Friday, June 24, 2022

Pharaohs

     The ancient Egyptians believed in a life after death. They believed that you would return in the same body; the reason for mummification. And just in case the body still decayed beyond recognition, they would include in the burial place a statue of the pharaoh, or the noble man or woman. Of course, only those at the top of the social hierarchy, received the luxury of elaborate tombs and pyramids.
It was also important that the deceased were able to enjoy the same privileges and wealth in the after-life, as they were enjoying before death. In order to insure this royal lifestyle, things of value were buried with them, including servants.

      “Retainer sacrifices” were used to demonstrate the power a pharaoh had during life, and death. The “retainers” might be members of the harem, court officials, or those with the status of slaves. They might be volunteers or were simply slain. Since the pharaoh was viewed as a living God, to accompany him into the next life, in the understanding of some, would raise the status of the servant as well. Many went willingly, believing the pharaoh would become an eternal king and assure them of eternal life as well.
Although we have a tendency to dismiss ideas like “pharaohs” and “retainer sacrifices” as relics of the past, in doing so we miss some fundamental human realities and contemporary similarities.      
I’m thinking, of course, of modern day pharaohs like Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jung Un. They all have inflated egos that put them in the realm of the Gods and allow them to sacrifice others as they deem necessary.
     I’m thinking, especially in light of the revelations from the January 6 Committee, about Mike Pence. Here is a man who was absolutely loyal to the President for four years; until he was asked to relinquish his allegiance to a higher loyalty, the constitution and his oath to protect it. How was his past loyalty to Trump rewarded? He was thrown under the bus! Because Pence couldn’t stomach lying about his authority to stop or stall the electoral count, he was given over to the “proud Boys” and their gallows, with the chant “hang Mike Pence” echoing through the U.S. Capitol. If Trump was going to be buried, you’d better believe there would be some retainer sacrifices.  

 

The real RINO in this country is Donald Trump. Republicans, at least traditionally, believe the supreme power in government is held by the people and their elected representatives, not by some autocrat in the White House. Mike Pence and Liz Cheney are Republicans in the best sense of the word. They don’t give their loyalty to a pharaoh, but to the people and their founding document. They have the courage of their convictions. One could hope that other Real Republicans would follow their lead, but higher loyalty seems lost in Trumpian fear. In the absence of Republican courage, many in our country seem fated to become retainer sacrifices. They will go with their God-man into the next life, and probably take plenty of others with them.


     Which brings me to a word with my Christian brothers and sisters in the evangelical community; particularly those who seem to believe this former President is somehow a special emissary from God to make us a truly Christian nation. As my grandmother and even my father used to say, it’s in the deeds not the words.
     Donald Trump has left us a bitterly divided country! We aren’t able, together, to discern truth from lies, evidence from falsehood. We are a bitterly divided country! People of color: black, brown, yellow, and red, are increasingly under threat as racism and hate escalates. We are a bitterly divided country! We can’t mobilize to face the challenges of economic disparity and climate catastrophe, as partisan politics and MAGA madness keeps the spotlight. We are a bitterly divided country! The religious right demonizes democrats as antichrist, ignoring the fruit of a satanic spirit in their midst; while more progressive Christians feel unwilling or unable to break the culture wars communication barrier. We are a bitterly divided country! We are on the path to losing our commitment to democracy to a commitment to the assault weapon.
     We would be wise to recognize that in every age there are those who would be King, at any price. They will want to demonstrate their power and position by offering their subjects up to the gallows and taking as many retainer sacrifices with them as possible into the realms of death. At base, their fear of death is so extreme they want lots of company. And unfortunately, many of their subjects are so enraptured they will follow without objection. 

Carl Kline
 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Weather

 
After work last Thursday we decided to have a take-out meal. I went to get it while my wife secured some chairs and newly purchased flowers in the back yard. We were being warned a storm was coming with some serious wind; the radio said 90 mph was possible. As I left the car to go into the restaurant to get our order, I felt a sizable push from behind. Looking to the south, I was transfixed by the look of the sky; dark as the dead of night but with a leading brown edge that made one think of the dirty thirties. I hurried into the store, got our meals as quickly as possible and hurried home. Almost as soon as we closed and locked the door, the siren sounded and we headed for the basement.

As we tried to find someplace to sit and a table of some kind for our food, we could hear the howling roar of the wind outside. Then, the lights went out! Standing in the dark with your dinner in a bag, with a raging wind outside and the sound of things hitting the house, is not the best way to share a meal. Fortunately, although it was hard hitting, the derecho was also fast moving. As we could gradually begin to see out the window in the cellar door, we made our way back upstairs.

With the help of a few candles and the slowing of the wind outside, we were able to eat our meal together at the dining room table; not in front of the TV watching the 6:00 news.

We were almost 24 hours without electricity. It makes you aware of how dependent we are on that source of energy and light. Our small upstairs bathroom without electricity is like being in a dark closet with the door closed. There was no hot water for my evening tea. There were worries about the food in the freezer as well as the refrigerator. There was no computer! There was no TV! There was no radio! There was no news! There was no indication how long this might last! One battery powered lamp allowed reading; a fitting book, Falter by Bill McKibben.

