Subscribe to Living Nonviolence feed
Information and inspiration on everyday nonviolence
Updated: 1 day 1 hour ago

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 07:39

Closing our Eyes to See More Clearly

        What do we see when we really look deeply, perhaps when we squint and try to see beyond the present place and time in which we stand? Reflecting on the way we close our eyes as a natural human response to pain, Rebbe Nachman offers a beautiful insight on what it means to see the world from within: 
So it is when we want to look at the ultimate goal of Creation, which is all good, all unity. One has to close one's eyes and focus on one's vision -- i.e. the inner vision of the soul -- on the goal. For the light of this ultimate goal is very far away. The only way to see it is by closing one's eyes. One has to close them completely and keep them firmly shut. One may even have to press on them with one's finger to keep them shut tight. Then one can gaze on this ultimate goal... (Likkutei Moharan 65:3).
During the past week and weeks, as in hard times always, it can be very tempting to close our eyes, as though to block out the images and the hate. There are times, indeed, when we need to do that, when we know we can’t take in any more. It is the nature of Shabbos, to step back and renew, to look beyond. On this Shabbos, whether one is praying on the streets or in the synagogue, may we all take note of a different sense of time and being, pausing in some way in order to renew. If on the streets, pause if even for a moment along the way and offer a prayer, saying to another, singing out, Shabbat shalom, not simply a greeting, but a prayer for peace expressed in the essence of a day. And if in synagogue, hold the same kavannah in saying these two simple words, and be aware in the same way of the depth of our prayerful words and song, closing eyes and imaging walking feet, legs that are praying as well as words, all moved by an inner vision of wholeness, joined together as one. When we have had enough, though, and we close our eyes in pain, may it not be to block out, but to bring in, to see ever more deeply, to envision from within.
        What do we see when we look into ourselves and into the eyes of others? Do we see the love as well as the fear, the strength and nobility as well as the weakness and vulnerability? Do we see the fear even in the eyes of the haters, wondering how the love that surrounds and joins us in resistance might surround them as well, until there is no place for their hate to go but to dissipate? It is the way of nonviolence to allow for that possibility, not to allow their hate to infect us, but in fierce opposition that in its core is nevertheless gentle, yet to love. It is the lesson and the way of making Shabbos each week, to create the change we wish to see all along the way, to live the future now.
It was the way in Charlottesville, so much fear and so much terror, the flags and chants that sickened, love and hate in fateful dance. In the coming together of so many people across so many lines, joined in love and horror, seeking good and goodness, daring to hope. Speaking truth to power, people unimagined, governors and mayors, we are challenged to imagine new coalitions and partners, young and old leading the march together, weeping and praying in synagogues, and churches and mosques, a great call and cry throughout the land. The fear is real, even as we try to look beyond. I felt panic, nausea, in seeing the images of Nazi flags, and the Confederate too, realizing the same sickness felt by African Americans, trying to see what they see, to imagine the psychic memories called forth for them. The hate makes us all as one, and so too shall love.       I pause and pick up a small piece of glass   sitting on my desk, turning it in my fingers, feeling tears rise. I picked it up out of the grass alongside the New England Holocaust Memorial, a small fragment of shattered glass, glass that remembered shattered lives, glass etched with the numbers that were etched in the skin of so many dead. It was the second time the Memorial had been desecrated this summer, a glass panel smashed with a rock. People gathered in beautiful diversity across all lines, there to support, to stand with the Jewish community. I cried when Izzy Arbeiter spoke, telling of the horrors, a ninety-two year old survivor, instrumental in bringing the Memorial to be. I felt fear, imagining Jews in Germany, in that time and place. I closed my eyes and then opened them. I looked out across the crowd and saw the difference from then to now. We were not alone.There among the gathered people, I saw Ralf Horlemann, the German Consul General who led our group of twelve Boston area rabbis to Germany last summer on a Journey of Remembrance and Hope. His face reflected pain, pain that he shared later after the ceremony, the pain of his own psychic memories. How can it be to see that flag? I remembered something he said to me when we visited a refugee center near Berlin. I asked him of the meaning of a postcard with the words, “Wir sind viele. Berlin gegen Nazis/We are many. Berlin against Nazis.” I wanted to know if it meant “neo-Nazis.” He looked at me and quietly asked, “does it matter?” I have since preferred not to speak of neo-Nazis, but simply of Nazis.
I had closed my eyes tightly to see beyond. Opening them again, I saw the crowd that had come to embrace our Jewish pain, Christians and Muslims and so many others, a rainbow gathering of diversity, all there together. We are challenged to see, to really see, to see ourselves in all our differences gathered as one. It is the quiet challenge of the weekly Torah portion called Re’eh (Deut. 11:26-16:17); Re’eh/See! anochi noten lifnei’chem ha’yom b’racha u’kla’lah/I am setting before you today blessing and curse. If hate is the curse, then love is the blessing. It is so easy in these days to be sucked down by the hate, to feel the pain and cry. The blessing is not only the love that flows from so many hearts. The blessing is the seeing itself. It is to close our eyes in pain and see the vision within of what might be, to open then and project the vision outward and onto the world.
There has been so much pain and sorrow so much cause for anger and lament. If we really try to see, to close our eyes and open them again, there is an equal measure of good, of hope and love in the way of our response. With eyes both open and closed, may we see the reality of both, as we make our way toward Shabbos, as it comes now and as it shall be in the future when the world is filled with Shabbat shalom. In whatever way you make Shabbos this week, may all be safe and well, joined together with each other and so many others, love surrounding, enveloped by Sabbath peace.

Victor Reinstein

Climate Change

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 09:08



I wrote to my friend in India yesterday asking about the welfare of relatives and friends he has in Houston. He replied that they were scattered but safe. Then I realized he probably also had friends if not relatives threatened by the flooding in South Asia, where thousands have died and millions have been made homeless. The latest reports say 1,000 have died in India alone. India's Prime Minister has been quoted as saying, "climate change and new weather patterns are having 'a big negative effect.'"
I remembered walking in Mumbai during monsoon on one visit there. I was walking in the street in knee deep water. Fortunately, I was with a friend who kept me away from the holes in the road where the rushing water was draining into the catchment systems below. Many, especially children, lost their lives that way. The undertow was strong and sometimes undetected till it was too late.
The reality is that climate change is upon us and affecting the lives and well being of people all over the globe. As we watch the unfolding events in Houston, we might be able to envision what is meant by environmental refugees. We might be able to begin to understand why the U.S. Defense Department has declared climate change a national security concern.
It's interesting to look at climate change through the eyes of the Defense Department. Everyone, at least in politics, seems to find this agency the most credible, given the enormous slice of the pie they are awarded year after year. Public perceptions of their interest in climate change are limited. But military planners have been concerned about the impacts of climate change at least since the George W. Bush administration. Some institutions, like the Naval War College, have been issuing warnings since 1990. And members of the intelligence community have had an ongoing relationship with climate scientists to assess the security implications since 2008.
In 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee requested a report from the Defense Department about the most serious climate related security risks and what they were doing to minimize those risks in their planning processes. The subsequent report mentioned impacts of climate change were already being observed in the U.S., the Arctic, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America. The observable impacts included aggravation of problems like poverty; homelessness and large refugee populations; environmental degradation leading to water shortages and famine; and ineffective, weakened and unstable governments.
The largest naval base in the world is at Norfolk, Virginia. It floods about ten times a year. When this happens, the entry road to the base is underwater. Other roads on base are impassable. The concrete piers for the ships are flooded, shorting out power hookups. This all happens today simply because of a full moon that raises higher tides. Sea level at the base has risen 14.5 inches since WW1 when the station was built. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts the naval station will flood 280 times a year by 2100.
             After his confirmation hearing, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated how important it was for the military to consider environmental changes like open water routes in a thawing Arctic and drought in trouble spots around the world. For him, these were present day concerns and needed to be included in defense planning and implementation.
But as recently as last year, Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to block any new emphasis in the Defense Department on planning for responding to climate change. The same voices blocking new efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change are often the same voices refusing to help restore the livelihoods of those most affected by it. We saw the lame response of some politicians to Katrina and Sandy, and the non response to many of the most vulnerable, often the poor and people of color. We should insist they open their eyes to the reasons for, and ramifications of, Harvey.

Claiming climate change is "fake news" or "in the hands of God" or somehow irrelevant to our future is now not only immoral but bordering on the criminal. Decision makers who continue to hold hands with the fossil fuel and other corporate interests that keep us on a path to climate catastrophe need to be held accountable. And we need to celebrate those good neighbors who always seem to wade through the waters with a helping hand; who spend 24/7 in the kitchen turning out hot meals; who treat an emergency like an emergency and leave their own lives and well being to turn up with healing and comfort and compassion for the afflicted.

