
desires of all war victims and the millions around the world who are sharing
this moment, is creating a harmony that is enveloping our planet.
The keynote of this harmony is the hibakusha warning, "No one else should ever suffer as we did," along with the cornerstone of all religions and bodies of law, "Thou shalt not kill." Our sacred obligation to future generations is to establish this axiom, especially its corollary, "Thou shalt not kill children," as the highest priority for the human race across all nations and religions. The International Court of Justice advisory opinion issued nine years ago was a vital step toward fulfilling this obligation, and the Japanese Constitution, which embodies this axiom forever as the sovereign will of a nation, should be a guiding light for the world in the 21st century.
On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombing, we seek to comfort
the souls of all its victims by declaring that we humbly reaffirm our responsibility
never to "repeat the evil."
"Please rest peacefully; for we will not repeat the evil."
August 6, 2005
The City of Hiroshima
The peace clause in the Japanese constitution is currently being reviewed. Some, in Japan would like to see it removed. In the forefront of those who are defending the retention of the peace clause is the Anglican Church in Japan who see the Peace clause in theological terms as a Christ-like statement
The city of Hiroshima has intentionally claimed an identity as a City of Peace. Out of the tragedy and trauma of being on the receiving end of a devastating destructive onslaught, the cry from Hiroshima is one which declares that such destruction must never happen again. The experience of having been on the receiving end of a nuclear attack is profound and long lasting. Regardless of whether or not such an attack can be justified theologically or ethically, the main point I want to emphasise in this lecture is what attitude and identity has been engendered in the people of Hiroshima as a result of what happened on August 6th 1945. Arising out of the despair, tragedy and pain has emerged a deep and profound commitment to peace. This has been expressed sincerely for all the world to see in the creation of a Peace Memorial Park on and around the site onto which the bomb was dropped. A similar Park has also been created at Nagasaki. To visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum was a deeply moving experience for me. Having viewed the displays and memorials I experienced the tragedy of what happened 60 years ago. And yet, infiltrating the tragedy is a sense of great hope. This hope emerges from the fact that the City of Hiroshima has intentionally created physical and hence spiritual space for grace and peace to be experienced and nurtured in the hearts and minds of the millions of people who have visited Hiroshima since 1945.
The city of Hiroshima, in intentionally creating space for a Peace Memorial Park, I believe provides a model for the City of New York and the owners of the land in lower Manhattan, the land formerly occupied by the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
The major difference is of course that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the defeat of Japan, whereas the flying of planes into the Manhattan Twin Towers and Washington Pentagon has revealed and more clearly exposed another war, a “war on terror”. This war did not begin on September 11th 2001 but it has claimed the attention of our world far more vividly since that date.
The architect for the World Trade Centre towers was Minoru Yamasaki was born in 1912 in Seattle, Washington.. He was a Nisei, a second-generation Japanese. He encountered poverty and social injustices that instilled in him a deep-seated need to succeed. His father, John Tsunejiro Yamasaki, was a purchasing agent and his mother, Hana (Ho) Yamasaki, was a pianist. His Japanese approach to beauty emerged in his architectural designs. His greatest triumph was the Port Authority's World Trade Center in New York which landed him on the cover of Time Magasine. Thirty years earlier in his career he had worked in New York for the firm that had built what was then the world's tallest building, the Empire State Building. The Twin Towers designed by Yamasaki created a surreal effect on the skyline, appearing like two brushed metal sculptures. Completed in 1976, some criticized their design and height as urbanistically irresponsible and charged that the great towers were no longer appropriate to convey world power and wealth.
The Lower Manhattan land on which the twin towers formerly stood is now, like Hiroshima following August 1945, a truly tragic site, a site where thousands of innocent people died as a result of two planes being intentionally flown into the twin towers on September 11th 2001 by people who happened to be Muslims. This unjustifiable terrorist activity represented an attack to the heart of American power and prestige. When I visited Ground Zero in New York in early July of this year, I experienced very different and less hopeful feelings than when I visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima two weeks earlier. Partly this is due to the fact that the attacks on the Twin Towers occurred relatively recently. The owners of the land and the city authorities have only recently finally decided what to do with portions of their tragic site. Final plans for the development of major portions of the site were released during my recent stay in New York. The attack on the twin towers represents a huge challenge to American concepts of invincibility. Consequently, vulnerabilities have been revealed in the American psyche which the American people continue to struggle with. There is a heightened level of anxiety in America as people there struggle to comprehend and deal with their vulnerability. How is America to be perceived by its own people and internationally in a post-September 11th world ? What eventually emerges from Ground Zero, New York will be a marker for all the world to behold, a marker/symbol which will give us all an insight into America’s deepest values and ethics.