It wasn’t till the next morning in the light of day that we realized how much damage had been done. Trees were down all over the neighborhood. Too many were resting on damaged homes. So many pines! Looking at the root systems pulled out of the ground when the trees fell, one could understand why they fell. The roots seemed shallow and not very long. In wet soil from the previous rains, it was a wonder so many pine trees survived. Then, pulling sticks out of our yard, some of them shot into the earth as if from a gun, there was further evidence of the strength of the blast.

Two of our neighbors homes have just enough space between them to hold a full grown pine. That’s exactly how it fell. All the way from the boulevard, it dropped across the sidewalk right in that narrow  alley between the homes. That seemed the exception. Many were not so fortunate.

Our 24 hours without electricity reminded me that a good portion of the world is always without electricity; an estimated 13 % or 940 million people. Then there are those places where electricity is irregular. You may have to do your cooking first thing in the morning for the whole day and hope the power stays on till you finish. Or you may have to use the internet at night while most people are asleep.

One of my fondest memories about electric light was the night I stayed with a family in a small rural village on the banks of a draught stricken river in India. We were honored with an evening welcoming ceremony in the dirt-hard center of the little community. They had just been electrified. To their obvious delight, there was one light bulb hanging in the middle of our circle. People clapped and cheered as it was turned on for our welcoming.That was the same poor village where my host family fed me their evening meal (sitting and smiling and watching me eat), and then provided me a cot for sleep in the outer room with the family cow. It’s also the village where the Gods were arranged along the cliff overlooking the dried-up river bed, where they would hopefully encourage rain, enable a crop and ward off starvation.

There is a difference to a life style that rises with the sun and retires when the sun disappears. There is a difference to the way one interacts with the natural world when you are part of it, rather than encased in one of human invention. Perhaps if we voluntarily turned off the lights, and the TV, and the computer, and our phones more, we would see what we are slowly losing.

Once, with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, I lived for a few days with Nicaraguans, refugees in their own country. Driven out of their homes by the Contras they had set up a temporary community close enough to the armed conflict that they had to post security around their living space. Still, several had died, killed by the contra.

We were invited to participate in a prayer service for the dead. We met under a shelter as the rains started, only to find they intended for all of us to walk to the places where members were killed, to offer prayers there. Slipping and sliding in the mud, we walked from place to place. We offered prayers and our bodies to the elements. We were drenched to the bone.

It’s the most meaningful prayer service I’ve ever attended!

In short, weather at its best, or worst, invites us to witness; that we are part of the natural world, try as we might, to escape.

Carl Kline
 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Pentecost

 

There was an air of excitement and expectation buzzing as people entered the sanctuary.  The space was filled with hundreds of origami peace cranes floating from the chandeliers and the arching curve of the chancel above the pulpit.  With Covid restrictions relaxing a bit, larger numbers of still masked bodies filled the pews.  With each person’s entry into the sanctuary the buzz of energy grew in intensity.   Pentecost Sunday.

During the past month, preaching themes have been centered in peacemaking - making peace in our relationships, in ourselves, and in the world.  Bible studies on the stories of Joseph and his brothers kept us conscious of how complex the process of forgiveness can be - - how long it may take to come to fruition, how necessary forgiveness is for peace to prevail.

At the center of the service was the offering of a newly revised Beloved Community Covenant, the product of more than a year of focus and concentration as the congregation’s leaders worked to develop a structure for guiding our life together as a spiritual community committed to lovingkindness, extravagant hospitality, food and housing equity, racial justice, and compassionate nonviolent conflict resolution.

Although we did not sing it, the closing phrase from the Doris Akers hymn of the ‘60s kept flowing in my brain: “without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived when we shall leave this place.”  I came away feeling personally renewed, energized for the challenges of living in this terribly stressed world.


Revival - it conjures images of a week-long event, loud, energetic exhortation, hands in the air praise, crowds of worshippers testifying and witnessing, lives changed in an instant, personal transformation.  But that kind of revival doesn’t focus on the communal life of a congregation and its ministry in the world.  The revitalization of a worshipping community doesn’t happen quite that spontaneously.  It takes a conscious and focused effort, rigorous self examination, willingness to expend precious time and energy in behalf of the life of the community, openness to the movement of a Spirit greater than the human effort, submission to the lively guidance of that Spirit in the service of the building of beloved community.  

In the life of this congregation, the coming weeks and months will attest to the effectiveness and power of a dynamic time of worship and a renewed commitment to live as beloved community.


The January 6th hearings have begun.  We watched last night as every major channel except FoxNews put the opening statement of the committee before the American people.  As I reflected on what is required for the revitalization and transformation of a small New England congregation, the profound level of self-examination, the nurturing of the ability to forgive, the willingness seek restorative justice, the herculean effort to route out racial bias, I wondered if uncovering the events of January 6 might have the power to begin the process of renewal in our national politics.  (One can dream, can’t one?)  