Carl Kline

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 12:44

“By three things is the world sustained...”
          This morning while anticipating commitments in the month of October, I turned the page of my beautiful Jewish art calendar to peruse the coming month and fill in the necessary appointments.  On the art page facing October, beautifully and mystically wrapped by a 12 pointed star (created by superimposing 3 Stars of David) are these words: By three things is the world sustained: by justice, by truth and by peace.The words come from the Pirkei Avot, a work that is  often translated  as “Ethics of Our Fathers”.         I don’t have a lot of familiarity with Pirkei Avot, but I have heard these familiar lines from the same body of wisdom:
“If I am only for myself, who am I?”
“Say little and do much”
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”                      The daily headlines in The Boston Globe are disheartening and frightening, filled with immature name calling, treacherous threats, post  hurricane anguish, NFL protests, more name calling and on and on.             As I it sit with the ancient words in front of me - meditating on them, if you will, I find them by turns, challenging, condemning, and filled with hope.            If indeed, the world is sustained by justice, by truth and by peace, then we are on very shaky ground in this, what used to be considered a shining, democracy.   In too many spheres, justice seems owned by the white and the wealthy.   Truth suddenly has many “alternatives.”  Peace seems more fragile than a spider web in a storm.            From a highly placed UN podium, the word is declared: every nation for itself!  And  I feel  a profound loss - a shrinking of the expansive boundaries of generosity, of international commitment to one another’s  wellbeing, of dependable friendships that help to keep this planet viable for human existence.   If I am only for myself, who am I ?”              So many words - - too many words - -  swords rattling and rampant rumors of war as destructive wordiness fills the headlines.   Ineffective wordiness in the houses of Congress; hyperbolic wordiness and juvenile insults on Twitter and in public rallies - but no positive and creative action on health care or tax reform; no humane development of a sane immigration policy; no life embracing action toward preserving the life of the earth.  I wonder what “the Fathers” encountered as they concluded it was wise to ”Say little and do much.”              Still, I am encouraged by the faithful energy of this small island community.  Together we  meet for interfaith study about how to instill in our young people an ethic of concern for “the other” as we read “ACTS OF FAITH” by Eboo Patel.  The book plainly lets us know that even as young people can be taught to hate and fear, they can also be taught to embrace and care for the stranger - - faith communities and  and schools need to be more proactive.  I am encouraged by the annual “Living Local” festival at the Agricultural Hall, with booths and displays drawn from every corner of island life in an attempt to educate us all about our role in sustaining the holy life of this planet.              A premier island grocer is figuring out how to sustain his profits while providing steep discounts for islanders to be sure that our elders and our immigrant population can afford to shop in his markets.  These modest efforts are thousands of miles from the centers of power. We are in a place where we might be tempted to throw up our hands in helpless despair at things over which we have little control.  But the ancient wisdom dictates otherwise. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.            If, indeed, the world is sustained by justice, by truth, and by peace, then even a small island in the Atlantic is both judged and challenged...and blessed by the “Ethics of Our Fathers.”   We dare not lose sight of the power of simple actions that keep faith with the care and concern for others and for the earth in focus.  And even though we may have cause to wonder if the grass roots actions we take have any effect on the whole in the end, we are never free to simply slack off and hope that someone else will do the job. 
Vicky Hanjian

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:07

The Prayer of a Small Folding Challah KnifeSeptember 22, 2017
One of my treasured ritual items is a small folding challah knife that came to me a few years ago when my wife and I were in Israel. It feels that indeed it did come to me. I had searched for one through many decades since first seeing such a knife for cutting the Sabbath bread when I was a young student in Jerusalem just starting out on my journey. At some point I found a contemporary one, made with a plastic handle and a blade of stainless steel. It did not have a story and never moved me, eventually disappearing during one move or another. During that more recent visit to Israel I made it a point to go into every little store where I might find antique Judaica. I asked many store keepers if they had one, if they had ever seen one. Here and there, one would nod, “no,” they did not have one but had seen one once. Sometimes a friendly storekeeper would direct me to another store, and perhaps from there I would be directed to another. Whether offered a friendly and sympathetic smile or a brusque and dismissive wave of the hand, as though such a thing did not exist, the end result was the same, no folding challahknife.
On our last Friday in Jerusalem during that visit, as we made our way home late in the day to get ready for Shabbos, we went into one more store. It was the week of the Torah portion called Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1). The store was next to the car rental office from which we would leave for the north on Sunday. As I asked my question, the storekeeper pointed to a display case in which there were two folding challah knives. One had a pearl handle and the word “Marienbad” engraved on a section of metal between two sections of pearl. This begins to explain one of the reasons for a folding challah knife. Jewish tourists would take one with them when traveling, easier to carry than a larger challah knife. Marienbad was a tourist destination that was popular with Jews. The other knife is the one that eventually became mine. We held our breath as we asked the cost, releasing our breath with sorrow, knowing it was too expensive. When we came to pick up the rental car on Sunday morning, my wife said she was going to go back into the antique store. Time passed as I waited in the car. When I saw her in the rear view mirror, I realized that she had a small paper bag in her hand. It was the knife, an agreement having been made. I wanted to believe that the meaning I attached to the knife had touched the storekeeper, as I hoped it would now touch others through my sharing.
         The handle of my small folding challah knife is of old ivory, somewhat yellowed with age. Not quite six inches in length when folded, the knife was probably made in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. There is no place name engraved in the center of the handle. Rather, on both sides of the center plate, there is a word. Beautifully etched in black ink, as though by a fine scribal hand, are the words, Shabbos Kodesh/the Holy Sabbath. The blade, which opens in the way of a jackknife, is dark and stained. I imagine the many hands that have opened it over the years of its life, imagining what it would say if it could speak and tell its story. The fact that it does not have a place name engraved on it, suggests the other reason for such a challah knife, the reason that inspired my search over so many years.
There is a custom that I follow with care, to remove knives from the table before singing Birkat Ha’Mazon, the series of blessings that are said following a meal in which bread has been eaten. A folding knife does not need to be removed, the blade remaining hidden throughout the meal, opened only as needed for cutting bread. The removal of knives is based on the commandment in the Torah portion called Yitro, Exodus 20:22, concerning the building of an altar. There we are told that an altar must be built only of un-hewn stones, so that no steel tool shall come upon them. Later in the Torah (Deut. 27:6), such uncut stones are called avanim sh’laymot/whole stones or, quite literally, peaceful stones. The word for steel tool is charb’cha/your sword; ki charb’cha haynafta aleyha va’t’cha’l’leha/for if you have wielded your sword over one (of the stones), you will have desecrated it. In a beautiful midrash, the rabbis teach that the altar is made to prolong the years of a person and iron is made to shorten the years of a person. It is not right for that which shortens life to be lifted up against that which prolongs life…. How much the more then should one who establishes peace between one person and another, between spouse and spouse, between city and city, between nation and nation, between family and family, between government and government, be protected so that no harm should come upon them.” The human being is the ultimate altar, every person a potential peacemaker against whom the sword should not be raised.
Crying for peace in the midst of war, far more than swords unsheathed now, I found the small folding challahknife in the week of Torah portionPinchas, the week in which the Gaza war of 2014 had begun. As we drove north, we passed many columns of armored vehicles making their way south. My small knife, carefully carried now in my pack, became a prayerful symbol for me. As it came to me in a context of violence, so its connection to Pinchas, a portion whose name tells of a violent zealot who took the law into his own hands in the face of Israel’s seduction into Midianite idolatry. From out of that context, as is often the case, the rabbis weave a teaching of nonviolence, drawing from within the text itself a challenge to the violence on the surface. At the end of the previous Torah reading, called Balak, we are told that Pinchas rose up/va’yakamand took/va’yikach a spear, the spear with which he then killed two people, Zimri, an Israelite prince, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess.
Beyond the context of the killing and the moral challenges with which the rabbis wrestle and which torment us, the rabbis offer a remarkable teaching that becomes codified into Jewish law. It is assumed that as part of a meeting of elders Pinchas was in the Beit Midrash/House of Study. Because he had to get up and go to get his spear it is deduced that he did not have it with him. From that, a commandment evolves that one is forbidden to bring a weapon into a synagogue or house of study. In a beautifully sensitive commentary that draws on the ancient teaching concerning steel upon the altar, the Mishna B’rurah, an early twentieth century legal work by the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, teaches, the synagogue, which is uniquely intended for prayer, increases the days of a person, while a knife shortens the days of a person/l’fi she’beyt ha’k’nesset she’hu m’yuchad la’t’fillah ma’arechet yamav shel adam v’ha’sakin m’katzer y’mei adam. In an earthy legal discussion of practical import, the question is asked about students who spend all of their time in the Beit Midrash, what should they do if they need a knife to cut their food? The answer is that they may use a knife so that they do not have to leave their studies for too long, but they should cover the blade when it is not in use and when they say the blessings after the meal.
In approaching Shabbos each week, I think of this teaching and of how a small folding challah knife represents the ultimate removal of the sword. On this Shabbos of Parashat Pinchas, named for a man of violence whose blade cut down human altars, I draw hope from the rabbis’ way of teaching nonviolence in the midst of violence. It is a way of transformation that calls for us to do the same, challenging and transforming violence in text and in life. As the altar of un-hewn stones was meant to bring people together for the sharing of a sacred meal, so for us the Shabbos table, the sword not to be raised upon it, even blades for cutting bread to be covered in order to remind. Toward the day that is all Shabbos, of lessons learned in simple ways, swords turned to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, that is my prayer and the prayer of a small folding challah knife.
 Victor Reinstein

A Fragile Democracy <br /><br /

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 13:18
A Fragile Democracy

Democracy is a fragile arrangement. Basing a system of governing on one person one vote can be challenging, especially in a country as large as the U.S. and with all of our diversity.

Some are always tempted to define "one person" according to their preferences. In our history, the vote has been denied to: Native Americans, those without property, slaves, women, certain religious groups, the poor, young people and prisoners. (It might be noted that white men with wealth have always had the vote.)