In the wreckage of the World Trade Centre, those beginning the huge task of clearing the site discovered a cross, created by a huge horizontal beam of iron being severed on either side of a vertical upright iron beam. This cross is now mounted conspicuously for all to see. Different people will have different feelings elicited by this cross. For me it is a symbol of grace and peace. The presence of a cross at Ground Zero New York created for me a way in to the experience of grace and peace. This cross however is soon to be replaced by a “Freedom tower” which will be built very near to where the cross stands. There is also a Peace Pole at Ground Zero, inscribed with the words “May Peace Prevail on earth”.
Soon after the destruction of the twin towers , various architects were interviewed on the topic as to whether the towers should be re-built or not . Some of their responses were as follows :
“Of course one has to rebuild, bigger and better. There should be offices and a mix of activities, both cultural and business. Yes, there should be a place to mourn, but that shouldn’t be the main thing. It must be a place looking into the future, not the past.’’
— Bernard Tschumi, Dean of the Columbia architecture school.
‘‘We must rebuild the towers. They are a symbol of our achievement as New Yorkers and as Americans and to put them back says that we cannot be defeated. The skyscraper is our greatest achievement architecturally speaking, and we must have a new, skyscraping World Trade Center.’’ — Robert A.M. Stern
‘‘What’s most poignant now is that the identity of the skyline has been lost. We would say, Let’s not build something that would mend the skyline, it is more powerful to leave it void. We believe it would be tragic to erase the erasure.’’
— Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio
‘‘Whatever they take down, we’ll rebuild. I think we should provide the same amount of office space, that it’s the least we can do.’’ — Philip Johnson
‘‘Something else has come out of this, and that is how much ownership people outside of New York feel about our city. Maybe it’s not just our decision. Maybe we should let the American people vote on it.’’ — Ralph Appelbaum
‘‘Whatever we do in the future has got to reflect the sense that the West, its culture and values have been attacked. I would hope that we would not be deterred from going as high as the old towers were. We should not move back from that point. We cannot retreat.’’ — Peter Eisenman
‘‘Once we get over the grieving, we should realize that this could be a defeat, or it could be like Chicago after the fire, in 1871, when they invented the skyscraper and changed the ways cities have grown all over the world. We should build an even greater and more innovative skyscraper.’’ — Terrence Riley, architecture curator, Museum of Modern Art
‘‘It should be rebuilt. We need office space, though we don’t want to build the same towers — they were designed in 1966 and now we live in 2001. What has to be there is an ensemble of buildings that are as powerful a symbol of New York as the World Trade towers were. The life of the city depends on people living and working in the city and loving it — we want people there. We want them in a place that can be magnificent.’’
— Richard Meier
In seeking to ensure that an appropriate memorial at Ground Zero was established
a memorial mission statement was agreed to and set in place as a guide
The memorial mission statement for the World Trade Center site stipulated that any memorial to be designed and built must fulfill the following criteria:
Firstly it must help people who visit the site in future to remember and honour the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26th 1993 and September 11th 2001.
Secondly it must elicit respect in those who visit in the future, deep respect for a place made sacred through tragic loss.
Thirdly it must recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours.
The mission statement concluded with these words: “May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.”
I would like to thank Mr George Davis a doctoral student in History here at Otago for passing on to me an article written in 2002 by Maria Sturken Associate Professor, Annenburg School for Communication, University of Southern California. Sturken critiques the opinion of Bernard Tschumi, the Dean of Columbia’s architecture school who believes that the twin towers should be rebuilt, only “bigger and better”. She believes that this is an idea that disregards some basic tenets of psychology (i.e. no one would want to work in a new terrorist target) as well as some historical and economic ignorance (i.e. the towers were built with public money by a public institution in a very different era of government funding) and disregard for safety (i.e. tall skyscrapers are notoriously difficult to evacuate). Sturken points out that only two architects, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio remarked upon the power of the skyline’s transformation as its message when they declared “Let’s not build something that would mend the skyline, it is more powerful to leave it void. We believe it would be tragic to erase the erasure.”
After an exhaustive international design competition, a distinguished panel of judges selected architect Michael Arad's "Reflecting Absence" as the winning entry for the World Trade Center Memorial. Arad and his landscape partner Peter Walker hoped it would be a space that resonated "with the feelings of loss and absence that were generated by the destruction of the World Trade Center."
