On Civil Disobedience: A Personal Reflection

Editor's note: Jim Hannah, a PeaceWorks, Kansas City, Board member and a retired Community of Christ minister, presented this talk Nov. 3 at a festival of hope at St. Paul School of Theology in KC, Mo. The festival was sponsored by the Kansas City Peace Planters, a project PeaceWorks began. Hannah was one of eight protesters who blocked the path of buses going to the Sept. 8 groundbreaking for the new nuclear weapons production site at Mo. Hwy. 150 near Grandview.

You've all heard those bad news/good news jokes. Like the lawyer who says to her client, "I have some good news and some bad news." The client says, "Well, give me the bad news first." So the lawyer says, "The bad news is your blood's DNA is all over the crime scene." The client says, "Oh, no! So what's the good news?" And the lawyer says, "Your cholesterol is down to 120!"

These last few days I've kind of had to laugh at the bad news/good news that in part brings us here tonight. The bad news is that eight peacemakers did civil resistance during groundbreaking ceremonies for KC's new nuclear weapons plant and seven were arrested. (Can I hear a BOO? Come on now, shouldn't they instead have arrested the war profiteers in those tinted-window tour busses!? BOO!) The good news is that the cases weredismissed because the city prosecutor decided "the evidence does not support the charge of disorderly conduct." (Can I hear a YEAH? After all, it wasn't like we were drunk and disorderly or violent, right? So of course charges were dismissed. YEAH!)

Or is it the other way around? The good news is that peacemakers were arrested during groundbreaking ceremonies at the new nuclear weapons plant. (Can I hear a YEAH for principled, non-violent civil disobedience? YEAH!) The bad news is that the cases were dismissed. (Can I hear a BOO for the dismissive powers and principalities who don't want an embarrassing trial, or media coverage of their death-dealing? BOO!)

It's all very confusing. Sarah & I first thought our little talks here tonight would be sort of a dress rehearsal for what we might say in court tomorrow. Tomorrow has been delayed--for now.

But I've had a lot of time to consider what I would have wanted to say in my defense. Why did I speak up, and act up? I think the core of my testimony could be summed up in one word: GRATITUDE.

I grew up as an Iowa farm boy. In that simple setting, minus the distractions of TV and videogames and "virtual reality" I received the Reality of some really incredible gifts:

I recollect long summer days that touched some very deep part of me--

the sweet, sweet taste of wild blackberries, plump, and warmed by the sun;

the shrill chorus of spring peepers heralding the advent of spring;

the violent twitching of a monarch butterfly bursting its gold-rimmed chrysalis;

the aroma of fresh-mown clover in summer, and burning leaves in autumn;

the wind sighing through a red cedar, rustling soothingly in the cottonwoods;

the silkiness of rabbit fur, the gnarliness of a toad;

the wonders of water skippers and ant lions and dung beetles and dragonflies...

All these were for me encounters with the numinous, something Beyond, yet at the same time something within me at a much deeper place than I could name. Like calling to like. Whether you call it love of creation, or love of the Creator, or both, I knew even then that something holy was going on, something sacred. I was lost in wonder, lost in time--yet sensing somehow that I was also found in that same moment--that I belong, that I am home, that I am connected to all that is.

This sense of oneness, of connectedness, of sacred life, is the source of my gratitude. And I believe it is also the source of my restlessness, calling me to resist nuclear weapons --which I see as the single most dire threat to all I hold dear. Nukes are the antithesis of oneness, of connectedness, of life.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops said it so well 25 years ago:

We write in defense of creation. We do so because the creation itself is under attack. Air and water, trees and fruits and flowers, birds and fish and cattle, all children and youth, women and men live under the darkening shadow of a threatening nuclear winter... It is a crisis that threatens to assault not only the whole human family but planet earth itself... Therefore, we say a clear and unconditional No to nuclear war and to any use of nuclear weapons. We conclude that nuclear deterrence is a position that cannot receive the church's blessing. (In Defense of Creation, Graded Press, 1986, p. 92)

Nuclear weapons are a curse, not a blessing. As I learn more about the devastation of nuclear weapons we have already tested and used, and the potential annihilation housed in our arsenals, I increasingly am saddened and sickened by the thought that our beautiful world and all its beautiful peoples could be utterly destroyed--whether by design or by accident--by even a small portion of the world's 25,000 nuclear weapons. I am angered by the congressional-religious-industrial-military-entertainment complex that rationalizes, and profits from, weapons of mass incineration. And I am frustrated and bewildered by the public's apathy, ignorance, and denial. Wake up! Our very existence is at stake!

At times I can barely make myself think the unthinkable, or speak the unspeakable. It's so overwhelming. Yet what else can I do, can we do? Give in to despair and hopelessness? Deny the truth? Accept the lie? Embrace nuclear omnicide?

To those temptations, Life clearly says No! And so must we.

In times of doubt and discouragement I receive great strength from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who also faced seemingly hopeless and insurmountable odds:

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way where there is no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. (Martin Luther King, Jr. address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Aug. 16, 1967, "Where Do We Go from Here?")

There's our good news/bad news theme again. "The arc of the moral universe is long" (No instant grapes in the vineyard!), but "it bends toward justice." (Our peacemaking efforts, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, will bear fruit.)

So.. the bad news is that there's no clear and easy way to a nuclear weapons-free world.

But the good news is that a power much greater than us is making a way-- sometimes even through us!

I'm so grateful to be part of that movement, to be part of you.

Together, let us continue in the Way. Let us show the Way. And let us, by our speaking up and acting up, be the Way toward a nuclear weapons-free world of true justice and peace for all! Shalom.