Some states where there is one party in power work tirelessly to remove voters from the registration lists, limit certain groups from accessing the polls and discourage voter registration. For instance, the Supreme Court will rule next term on whether to allow Ohio to proceed with removing tens of thousands of voters from their rolls, Many believe Ohio has targeted minority populations.

One might question whether this limiting isn't at work right here in my home town of Brookings. The issue is either lost or on a back burner, but the South Dakota State University Student Association (SA) asked the county for a polling place on campus. Problems were raised about too many polling places and not an adequate, available space on that huge campus. The question faded with turnover at the SA. One would think we would want to make it as easy as possible for our young people to vote, helping them develop a life long habit. But maybe there is some fear they might vote and disturb the status quo?

And it has to be said, what the President is doing to undercut our diverse democracy and encourage race baiting is despicable. There are Mexicans picking the fruits and vegetables I eat. Mexican workers put a new roof on our home last summer, working from sun-up to sun-down in the heat of the day. They did an amazingly professional job. It is Mexican laborers I've seen on highway construction jobs in this state. If we're honest, our country is still being built on the labor of people of color, the way it was during the days of slavery.

So now we have a President who intends to build a wall to keep "them" out (except for the ones working at his estates), even if it means shutting down the government. So now we have a President who blames our economic malaise on Mexico, when the opposite is true; where when we cough, Mexico gets pneumonia. So now we have a President who says Mexicans are rapists, criminals, killers, drug lords; while he represents the epitome of materialism that is killing the souls of our young and turning them toward buying those drugs. So now we have a President intent on campaigning to stroke his ego, stirring up racial division, and then unable to govern.

Democracy is a fragile thing.

Democracy is especially fragile when it is threatened by those who divide rather than unite; those who prefer violence to dialogue; those who exclude rather than include; those who elevate hate over love.

Some of my Christian brothers and sisters also bear some responsibility for undercutting the inclusiveness and diversity of our democracy. For instance, I tire of the constant refrain one hears from the Gospel of John, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Many Christian church people take this passage totally out of context to preach a gospel of exclusion. Jesus said this to his disciples, who after all the time they have spent with him, still don't know who he is. It wasn't meant as a proclamation for all people for all time.

I'm sorry to say, that kind of exclusionary thinking is not gospel ("good news") and it's not the gospel of Jesus. Jesus was inclusive. He would want Muslim-Americans to vote. He didn't discriminate against people on the basis of their race (Sunday morning is STILL the most segregated time of the week). And Jesus certainly wouldn't agree with the Presidents' Inauguration pastor who recently proclaimed, "God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un" (who also happens to be a person of color).

We need to wake up! KELO TV recently informed us we have the Creativity Alliance in our midst. They are dedicated to elevating the white race to the supreme place where they believe whites belong. In short, they are white supremacists. That means getting rid of lots of others. Check out their web site. It's hateful.

And in the meantime, we need to raise our voices in defense of democracy; in defense of, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men (sic) are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Carl Kline

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 09:21

In the Fullness of NonviolenceTranscending the Language of Violence on the Path to Peace and Justice

I tend to eschew martial language, even to a fault, and often, I admit, it is to a fault. In almost every context of striving, whether personal or social, or for the sake of analogy and metaphor, I prefer to find alternatives to what might be construed as military terminology. I prefer to work for peace and justice, to strive and to struggle, rather than to fight for it. I find dissonance in the very thought of fighting for peace, easier then to lose sight of the critical tension between means and ends. The language we use influences behavior, and subtly gives shape to consciousness and form to conscience. When called “to pray with our legs,” as in the holy words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I prefer to walk, to journey, to trek, rather than to march for whatever good cause summons us to the streets.
From long before I could give it a name, I have been drawn to the way of pacifism. I generally tend not to call myself a pacifist, but to see and describe myself as one who seeks to follow its path, to rise to its challenge. Failing too often to meet its challenge, I continue to seek and to wrestle, striving to come ever closer to the way of the pacifist. Often misunderstood, pacifism is not passive. To be true to its own calling, it is meant always to be active, whether in the larger spheres of life or in the most intimate, whether in word or deed, witnessed by others or not. It is a way of love and respect for the human creature and condition that becomes the seedbed and catalyst for active and creative nonviolence.
A seemingly simple word that has no single, positive way of expression in English, nonviolence, which I prefer not to write with a hyphen in order to better convey its own reality, is often as misunderstood as pacifism. Even though a more common term and referent to action, nonviolence is rarely recognized for its uncommon depth and breadth. When nonviolence is expressed or adopted only as a tactic, however preferable to its opposite, we fail to access its spiritual depth and larger strategic possibility. One can refrain from picking up a weapon or a stone, but still do nothing to bridge the chasm that stands not only between people in opposition to each other, but between the present and a better future.
In the way of Ghandi and King, the spiritual depth and power of nonviolence lies in its recognition of a common spark of humanity in every person, the image of God in each one. The challenge is to draw on that common spark, that common humanity, in seeking ways to bridge the divide that separates people from each other, helping each side in a struggle to see at least glimmers of common human ground and of a common stake in the struggle. We shall overcome does not mean overcoming or defeating the other, but overcoming the injustice and suffering which the other may in fact represent, ultimately overcoming that which divides us and bringing our opponent along with us to a better place for all.
It is so hard to do or even to imagine such bridging in times of struggle, and yet this is when we are especially called to the challenge, the process itself illuminating new paths. Even if unable to move an opponent in the present moment, nonviolence as active witness models for others a living alternative to violence, hate, and injustice. In the wrestling, we come to new insight and possibilities. Reflecting a way of striving, shalom as peace emerging form wholeness/sh’laymut can only grow when the tree of peace is not separated from its root meaning, shalem/whole, complete. More than terminology, the challenge is to find a way of striving that will ultimately bring wholeness. It is the way of the Sh’ma (Deut. 6:4), “Hear, O, Israel, God, our God, God is One.” If God is one, than so too, created in God’s image of oneness, all people are one.
As does any sensitive reader of Torah, I struggle with so many of the Torah portions as we make our way through the latter part of the fourth book, Bamidbar, and into the fifth book, D’varim, in which we encounter the violence of the Canaanite wars. These portions are among those that contain what Heschel so helpfully refers to as the harsh passages. In reading and learning Torah, we are meant to learn how to navigate the harsh passages of both Torah and life, always remembering that the Torah is not about them and then, but about us and now. So too, engaging with sacred text, encountering and conversing with commentators and teachers of other times and places, we realize that our struggles were also their struggles, all part of a great human struggle toward shalom u’sh’laymut/peace and wholeness.
As for many of our ancestors, I struggle with the language of these portions, as well as with what that language represents in various ways of understanding and in the particular bias of a translator. This week’s portion, Parashat Ki Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19), begins with words that appear several times in the surrounding portions, Ki Tetze la’mil’chamah/if you go forth to war. It need not be an absolute, an assumption of inevitable human struggle as reflected in the frequent way of translation, “when you go forth to war.” If, neither inevitable nor eternal, the vision is held before us of a world without war, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4).
Particularly in Chassidic tradition, the surface meaning, the p’shat, is transformed almost immediately to reflect a different reality. In this way of reading, the Torah is not speaking about warring peoples, of external battles, but of internal struggle to change and bring out the best that resides deep within our selves and others. It is the essence of nonviolence and is not dissimilar to the Islamic concept of itjihad, jihad or struggle with oneself. For the Chassidic teachers, the battle that we are called to engage with is the battle with our own yetzer ho’rah/the evil inclination. It is that very inclination that the rabbis see as a positive force when channeled into the building of homes and the loving creation of families. The possibility of transformation is set in the deepest of human urges.
Turning the metaphor into reality, the Karliner Rebbe, among others, looks to the singular formation in the Hebrew, ki tetze la’mil’chamah al oy’vecha/when you go forth to battle against your enemies and says very simply, zeh yetzer ho’rah/this is the evil inclination. With the suffix for your in the singular, it is addressed to each one of us. Of your enemy in the singular, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches that this refers to ha’oyev ha’m’yuchad shelcha/your specific enemy. We each have our own personal struggles, our own demons. As the Slonimer teaches, we also each have a unique task and purpose in the world that is only for us to complete. In order to accomplish that unique purpose for which we are in the world, we must first overcome our own personal demons, our own unique “enemies.”
The Chassidic way of reading Torah through a lens of metaphor finds resonance in a statement from deep within Jewish tradition that is brought into conversation with the beginning of Parashat Ki Tetze. Once having gone forth to battle, warning is given that if a soldier desires a captive woman, he is to take her home and make her his wife (Deut. 21:11-14). For all that is problematic, acknowledged, wrestled, and cried with as we make our way through a harsh passage, in seeking to control the evil inclination of the soldier, the commandment helps to control the possibility of rape in war, which is no small matter in itself. From the Talmud (Kiddushin 21b), Rashi draws on a fascinating statement: lo debra Torah elah k’neged yetzer ho’rah/the Torah does not speak, except to challenge the evil inclination.
In the overall expression of this teaching and of Torah itself, the Torah seeks to replace evil with good, offering ways to navigate its own harsh passages and those of life; guiding us toward creation in the human sphere of a world of wholeness and peace that does justice to the physical beauty of creation, the world as it was envisioned at the very beginning. In speaking in relation to the yetzer ho'rah/evil inclination, there are times when the Torah offers opening and invitation to metaphor, when that is to be our way of reading, and other times when the way is clear, when we are meant to heed the commandments and respond to beauty of word and deed, learning to affirm life and creation in all that we do. So does the Torah speak not but in relation to the yetzer ho'rah/evil inclination.
As we make our way through the Hebrew month of Elul toward the new year that begins with Rosh Hashannah, looking within ourselves and seeking to effect wholeness and make amends with others, the Slonimer suggests that we need new “weapons” in the “fight” with our yetzer. Language that I eschew, he writes, the old weapons from years past are not sufficient/lo maspik ha’neshek ha’yashan…; one needs, therefore, to search for ways and wisdom with which to find the renewed weapon/aych lim’tzo et ha’neshek ha’m’chudash.
Grateful for the way of transformation in text and life that our teachers have given us, at times I struggle with their language, even as I often do with the language of our activism today. In the holy work of seeking peace and justice, inspired by a way of reading Torah that transcends war, so it is for us to transcend the language of war and then war itself. Seeking the way of nonviolence in all of its fullness, in speech as well as in deed, praying with our legs, means and ends as one, may we journey together to the day that is all Shabbat shalom, a world of peace and wholeness, shalom u’sh’laymut.
Shabbat shalom,Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Rubble