On the 29th of June of this year, whilst I was in America, final plans for both a Ground Zero Memorial area and Freedom tower were announced by Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, Larry Silverstein and David Childs. Computer generated images of how the proposed park and tower will appear , are available on line and at the end of this essay
The proposed new Freedom tower will be 1,776 feet high and will “emit light from its spire as a new beacon of freedom”. It will “evoke classic New York Skyscrapers in elegance and symmetry”. Its bold, sleek and symbolic design will “ speak to future while solving challenges of the modern urban environment”. The Freedom tower will be the first office tower to be rebuilt on the World Trade Center site. It will soar to 1,776 feet in the sky and serve as “an inspirational and enduring beacon” in the New York City skyline. It’s architect declares that the tower's design “evokes classic New York skyscrapers in its elegance and symmetry while also referencing the torch of the Statue of Liberty.” The freedom tower will be 1776 feet high, four hundred or so feet higher than the towers destroyed four years ago. It will be built to a height which equates to the year of American independence. It will therefore be imbued with huge patriotic and spiritual significance. The new Freedom tower will be built by 2010 and will stand as a testimony of America’s commitment to, and understanding of, “freedom”.
If the Freedom tower is to be built however, there must be people who are willing
to indwell such a building. In an article published in the New York Times during
early July, I read that there was, at that stage a significant reluctance to
rent commercial space in the proposed tower.
How are we to interpret such reluctance ? I interpret it as a spiritual concern. Who would want to work in say the 67th floor of a new tower built on the sacred space where thousands of people were incinerated four years ago ? Patriotism will have a very difficult job overcoming the natural-spiritual human reluctance to “normalise” a tragic site and to justify such normalisation commercially.
Some of the relatives of those who died on September 11th are protesting the building of a commercial tower at Ground Zero. I spoke with and photographed some of these folk, as they protested outside the high fences surrounding Ground Zero, on the 10th of July 2005. They carried and wore placards declaring that they would prefer a “memorial only” on their tragic site, as in Hiroshima. But in New York, land is incredibly valuable. It must therefore, from an economic perspective have buildings on it which will continue to generate income for its owners. It will be intriguing to monitor whether the building of , or occupation of the new freedom tower will yet be prevented by a shortage of prospective tenants. If this was to occur it would be a victory for common sense. It would not in any way be an admission of defeat. Rather it would be an acknowledgement that the average person would not be comfortable occupying such a building. However, a recent 9th September 2005 article by Ed Hornick (NYNewsday.com) entitled “When they rebuild it will you come ?” would indicate that no significant problem exists. Time will tell.
Around the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is a thriving modern city. It would be incomprehensible and inappropriate for skyscrapers to be built on this tragic and hence sacred land ? Here is a model for the people of New York to follow. To promote freedom why build a tower ? Why not a Peace Memorial Park at Ground Zero ? Why not create space for grace and peace ? Not just a part of Ground Zero but the whole of the area.
Ironically the research and planning that went into the creation of the atomic bomb was based in Manhattan. It was the Manhattan project which led to the devastation of Hiroshima. This same area from which the development of the atomic bomb came, can now look to the victims of the bomb for guidance as to how to deal with and recover from the (far less extensive) destruction experienced four years ago, in Manhattan. There is a profound spiritual interconnectedness between these two sites, Hiroshima and Manhattan. How we deal with tragedy , death, despair and disaster will be the ultimate marker of our character and faith. The theological question becomes not “what should be done” but on a deeper theological level, what would God have us do? The Hiroshima Peace Park is a place of prayer. Arising out of the grief, trauma, prayers and intentions of Japanese people, space has been created for grace and peace to be nurtured. No doubt this development was encouraged and to some extent directed by the victorious American occupying forces in Japan from 1945 onwards. Arising out of the American experience of losing their World Trade Centre 56 years later, their tragic site is also a place of grief and prayer. One cannot visit either site without having the desire to pray for peace stimulated profoundly. This desire to pray for peace and to work together for peace could yet be considerably enhanced if the American people were to intentionally designate their Ground Zero as a Peace Memorial Park. This would require considerable financial sacrifice. The current plan to build both a memorial park and freedom tower is an attempt at compromise. The vocabulary and ethos which would indicate a deep and sacrificial commitment to humility and peace has yet to gain any prominence in what is proposed for Ground Zero New York. The focus is on freedom. It is however a freedom surrounded by, and built on the basis of fear of another attack. The newly designed Freedom Tower will have “20 stories of fear” at its base, a 200 foot high, unoccupied concrete block to protect itself against truck bombs. This would indicate to me that another attack is not only imagined, but expected.