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 15:28
There was an article in the paper the other day about how the Pentagon was being asked to explain a recent purchase. They had purchased new uniforms for the Afghan Army at a cost of $28 million. A major problem is, the uniforms have a proprietary forest camouflage scheme on them while Afghanistan is 98% desert and woodlands only cover 2% of the terrain. 
The U.S. Inspector General criticized the purchase in June and has begun criminal proceedings. Senator McCaskill, of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, wants answers and the House Armed Services Committee is investigating. The Pentagon admits it has spent $93 million since 2007 on private label uniforms for the Afghan Army without competitive bidding. If they were to simply use a desert camouflage pattern owned by the U.S. military and not being presently used, they could save $71 million over the next decade.
It makes one wish we still had a Senator William Proxmire, the originator of the Golden Fleece Award in 1975. He would issue the award in a monthly press release to illustrate how government agencies were being charged excessively or spending foolishly for goods and services. The Defense Department was often the recipient of the Golden Fleece. It's not easy to forget the $640 toilet seats they purchased that won the award.
When the Inspector Generals' Office audited the Army last year they found trillions of dollars in accounting mistakes. They found missing receipts and invoices, 16,000 missing files, "unreliable data" and came to the conclusion that the finances of the Army could be "materially misstated."
The Pentagon is legally mandated to be ready for a full audit by September 30 of this year. Legislation has been introduced to impose penalties if they are not ready. Since the Pentagon has never been audited before, and one study they buried last year showed $125 billion in unaccounted for spending, it will be a major undertaking to clarify where our tax money is really going. Especially when the bureaucracy at desks, over a million employees and contractors, is almost as large as those in the active military.
And yet, there will be a bipartisan effort to endorse or provide more than the $50 billion increase the President is proposing for the Defense Department. Go figure!
It's not just the wasted money! It's the absolute irrationality of the perpetual and pervasive acceptance of violence as the preferred option that has entered the psyche of our society and is sucking the life blood out of our democracy and economy.
I watched with absolute horror our "success" in Mosul the other evening on PBS. The reporter is walking through the rubble with Iraqi military as they continue to make sure all the ISIS soldiers are eliminated and any potential sympathizers are taken into custody. They lead one person away, since no one else knows him. He's suspect! One wonders what happens to him outside the range of the camera. Others are digging through the rubble to find the bodies of family members. The death toll of civilians stands around 40,000. ISIS produced many but so did U.S. supported air strikes. One word describes much of  Mosul today, rubble.  It made me think of the Vietnam war days, when "we had to destroy the village to save it."
I'm also thinking about Vietnam after an extended conversation with a Vietnam era vet this week. He was dropped into the jungles a few hours after they had been sprayed with agent orange. His physical disabilities have escalated over the years to the point where he can't describe the pain he feels. Call it full body! And don't watch the recent film on the after-effects of agent orange and other munitions on the people of Vietnam. That horror will invade your dreams.
We measure military success these days in body counts and rubble, like Mosul, declaring "victory" here and there and so easily ignoring the aftermath. 

Let the decision makers dig the corpses of children out of the Mosul rubble. Let them serve in the institutions sheltering broken bodies in Vietnam. Have them sit down and talk with a vet willing to describe their past and continuing experience of hell. Maybe then they would recognize there are other ways to resolve international conflicts than always through violence and war. What ever happened to our State Department and diplomacy?
Carl Kline

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 10:16

 Lesson from Charlottesville
         The havoc in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, the deaths of two police officers, and the injury of 19 other people has brought us yet again to a time of national soul searching. Some members of Congress have introduced a bill to censure the president who one day strongly denounced the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, and the very next day just as clearly endorsed the ideology of these same groups. Mayors in a number of cities have taken bolder action as they have removed statues honoring leaders of the Confederate States of America. Meanwhile, white supremacist groups are planning for more demonstrations and reportedly are recruiting new members and successfully raising funds. The question Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked in 1967 is as timely as ever, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” (Beacon Press, 1968).There is growing awareness, if not consensus, that the United States is a race-based nation, and that racism is a white problem. Therefore, the attitudes and actions of white people will, to a large extent, determine how we answer the above question posed by Dr. King. But, as President Barack Obama noted in an acclaimed speech on race which he delivered in 2008, we are “stuck in a racial stalemate.” Obama’s speech was necessitated by a fiery sermon on race delivered by his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, which had so enflamed white people that it threatened to derail Obama’s run for the presidency. Now, nearly a decade later, we  remain stuck in a racial stalemate. Evangelical leaders like Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas have strongly defended the president’s support of white supremacist groups and denounced as “fake news” reports that depict him as a racist. At the same time, Civil Rights champions like the Reverend William Barber II and the Reverend Liz Theoharis are giving leadership to a new “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” which will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. King in 1968. Denouncing racist statements from the White House and from evangelical pastors, Barber has declared that the purpose of the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign is “to build a moral army of love.”The fierce debate on race that is taking place within the Christian community and more broadly across the nation is, I believe, a positive sign for it means that we are moving past our racial stalemate. We have to take sides. But I suggest in the following that the present crisis is about more than taking sides. Speaking as a white Protestant pastor, I contend that it is time for the church to rediscover its authentic witness to the gospel, and “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4: 18, NRSV). The summons is to come together in “deep solidarity,” to use a phrase coined by religious scholar Joerg Rieger of Vanderbilt University. Deep solidarity depends on finding common ground on which diverse communities may stand without erasing or ignoring differences that have the potential to divide us. I suggest that the Golden Rule is our moral common ground, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7: 12, NRSV). Religious scholar Karen Armstrong reminds us that the Golden Rule, stated both positively and negatively, is central to all religious life and it is the source of all morality. Reviving the spirit of the Golden Rule is essential both for the survival of the human project and for our integrity as people of faith. Without such a revival we cannot be true to ourselves or our witness to the Christian gospel. Our faith will become inauthentic. James Baldwin examines the lack of authenticity among people of faith in his classic book, The Fire Next Time (Dell, 1964). Here he writes that white Americans find it difficult “to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of something of intrinsic value that black people need and want.” He continues, “A vast amount of energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem is produced by the white man’s profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white . . . . It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided” (127,128). Baldwin alleges that white people do not wish to know the truth about themselves, or take responsibility for their own lives and what goes on in our country. The combination of white power and white denial leaves white people trapped in “burning house” (127) of “moral contradiction” and “spiritual aridity” (130). People of color do not want to be assimilated into this burning house, and white people refuse to leave it. Thus our stalemate. Baldwin calls upon white people to examine and re-examine everything we believe about ourselves and about this country.Viewed from another perspective, the social model of racism is that of a zero-sum society. More for “them,” (people of color) means less for “us,” (white people). This rigid model devalues cooperation resulting in an uncompromising structure that is violence prone when besieged by real or imaginary threats. White supremacists, in the binary, zero-sum, society, are worried about survival, while multiculturalist live in the illusion that people of color want to be and can be assimilated into a society that has systemically rejected them for 500 years. Both groups operate out of an inauthentic narrative. The former deny white privilege; the latter acknowledge white privilege and affirm the need to treat all people with equal dignity and respect, but often find themselves feeling alienated from white-dominated institutions and networks of power. Both groups feel trapped in a world that is either beyond their control or out of control and, therefore, become ensnared in webs of inauthenticity when what they truly want is to live authentic lives.The Golden Rule is rooted in a social model that is truer to our actual lived experience than the zero-sum model, and it’s more conducive to a society in which the ethic of deep solidarity can be put into practice. The practical cost of refusing to incorporate this ethic into our daily lives is twofold. First, we will see replications of events in Charlottesville in other communities and an escalation of violence. Second, we will experience a hollowing out of the Christian faith as the fundamental norm of the Golden Rule and the actual social practices of the church grow further and further apart.The alternative to this vortex of violence is to engage in the difficult and sometimes dangerous but always rewarding work of creating genuine relationships for the sake of building communities in which everyone can flourish and in which Christian communities can give an authentic witness to the faith they profess. What is at stake for the church is whether Christianity becomes an increasingly narrow and privatized personal faith, or a constructive presence that is able to deal with the life and death issues of our time?Lastly, we, as Christians, must come to a clearer understanding of power in our political economy. Is power best placed in the hands of the elite, or does it need to be built from the bottom up? Answering this question entails examination of existing power structures and networks, identifying winners and losers in today’s political economy, and forging what I call “Golden Rule alliances” of deep solidarity. The lesson from Charlottesville is that we cannot remain stuck in a racial stalemate.  As Dr. King wrote in the conclusion of Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s [sic] last chance to choose between chaos and community” (191).Rev. David P. Hansen  PhD

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 12:29

These are the Words…Small Expressions of Hate that are Really Not So Small

        They were two separate incidents, each causing hurt and confusion, each happening recently, within about a block of each other. On one occasion, about two months ago, I was standing in front of a local church where I had gone for an interfaith clergy meeting, people coming together to share and support, joined through differences. As I was about to enter the church, I had a phone call that a friend had a just died. Knowing that I would officiate, I walked quickly back to the car to make phone calls and respond to immediate needs. As I got to the car, parked just back from the street, a jogger approached and suddenly stopped, somewhat breathless. Turning toward me, he raised his fist high in the air and yelled, “BDS Israel!” I was stunned and taken aback, feeling threatened by a raised fist and a raised voice. With so much swirling in my head at that moment, I couldn’t quite process what had happened, all so quickly. At first, I wondered what does he know of my politics or of me? Does he know I am Jewish, or that I am a rabbi?  Then, I realized the obvious, it was my yarmulkah, of course, and that he was responding to me as a Jew. It was not about politics, therefore, but about something deeper, about whom I am as a person and as part of a people. I would have been willing to have a political discussion and to explore the web of associations from which his verbal assault came.  More importantly, I would have welcomed a person-to-person sharing, to have arranged to meet, to plan to have coffee at another time when there was not so much on my mind. But then he was gone, continuing to run rather than to engage, even as I turned toward him in my confusion and called out to wait a moment.
     The other occasion was just a week or so ago, right in front of JP Licks. As I approached the store, just before the door, a rather disheveled man was sitting at an outside table with a dog. I had noticed him as I approached, feeling concern for him, wondering of his needs and situation. I thought I might say something, but before I could, just as I came near to him, I heard him snarl loudly under his breath, “Jew!”   Again, my head spun, wondering if I had really heard him, realizing that, of course, I had.             Again, it took me a moment to realize that it was my kippah. Covering my head as an expression of relationship to God, an acknowledgement of the holiness to be found in every place and moment, I am both completely unaware of the presence of a small piece of material on my head and completely aware, a merging of realities, knowing and not knowing become as one. I kept going, entering the store, feelings churning, wary of the dog, trying to hold the jagged disconnect between my feelings of concern for the man and the hateful tone of the word he had uttered, a word that describes me. The word “Jew,” beautiful and noble in its essence, in its description of who we are, or terrifying in its utterance, in its association with a yellow star used to identify a hated minority.            On my way out of the store just a few minutes later, I approached the man, pausing in front of him to make eye contact. I wished him a good day, and then I waited to give him an opportunity to respond. He looked up, as the dog did from its place by the man’s feet, “yeah, have a good day.” I thanked him and continued on my way. Later, I realized I would have liked to say so much more, to sit down, to ask him if he wanted some coffee, to ask if he could understand the pain caused by what he said, perhaps asking where it had come from. Though understanding why I had not said more, I was sorry that I had not had the presence of mind or heart to engage more fully in the moment. However much experience we have had with such expressions of animosity, it is confusing and disorienting when we feel a generic hate directed toward us simply for who we are, not as an individual, but as part of a people or group, or of a particular way in the world, whether bearing on religion, or gender, or sexual identity, or ethnicity or anything else that puts us outside the perspective or experience of the hater.
There are times when we need to go into ourselves and to feel the pain, to share it with each other, whether with words or simply with understanding presence. And yet, we cannot allow the pain to narrow the span of our arms or of our vision. We still need to hold all there is to be held of pain in the world, and even if through tears to see all the work that needs doing, so many others crying too.So it was in the effort to hold that jagged disconnect between my concern for the man and the hateful tone of his utterance.
     Thoughts of these two incidents weighed on me as we approached the Sabbath called Shabbat Chazon/the Sabbath of Vision that precedes the mid-summer day of mourning called Tisha B’Av. The name Shabbat Chazon is drawn from the first word of the prophetic reading for the day, Chazon Yisheyahu/the Vision of Isaiah, his plea to turn from ways that hurt our selves and others, to bring healing and repair through justice and righteousness. That is the way of response if we would heal the world. Jews have shed torrents of tears through these weeks of summer heat that call up hatreds and tragedies of the past and remind us not to be drawn into the vortex, but to rise above it and build anew the Temple of hope and redemption, not a building of stone and wood, of silver and gold, but of love and compassion for ourselves and all within the human family. That is the gift of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, a day of fasting and mourning for all the hate and destruction that has been. Marking the destruction of both Temples, so the destruction of the world is contemplated, God protect us, the holy houses that stood in Jerusalem each in its time having represented the entire world. Seeds of hope are planted in the midst of destruction. Tradition teaches that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av. So too, this month is referred to as Menachem Av/Av the Comforter. It is not a month as a period of time that itself brings comfort. We are each to be the comforter, drawing from the pain experienced in holding the memories brought before us, and extending our arms to embrace each other and hold all there is to hold.
        On the Sabbath before Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Chazon, we read the Torah portion D’varim (Deut. 1:1-3:22), beginning the last book of the Torah, Sefer D’varim, as Deuteronomy is known in Hebrew. As the portion and the book open, eleh ha’d’varim/these are the words, so that becomes our challenge and our comfort, to use words to connect rather than to divide. As Sefer D’varim, the fifth book of the Torah means literally, the Book of Words.                         From out of confusion, acknowledging our pain in the face of hate, we are called to speak words to heal and not hurt, words to join us one to another. Responding to the small expressions of hate, that are really not so small, as encountered on sidewalks and street corners, whether addressed to us as Jews or to any other person for who they are, may words of love rise above and build soon a temple of peace that is the world itself.
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein





The Uninhabitable Earth

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 10:48
There's a new apocalyptic article on climate change that deserves a reading by all those concerned about the future. Written by David Wallace-Wells, it's called "The Uninhabitable Earth" and first published in New York Magazine. You don't have to believe it all but I wish you would read it all. it's important we consider the way different elements of life on this planet interact with each other in a warming world.
Whereas most articles focus on one dimension of the problem, Wallace-Wells explores them all. So we read about the continuing rise of sea levels with the melting of ice in the arctic. Some consciousness of how Miami and Bangladesh may disappear in the next 50 to 80 years begins to register. We can't ignore the residents of those small island nations already forced to relocate because of encroaching oceans and we can't hide our heads in the sand but must think about the melting permafrost and huge potential methane releases. And as I read the article, I was aware an enormous iceberg has just broken off the Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica, a trillion ton, 2,400 square mile block of ice.
The article raises anew the threat of food scarcity. We're reminded that 20 million will likely die in Africa this year because of the severity of drought and famine in several countries. This, as I read in the local paper, that the forecast for crops in drought stricken South Dakota is down this year; winter wheat down 56%; spring wheat down 32%; oats down 30%. Warming the earth means declining productivity and nothing grows without adequate water.
There is a recognition in the article of how the oceans are being impacted. We're not just talking about ocean acidification, as if that weren't enough. Dead zones are becoming more common, like off the coast of Namibia and the western coasts of North and South America.  We're also watching as the coral reefs bleach and die. The makers of the film "Chasing Ice" have just released a new film, "Chasing Coral." Both films deserve the widest possible distribution as they give us the visual evidence of what we've been hearing.
There's substantial evidence in the article that we face, in this century; a sun that cooks us (literally, heat deaths); new plagues (think Zika and things like anthrax and bubonic plague, presently buried in Alaskan and Siberian ice); unbreathable air (think increasing ozone, CO2, wildfire smoke, fossil fuel releases in the atmosphere); perpetual war (think many more refugees driven by hunger and unlivable situations); economic collapse (think rural economy with limited agriculture; think flights grounded by extreme heat).
I can't do the article justice in a column. You have to read it for yourself. The important thing is the author is taking a far more holistic approach to the subject. You begin to recognize how the Creation works together for good or for ill. But it's all related. As we say in my church, there's an "Integrity to Creation." And if you mess with one part of it there are effects all over the place.
My own denomination, the United Church of Christ, voted at the recent General Synod a resolution on climate change. As a church, we have always believed in the goodness of God's Creation and our call to be good stewards of it. The recent resolution calls on all of our members to recognize the urgency of healing the climate of the earth, and invites all to exercise moral leadership in that healing, both in private life and in the public square.
In our understanding, we don't gain salvation by believing. And we don't get there alone. Christian faith is about proclaiming and manifesting God's realm right here on earth, right where we are. And that includes treating our home with the honor and respect God's good Creation deserves.

Indigenous people have been trying to tell us for ages that we're connected. You can't kill all the buffalo without changing the nature of the plains. You can't dam up the rivers and expect the salmon to spawn. You can't pump toxic wastes into the earth without poisoning underground water supplies. You can't put carcinogens in the environment and expect humans and animals to be cancer free. You can't continue to burn fossil fuels and expect the global temperature to remain stable.
And the best of our religious traditions teach us the same lessons. Understand what it means to over-reach and don't do it. Appreciate and give thanks for what you've been given. Keep it simple. Watch the ego. Limit your needs so they don't become greeds. Give more than you take. Care about others, especially those who come after you. Love your neighbor. The earth is the Lords, not ours to wreck!