During my visit to New York I visited Central Park where I came across a memorial to John Lennon. The one word which is prominent on his memorial in IMAGINE. Imagine if America were to intentionally build a peace memorial park, following the model of Hiroshima. John Lennon sang these words :
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.
To dream of a Peace Memorial Park for Ground Zero is a dream which is perhaps
now too late to implement. Time will tell.
Here in Dunedin four years ago we created a Dunedin Jewish, Christian and Muslim Community Liaison group. Our group was formed in the aftermath of the events of September 11th 2001 out of spontaneous expressions of solidarity and goodwill between leaders of our three faiths, the police and the Dunedin City Council. We exist to express a common heritage and concern, as people of faith in Dunedin. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all Abrahamic faiths. All three can trace their faith back to Abraham. Ordinary people from al three faiths share a deep desire for peace and justice. We seek to encourage and model friendship and respect for each other.
Our aims are three-fold :
1. To stand together should any of our communities suffer harassment or attack.
2. To respond together to events, local or global, which have an impact on the relationship between Jewish, Christian and Muslim people in Dunedin
3. An ongoing educational role as together we seek to overcome some of the misrepresentation and lack of awareness in the wider community. With this aim in mind we arrange for inter-faith delegations to visit Dunedin schools, and host public forums.
At one of our recent meetings we discussed the idea of a Peace Park for Dunedin. This idea has since received informal support from a number of key Dunedin Councilors.
If we look for signs of peace and hope they are all around us. People of faith can discern the promptings and workings of God in our midst. Our Dunedin Jewish, Christian and Muslim Community Liaison group would not have been formed had the tragedy of September 11th not occurred. Out of death comes new life and hope. We have within us the human capacity to both desire and achieve peace in our hearts and in our world, if only we would pause for long enough to learn from our history. There is no more profound stimulus to our human peace impulse than to visit a tragic site where the reality and extent of human destructiveness can be encountered and remembered. To intentionally claim and rename such sites as Peace memorials is to nurture and stimulate our inherent human peace drive, regardless of what faith tradition we happen to have been born into or choose to follow. This is what has been done in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is what could yet be done at Ground Zero New York. We are all one human family with the same deep basic desire for peace, for shalom.
As people of many different faiths or of no religious faith may we draw from the deepest and best teachings which propel us together in the direction of peace, peace within our hearts and peace in our world. In Islam and in Christianity it is acknowledged that the greatest struggle to obtain peace , the greatest jihad takes place within our own individual hearts and minds. This is where our dreams for peace emerge.
This is where these dreams can either connect with healthy input from God and
be expressed, or be suppressed by fear and anxiety.
David Lange firmly believed that nuclear weapons are morally indefensible. As Kate Dewes has written in a recent edition of Tui Motu : “ With the nuclear free legislation again under threat let us be sustained by David Lange’s powerful closing words from his Oxford Union debate speech : “The appalling character of nuclear weapons has robbed us of our right to determine our destiny and subordinates our humanity to their manic logic. They have subordinated reason to irrationality and placed our very will to live in hostage. Rejecting the logic of nuclear weapons does not mean surrendering to evil; evil must still be guarded against. Rejecting nuclear weapons is to assert what is human over the evil nature of the weapon; it is to restore humanity the power of the decision; it is to allow a moral force to reign supreme. It stops the macho lurch into mutual madness”
May being together tonight move us all to a greater commitment to one another as one human family. It’s all about creating the right environment. Tonight we have entered into the experience of creating space for grace and peace. If a plant is to grow it needs light, shelter, warmth and moisture. If our world is to survive inter-faith rivalry and hostility we also need to create an environment within which humility, trust and respect can grow, in spite of our different beliefs and practices. As David Lange highlighted in his lecture last year, what matters ultimately is that we don’t let our differences become a barrier between us. Whenever we intentionally allow another person (or group or nation) to be themselves and to share with us in a peace-full way who they are and what is important to them, we are creating space for grace and peace. There is a life-changing grace and peace-eliciting dimension to having been truly heard. As humans we have the capacity to create space for grace and peace and to love and care for one another. May our religious faiths never be used to justify not putting this into practice.
Peace be with you.