Carl Kline

<div class=" flex_vbox" data-reactid="

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 10:39
Our Agenda is Justice  David Phillips Hansen       Our agenda is justice. When the political, economic, and spiritual life of the nation moves toward justice there is joy in the land and the whole body politic is healthier. But today we are confronted by a system of growing inequality and naked injustice. Wealth and power are increasing concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people and corporations. Oppression and exploitation act with impunity. There is work to be done.        At the moment the future is unclear. Will we become a kleptocracy, as many fear, or a democracy? Will we have a government of the wealthy, for the wealthy, by the wealthy? Or, will we be able to defend, preserve and protect a government of the people, for the people, by the people? The answer to these questions may come sooner than we expect. Government and legislative leaders across the land are telling us that children do not need quality public education, health care is not a right but a privilege, and national parks and monuments are not a treasure to preserve but an economic resource to exploit. We are being asked to believe that people are expendable and the earth is a commodity.         But in town hall meetings, congregational gatherings and union halls people are standing up and fighting back. Movements like Black Lives Matter and Resist have taken to the streets and to capital steps. People's courage and commitment is breathtaking. Each of these struggles is necessary. Each is important. What is missing is adequate theological analysis. Our theology is not as helpful as it could be. We need a more adequate understanding of our history. We still want to believe that the United States is "the land of the free and the home of the brave." We want to sing, "My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty. . . .Long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light."       We have yet to grapple with the darker side of our nation's history. We cherish the words of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." These are powerful words that cause emperors to quake and empires to crumble. But we have forgotten that this same document, the Declaration of Independence, labels American Indians "merciless savages," and it goes on to say that their "known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions." We want to forget that many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence also bought and sold human beings in the slave market.         We have not yet come to terms with this side of our history. We have forgotten that there were 70 to 80 million Indigenous Peoples in the Americas when Columbus "discovered" America in 1492. Native People lived here for 20,000 years or more before the dawn of the European Age of Discovery and Domination. We have not yet come to terms with what historian Charles Mann describes as the largest deforestation project in the history of the world, which happened as Euro-Americans moved from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River.           Only recently have we, white people, been willing to acknowledge that Indian boarding schools were by design what historian David Wallace Adams calls, "education for extinction."   The motto of these schools was "Kill the Indian, save the man." Today some Native Peoples call Indian reservations "extermination centers." Extermination centers in the heart of the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have not yet come to terms with this side of our history.         The United States today is a house divided. We have two histories that are met in a single document, the Declaration of Independence. One side extols our virtues, the other side reveals our shame. We have yet to come to terms with the fact that the United States is and was from the beginning a settler nation. White people suffer from what Navajo scholar Mark Charles calls "white trauma." White people are shamed by our history of Indian genocide, Black slavery and ecocide. Because we cannot accept responsibility for our history, we project the myth of American exceptionalism. We tell ourselves that the United States is the last best hope for freedom. We extol the virtues of rugged individualism and the free market. Because we deny the truth about our history, we justify colonial wars in distant lands, and label movements like Black Lives Matter and Resist as terrorist organizations.         Because white people suffer historical trauma, we gave tacit assent to then FBI Director James Comey when he formed an Interagency Terrorism Task Force to investigate and interrogate water protectors, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies who tried to block the North Dakota Access Pipeline. It is not by accident that 480 people were arrested there. Indigenous People were protecting their water and defending the land guaranteed to them by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. In that treaty the U.S. government promised the Indians that the land would be theirs as long as the sun rises in the east and the rivers flow. The Fort Laramie Treaty is one of 370 treaties ratified by the United States Senate. It is noteworthy that the United States has unilaterally violated every one of these treaties. Yet, it was the Native Peoples and their allies who were sprayed with mace, attacked by dogs, shot with rubber bullets, locked in cages, and arrested. What we witnessed at Standing Rock is the increasing militarization of law enforcement and the criminalization of dissent.          We are a nation divided. Lincoln warned long ago that a house divided cannot stand. But there is a balm in Gilead to heal our sin sick soul. Jesus promised that if we tell the truth, the truth will set us free. The prophet Isaiah told us, "beautiful upon the mountain of care are the feet of those who bring good news to the captive." President Obama said that if we love our country we have a responsibility to change it. Dr. King reminded us that "the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for the right."           When we "pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," let us remember that those words were written by Edward Bellamy in 1890. He was a Baptist preacher and a Christian socialist. He wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in the Gilded Age in the hopes that it would spark a moral vision and reign in rampant materialism and excessive individualism. Katherine Lee Bates penned, "My country tis of thee sweet land of liberty," in 1893. She was a lesbian and a Christian socialist.          There is a balm in Gilead to heal our sin sick soul. In March of this year the Jesuits returned 525 acres to the Lakota Sioux Tribe on the Rose Bud Reservation. More recently Andover Newton Theological Seminary reached out to 396 Indigenous tribes and nations with an offer to return stolen items that are housed in its museum. These may seem like small steps but they are important steps. Returning stolen property is an act of justice. It is a sign of hope. It is a healing balm.         It is a sign of hope when people and institutions withdraw funds from banks and financial institutions that seek to profit from pain and injustice. To date more than $5 million has been withdrawn from banks and financial institutions as part of a global effort to defund DAPL. It is a movement that must continue and spread. Energy companies are building pipelines in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In all these places Native Americans are protesting these developments as violations of treaty agreements.         We must connect the fight for interracial justice to the fight for economic justice. We cannot have one without the other. Institutions like the Native American Bank are investing in economic development in indigenous communities. In many states there is renewed interest in public banking and co-operatives. There is growing consensus among economists that the present neoliberal economic system will not last another 40 or 50 years at most. If we want to create a more transparent and democratic economy the time to act is now.         Saint Augustine said long ago that God has given us a world in which there is enough to meet everyone's need, but not enough to satisfy one person's greed. Yet, greed has become the basis for global economic growth. The World Council of Churches reports that every day private financiers exchange $1.5 trillion worth of currency. Less than five percent of that vast sum goes to the creation of actual goods and services.            A rising economic tide does not lift all the boats. It does not end poverty. It exacerbates poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor is as great as the chasm that separated Dives and Lazarus in the parable of Jesus found in Gospel of Luke. It is the power of the wealthy and the weakness of the poor that perpetuates poverty. But there is a balm in Gilead to heal our sin sick soul. The World Council of Churches has produced important study documents we need to use in our churches. The WCC has identified global capitalism as an idolatry. Market Fundamentalism is a misguided faith in the sanctity of private property and power of the so-called "free market." It is a system that privatizes wealth and imposes the burden of cost on the public, while at the same time stealing vital and necessary resources and reserves from the public purse.             To help us better understand what is happening the World Council of Churches proposes that in addition to talking about the poverty line, we also need to talk about the "greed line." When one person's annual income is measured in terms of millions and billions of dollars, when most of a person's income comes from favorable tax codes, royalties and rents, dividends and deferred payments, when those in the front office are earning on average 471 dollars for every dollar paid to the person on the shop floor, we need to talk openly about the connection between greed and poverty.              As a justice-seeking, justice-loving people let us counter the Gospel of Prosperity for the few with a Gospel of Good News for all. The measure of the economy is not the GDP, or the S & P, or the DOW. The true measure of healthy economy is the well-being of the people. We need an economic measuring stick that values access to health care, decent housing, safe communities, good schools, and jobs that pay a living wage.               As a justice-seeking, justice-loving people we need to cherish this good earth. A Native American scholar told me that the difference between white  people and Indians is that white people think the earth belongs to them, Indians think they belong to the earth. Caring for the earth is what makes and keeps us grounded. Our watchwords for the future are cooperation and balance, not competition. We can learn to respect boundaries without making them barriers. Faith communities can be, must be, pioneers in creating a civil society.           In Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Bible,  in the Sermon on the Mount the words of Jesus are unmistakable and clear: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice; for they will be given plenty to chew on." My friends, God has given us plenty to chew on.           Dr. William Barber challenges us with these words: "It is time to dig a little deeper, work a little harder, organize a little better." In the words of Isaiah, "Those who wait on the Lord shall mount up on eagle's wings. " We shall run and not grow weary. We shall walk and not faint. With heads held high we shall sing, "My country 'tis of thee sweet land of liberty."

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 06:06

Entering the GardenRabbi Victor H. Reinstein
I received a simple gift as I prayed the morning prayers. Simple in the way of the old Shaker hymn, “Tis a Gift to be Simple,” needing simplicity within our selves, quiet amidst the clatter and clutter in order to perceive and receive the simple gifts that come to us on wings of serendipity. It is not always, perhaps even only rarely, that response to prayer happens in the very moment of our praying. Perhaps it is simply a matter of our eyes opening and in the prayerful calm of the moment perceiving what we might otherwise have missed. In truth, I didn’t realize at first the beauty of what I had witnessed, nor its meaning. At first, it seemed a distraction, a motion beyond the window of the little prayer room. A small blur of color caught my attention, causing me to look up from words on the page.
Drawing my talis/prayer shawl around me, I stared out the window, at first seeing a woman with a baby stroller. She was looking away from the stroller toward the front garden, as though waiting, ever so patiently, a smile on her face. Only then did I notice the very little girl at the edge of the garden. She could not have been more than two to three years old. A very little girl with short dark hair, a simple blue dress, a smock it seemed, standing there by herself at the edge of the garden, the woman, I assume her mother, standing respectfully back. It seemed to be a moment of decision for the little one, a little decision that must have seemed so big to her, whether to walk past the great big rock by which she stood and enter the garden and be among the flowers.
I watched the drama play out, a baby step forward, one foot extended and then brought back. And then a determined step, crossing the threshold of the garden, passing the great big rock and entering among the flowers. I moved a bit closer to the window, careful not to be seen or to distract. I could see the smile that formed on the mother’s face, and the smile that became the entire face of the little girl. I could feel the smile upon my own face, a smile-become-prayer, become amen to all the words both said and unsaid. Three smiles offered to God, the smile of a little girl, the smile of two adults unknown to each other, each one smiling as sunshine upon the most beautiful flower in the garden.
As mother and daughter continued on their way, I watched for a moment, then returning to my place, what more to say? Looking up, I said “thank you, so beautiful.” As prayer became conversation, as it is meant to be in deepest essence, so I suggested to the Holy One that we might both hold on to that image, that we both might find reason to smile in looking back on that moment amidst all that is not so simple or beautiful in this world. What I really wanted to say then, what tugged at me so deeply, was, “please protect her and all the little ones who are taking their first steps into the world, who are just starting out along the path of life, protect them, please, keep them safe that they might find their way to a flowering garden, a garden of peace that is for us to create.”
I thought of the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Sh’lach L’cha, “Send forth...” (Numbers 13:1-15:41). Moses is told to send forth scouts to scout out the land, one scout from each tribe. A tantalizing phrase, sh’lach l’chacan also mean, “send to yourself….” So the first of the Chassidic writers, disciple of the Holy Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, teaches that the words said to Moses are meant to be for each of us, search out yourself/latur et atzm’cha. It is not about the outer landscape, but about the inner terrain.
So it was the lesson of a mother and her daughter, the wisdom of patience, a sunshine smile to nurture growth. The garden was outer terrain, but only in finding the courage within could the little girl journey forth into the world, and so for us. As we stand and smile with delight at little ones taking first steps, they are waiting for us, wanting to know that the way ahead is safe and if we will make it so. For children all along the way of growing into who they are, they wait for us to create of this world a garden of peace, as it was at the beginning and is meant to be. Allowing distractions to become prayer, essence revealed, may we have the courage of a little girl to step beyond barriers and enter the garden.

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 10:34

Summer Excursion           
 It has become a kind of summer ritual - getting on the fast ferry with my grandkids and leaving “The Rock” for a few hours on a mid-July day to go shopping on the mainland.  We join the masses who are leaving behind their vacation respite on the island and we head for “America.”    The ritual has changed little over the last few years.  It usually manages to fall on the hottest, sunniest, most humid day in July.  We enjoy the cool breeze as the ferry speeds toward its destination.  And then, suddenly, we are disembarking into sizzling heat and humidity again.               First stop - Friendly’s!  and a cool Fribble!   Years ago, there were giggles about blowing bubbles in the milkshake with a straw.   Now the conversation turns to the number of calories in each menu offering, the size of the portions and whether or not it is possible to make a healthy choice here for a mid-morning snack.              Next stop - Staples! and a quick run through to see what is needed in anticipation of the beginning of the school year.  Here the seductive items used to be the biggest boxes of crayons or markers, the Pink Pony pencil boxes and blank note books.  Now the electronics section is the big draw - - and there are many comments about the high prices.            On to Walmart!  The inexpensive DVDs used to be the big draw -and there was always a challenging bit of time in the toy section. Now the conversation runs toward  the shabby quality of much of the merchandise and how do people live on the wages they earn  making so much stuff that has so little value.            No trip off island is complete without stops at TJMAXX and The Christmas Tree Shoppe.  By the end of our shopping tour, we’re all tired and feeling overwhelmed by all the lures of consumption.  The kids compare what life is like on the island - trying to live “normal” lives in the presence of so much excess and unthinking wealth.            As I ponder the expedition on the return trip to the island, I realize that these annual excursions have, indeed, been an educational process for both me and my grandkids.  Whereas the political and economical commentary used to come from me as we made our way through the massive offerings on sale, now the grandkids are pondering the questions of why there is SO much.  They are reading labels and beginning to understand that there are exploited human beings hidden in the shadows of the low prices.  They are beginning to blanch at the price of a small Fribble that has virtually no nutritional value.  Little by little their adolescent dreaminess is awakening to questions about our values and about how we spend our money and about what happens when we are not consciously aware of how we participate in the injustice of poverty and inadequate wages and the ability to afford nutritious food that is not fried!            Meanwhile, back in Washington, political minds seek ways to cut supplemental nutritional assistance programs for people who already cannot afford to put food on the table for their families.  Saving money by getting the poor off of medical assistance programs seems to be the way to go.  Cutting health care for poor pregnant women will make a huge difference in the money Washington has to give to the more deserving wealthy folks at the top.            It is a good day for listening to the voice of the prophet Amos echoing down through the ages:  Thus says the Lord:  For three transgressions and for four, I will not revoke the  punishment: they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes - they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way.... (Amos 2:6-7).            But all is not hopeless.  There are a few courageous voices of resistance.  Somewhere in Washington the prophet still speaks.  May we pray that the prophetic voice will get louder with each passing day.
Vicky Hanjian

Music & Terror

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 14:13
I came home tired from church a few weeks ago. I thought I might take a nap. The television was on to the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. This was the second concert, "One Love Manchester," not the first one where so many were killed and injured by the terror attack. 
Ariana had decided she had to do something positive to redeem that horrible experience. So she recruited musicians from all over to join her in a return concert that would emphasize love over hate. She wanted to respond to terror with the antidote, fearlessness and love. The artists filed onto the stage one after the other to speak some words  of healing and share some music to soothe or stimulate the soul. Even Justin Bieber did himself proud.
Fifty thousand young people were present. Instead of staying in the safety of their homes, they were concert bound again. Many held signs saying "for our angels," for those who lost their lives in the earlier attack.  They were sending those souls to heaven with music, not revenge. It was obvious these young people would not be cowed by the terror rained on their friends and neighbors just short days earlier. It was a festival of fearlessness. For me, it was church again, writ large.
In the meantime, governments and the media used the Manchester bombing as one more occasion for spreading fear and violence. You would think they would know by now that terror thrives on fear? You would think they would know by now that violence breeds violence that breeds more violence? It's a vicious circle. And occasionally we get a glimpse of those who will break the cycle of fear and violence, with their bodies and with music. I saw it at "One Love Manchester." God bless Ariana Grande! God bless them all!
A couple of days after the concert I was on a plane to Mexico. There I met with some thirty people from all over the country. Two were former gang leaders. Some were academics. A few were students. One was an artist; one a lawyer; one a banker. We ranged in age from 21 to 75. We spent nine days together studying and learning nonviolence as a way of life, courtesy of Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus and so many others. I dare say everyone left convinced we don't have to answer violence with violence. There is another way. But in a world where we are usually given just two choices, fight or flight, the alternatives are usually buried or quickly dismissed.
Take the burial and dismissing of important, positive events in the Islamic world. You won't find reporting of these responses to terror on the front (or last) page of the paper. 
On May 27 in Pakistan, Islamic religious scholars issued a unanimous decree that suicide attacks and armed insurgency against a state to impose Islamic rule was forbidden in Islam. The religious edict condemned terrorism and extremism and declared suicide attackers and their supporters as traitors.
After the killings in Manchester, local Muslim leaders walked to St. Ann's Square, a place of remembrance for those who died and laid flowers at the site. They shared remarks, condemning ISIS as an affront to Islam and humanity. They spoke about how Islam rejects suicide bombings. They thanked those who aided the victims and called for unity and strength in the face of terror. Other religious leadership from Christian and Jewish communities joined them.
After attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, Muslims started a fund raising campaign to help the victims and their families. One cited the Koran, "Repel evil with that which is better." It's the same thing Martin Luther King said in an essay he wrote on "How a Christian Overcomes Evil." King said you don't push evil out. You crowd it out with something better.
I do believe most young people would rather be listening to or making music than putting on a suicide belt. There is so much beauty all around us. Are they seeing it? Couldn't we do better in crowding out the ugly with beauty? Couldn't we do better crowding out fear with fearlessness? Couldn't we crowd out the violence with the alternatives of a Gandhi or a Jesus? Couldn't we crowd out the hate with love? 
Couldn't we learn from those fifty thousand young people, crowding out fear and filling our lives with music?
Carl Kline

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 20:20

“They Flew Away, that’s what Birds Do”Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
I worried about them during the night when I awoke to the sound of a hard rain falling. So too, my first thought upon waking in the morning was also about them. I hurried downstairs to check on them after the rains. In the damp morning air, surrounded by the scent of the rhododendrons, I felt panic when I realized they weren’t there. I looked in the bush among the pink flowers and green leaves. I looked on the branches of the trees that ring the yard. They were not there, not upon the garage roof either. I thought perhaps they had taken shelter in the yellow birdhouse hanging from the eaves of the garage, but no, it was empty. I felt sad and lonely, missing our visitors who had been with us such a short time, hoping that nothing untoward had happened, not wanting to think about it. I thought of the neighbor’s cat that visits the yard, thinking I should have done something more to protect them. I called to Mieke, asking her to come out, to stand with me where we had stood through the week and beheld with awe the simple miracle of love and creation, of perseverance and purpose. “They’re gone,” I said. With warm reassurance, Mieke answered, “they flew away, that’s what birds do.”
They were a family of robins that had built such a beautiful nest in the rhododendron bush next to the garage. It looked like a perfectly formed bowl, a basket so skillfully woven. We had watched through the week as the mother bird flew out into the yard to forage, returning quickly with food for the young one whose head we could see peeking up from just below the rim of the nest. It is hard to imagine that the little one could mature so quickly to have already been able to fly away. I thought about all the work that had gone into making the nest. There seemed to be lessons to be learned in the willingness of these little creatures to leave it all behind. I thought about the give and take of nest making and of the depth of attachment that most of us have to the things of this world. I wondered if they just assumed that they would make another in whatever place they came to next. Perhaps leaving a nest once built is part of the give and take of being a bird. I wondered if other birds make use of a nest left behind, if a new feathered-family would dwell where others had dwelled before, raising their young where others had nurtured little ones before. I felt grateful for the generosity of our robins, a gift simply to behold the intricate beauty of the nest left behind.
I thought of the Mishkan, the desert sanctuary made to be portable that our ancestors carried with them on the desert journey. Taking in the Torah/Teachingof the birds, I reflected on the difference, one holy dwelling to be left behind when life’s journeys resumed, and another to be taken along until arriving at the next stopping place. The Mishkan is a as a nest as well, a place in which the Sh’chinah as God’s mothering presence might alight, a spirit-nest woven of love, a place in which our souls can rest and be nourished, then to travel on. That’s what people do, they journey on to the next stage in life, taking what we can with us, what we have learned, and, hopefully, leaving behind a trace of beauty simply woven that tells of our having been.
In the Torah portion, Parashat B’ha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), we are told of the day on which the Dwelling Place was raised up, all of its parts woven together, a vessel in which spirit might dwell. The raising up of the Mishkan is expressed in the passive, and without a subject, without a name. We are not told that Moses raised up the Dwelling Place, but simply, uv’yom hakim et ha’mishkan/on a day that the Mishkan was raised up. There is no definite article, simply on a day, any day, a day unbound by time. Whenever we create a dwelling place of love and caring, we raise up a Mishkan, a sacred nest, whether it be in a moment of not so random connection, strangers exchanging a smile, a helping hand offered, a song for justice and good offered into the wind and among the people, guests invited to the Sabbath table. Sometimes we take the dwelling with us, and sometimes we leave it behind, the sweet song of little birds to remind, it is okay, whichever way is right in that time and place, and then to another. Transience and uncertainty are part of life, the way of our journeys. Just after the timeless call to raise up the Mishkan, we are told that according to the word of God did the children of Israel journey, and according to the word of God did they camp(Numbers 9:18). It is the uncertainty of life, never knowing, even though we think we do, when change will come, when we journey and when we camp. Nor do we know in the grand weave of life when our very soul will take wing and make its way home, because that’s what souls do.
Would that we could know as the little birds know, “they flew away, that’s what birds do.” As I stood there in the mist of the morning, looking at the empty nest, touched by Mieke’s reassuring wisdom, I thought of an old folk-song that Pete Seeger, of blessed memory, sang, a song called “Little Birdie:”
 Little birdie, little birdie, what makes you fly so high? It’s because I am a true little birdie, And I do not fear to die….
Little birdie, little birdie,Come sing to me a song.I’ve a short while to be here,And a long time to be gone.
In the time we have, in all the places we go, may we weave a nest of love and let it be our raising up of the Mishkan, a sanctuary for God and people, and until they fly away to take their teaching elsewhere, for all the little birds as well.

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 14:00

What kind of people are we?          I was struck by a story that I saw on the MSNBC program The Last Word. on June 23, 2017.  In this program the host, Ari Melber, interviewed Karen Clay and her son, Mike Phillips. Michael suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He lives at home, in Florida, with his mother. Over the last 30 years Michael's disease has progressed and his care and treatment has become more complicated. Medicaid has made it possible for him stay at home and for Karen to remain his primary care giver. This situation will change dramatically and drastically if the Republican plan becomes law.      The focus of the interview was what will happen to Michael if the Republican health care bill is enacted. Karen explained that there is no facility in Florida that can care for Michael. He would have to be moved out of state and institutionalized. His level of care would deteriorate and the cost for his care would increase--a lot. The family would be uprooted.      As I listened to the interview I could not help but think of a passage in the Gospel according to Matthew. In the twenty-fifth chapter Jesus is reported to say to the disciples, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (25: 40, NIV).     We tend to interpret the words from Matthew 25 in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). Remember that parable begins with a legal scholar asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, meaning not just a life after death, but life in the here and now. It is an existential question. What do I need to do in the here and now to have a life with God? Jesus answers this question with the story of a man beaten and robbed and left to die in a ditch at the side of the Jericho road. One religious person sees him lying in the ditch and passes by on the other side of the road, and then a second person comes along and he too goes to the opposite side of the road. But when the Samaritan comes he sees the man in the ditch and goes to him, binds his wounds and takes him to the inn and tells the inn keeper to take care of him, promising to compensate the inn keeper for any expenses that he incurs as a result of his care for this person. Jesus then asks the question, “Who was the neighbor to this man?” The answer, of course, is the Samaritan.  The parable concludes with Jesus instructing the person who asked the question, and by extension us, “Go and do likewise” (10: 37, NIV).     With the parable of the Good Samaritan in mind, when we read the words in Matthew 25, it is natural that we should think that we are called to feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, visit those who are in prison and so on. Dr. King famously said that day will come when we have to build a new road so that travelers will not be left in the ditches. Understandably we want to be the people who build that new road, but until then we will follow the pattern set by the Good Samaritan.     We want to do our best to be faithful to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want to live by the Golden Rule and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Wendell Berry says: "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." It's common sense. But it is more than common sense. We are bleeding hearts. Karl Marx who once said that religion is the opiate of the masses also said: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless world." Many religious scholars and preachers have told us that compassion and empathy are the core of our faith and the keys to understanding the gospel. And we believe that.  This is why Michael and Karen's story is so powerful.     But then, when I remembered the passage in Matthew 25: 40, I had to ask myself: What about the guy in the ditch? What about the people who live on the margins of society and in the economic shadows? What about the people who are victims of injustice. What about people who live in daily fear of police violence? What about "those people" who are, the words of Jesus, "the least of these?" What about them?       Reverend Deenabandhu Manchala,  now with the World Council of Churches, helps us interpret these words of Jesus when he talks about "Mission at and from the margins." As he explains, those of us in the West tend to think that our mission flows from a position of power, privilege, and possession. Our mission is to help those who are less fortunate than we are. Thus, when I was a child my church had a program called SOS, which stood for "Share our Surplus." Then we had another offering called "Neighbors in Need," that was to help the less fortunate. These were ministries enabled by power, privilege, and possession.     Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers. His brothers sold him into slavery. Over a period of time and after many trials Joseph worked his way to a position of responsibility in the government of Egypt. He became the Secretary of Agriculture. When famine came upon the people of Israel, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to beg for food that they could take home to a desperate people. This may be the very first story about an international relief mission in biblical history. Joseph famously does not reveal his true identity to his brothers until the very end of the story. Then, after he has given them food to take home, he reveals his true identity in a dramatic moment and he says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me. But God intended it for good" (Gen. 5: 20, NIV).       From the surplus of Egypt, Joseph was able to help his brothers and save his family. A well-known business consultant has famously said that we must do well before we can do good. Joseph was only able to help his brothers because he had done well. We have learned over the years to think of mission in this way. We have to do well before we can do good. But what does that say about the “least of these.” Are they among us simply to be the object of our mission? Are we the instruments of God’s mercy, and the least of these the object of God’s mercy? Is that the message of the Bible?     During the MSNBC interview, Michael Phillips was intubated and lying flat on a table. But Michael was very aware of his situation and his surroundings. He participated in the interview. He was very articulate, eloquent in fact. If you had not see him lying in front of you flat on the table and unable to move you would not have known his condition. But there he was. After listening to Michael's story and to the words of his mother, Aril Melber, the host, was close to tears as he asked, "What kind of nation are we?" What kind of people are we? What have we become that we are debating the need for access to adequate, affordable health care?      What did Jesus mean when he said, "As you do unto the least of these brothers, you do unto me." We tend to focus on the first part of the sentence--doing unto the least of these. But the second part of the sentence is equally important, "you do unto me." Jesus is identifying himself with the least of these—the people who are marginalized, the people who are sinned against, people who are the most vulnerable, people who are the victims of injustice.     The mission of the church is not limited to charity, sharing our surplus or whatever else we want to call it. The mission of the church is to expose injustice. The mission of the church is to expose the hardness of heart that would make Michael’s health care a subject of national debate in a nation that prides itself on being the richest country in the history of the world.
 What kind of people are we? What kind of nation have we become?
      Following the way of Jesus is about making life changing choices. There are lots of Michael’s in this world and there will be many more to come. We can say that his situation is unfortunate and we are truly sorry for that, but we can’t help everyone who is in need. That’s one option. A second option is to say we will do our best to do what we can for “the least of these,” recognizing our own limited resources and the myriad responsibilities that we each have. Random acts of kindness are much better than random and not so random acts of cruelty. Something is lot better than nothing. A half a loaf is more than no loaf. But there is a third option. As you do to the least of these you do to me. God stands in solidarity with the hungry, the poor, the prisoner, the stranger, the unwelcome and the unwanted, the outcasts and yes, “the least of these” because it is here that community is formed. Here on the margins character is tested and shaped and formed. Here is where we answer the question: What kind of people are we?      From a faith perspective government is not the “art of compromise.” The purpose of government is the pursuit of the common good.  And, the measure of the economy is the well-being of the people.
What kind of people are we? We are about to find out.
David Phillips Hansen

Living Nonviolence