For our little congregation, so much begins with truth telling, with coming to the table with authenticity and a desire for a wholeness - communal and individual.  So much depends on our willingness and ability to trust one another, on our willingness to commit to the hard work of living in covenant with each other.

We have lost that in our national politics.

From the covenant document our church is using: “Covenants can create a web of loving relationships, so that how we treat each other becomes an expression of our faith…We strive to be kind and compassionate and to honor the diversity within our congregation, recognizing that any lack of respect for one another can undermine our pursuit of beloved community. In the last few years, white supremacy, racial discrimination, systemic racism, and unconscious bias have been at the forefront of our attention.  They can and do weaken our sense of community…this new covenant recognizes these differences and dynamics and expresses our intention to be accountable to each other in the work of creating and sustaining Beloved Community.  We confess that we err and often fall short of our aspirations.  But we believe we are held together by grace, and uphold the faith that together we can build and rebuild a beloved community today  and for years to come.”

Creative and restorative visions often start out small - - maybe even as small as the one held by a little New England congregation, desiring to live together in a “yeastly way” - - trusting that its efforts will leaven a larger loaf in ways yet unseen. 

Pentecost    “…I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…

Back to hoping and dreaming  again…perhaps carrying a vision…a congress willing to hear and tell the truth; willing to respect one another; willing to keep in front of them the wholeness of a nation; willing to make the sacrifices of ego and power required to begin to build beloved community in a wounded and suffering country.  To paraphrase the old song from" South Pacific: "We have to have a dream.  If we don't have a dream, how are we going to have a dream come true???"

Vicky Hanjian



 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Miseducated

 Brandon P. Fleming is the assistant coach of debate at Harvard University and founder of the nationally acclaimed Harvard Diversity Project. He’s written a memoir called Miseducated.  After reading it, my daughter initiated a more focused learning process in her third grade classroom. She decided she had to better prepare her students to communicate their opinions with each other and listen respectfully to those who disagree. Perhaps the difficulty adults have these days, respectfully disagreeing, and discussing and resolving their differences in a respectful way, was a motivating factor for her as well.

One of the classroom “debates” they had recently concerned soccer and kickball on the playground. Three of her students returned from recess angry and upset because the teachers on playground duty chose the teams. They wanted to pick their own teams. So, my daughter suggested they have a class debate and the three students went to work, diligently writing down their reasons for their opinion. The other students did the same. As each one read their opinion, the others listened respectfully, to discover all of the other class members preferred teacher selection, as it was fairer to everyone.

My daughter tells me these third graders don’t argue. They are learning to say “I agree,” and “I disagree.” If only the United States Senate could act like her third graders! When is the last time they lived up to their label as the world’s greatest deliberative body? Most of the time there are only a few senators in the chamber and they aren’t really listening anyway!

Instead of spending her time reading Miseducated, some would prefer my daughter spend her time being “highly trained” with a weapon. Donald Trump recommended it at the recent NRA convention. He believes teachers should conceal and carry. He doesn’t mention that “highly trained” police with body armor stood outside a school where 21 children and teachers were slaughtered for forty five minutes. He also does a disservice to the memory of all those teachers and administrators who have sacrificed their lives for those in their care, in similar shootings. Isn’t it enough, that teachers have to shepherd their children through “active shooter drills” these days? How distressing to children and teachers is that?


Public education is taking political hits as well as bullets. It’s the ban books, ban guns divide. Our South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem, was also speaking at the NRA Convention. She attacked advocates of gun safety legislation. "Let me tell you the truth about the enemies of the Second Amendment,” she told the NRA members. “They are schooled in the ways of Marx and Lenin.”

Her attitude has increasingly been that South Dakota public education, through higher education, focuses too much on the past (genocide, slavery, anything evil and distressing, etc.) and not enough on this country as the greatest in human history. She’s a book banner! I’m sure she’d like to ban some teachers as well. This, as we suffer our 27th  school shooting of 2022. With her sense of threat to students from Marxist-Leninists, it is easy to purchase assault weapons.

Dear Governor Noem, and your mentor Donald Trump: do you realize the AR-15 was made to explode human bodies in warfare? Do you know that DNA samples were sought from parents at Uvalde so authorities could identify unrecognizable children with their parents? The weapon was used in Vietnam, blowing off the heads and dismembering the Vietcong, or making the torso one big hole. Let us all look at the pictures taken inside the Uvalde classroom. Make them Public! If we’re going to have to live with a disturbed 18 year old purchasing these weapons, at least let us see the reality of what they do.

And if you insist on banning books rather than assault weapons, please include the Bible. Maybe you haven’t read it, but there are some very disturbing scenes in it. I think immediately of the Levite’s Concubine. It’s gruesome! What might a 12 year old girl think, reading that account, without a caring teacher helping her understand some of the harsh realities of our patriarchal past? Or, I’m not sure we would want some 10 year old boys learning how to slay their giants with a slingshot. You remember the story of incest, right? And when you think about it, crucifixion is a rather violent and distressing subject, without context and understanding.

“The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law abiding citizens,” so said Donald Trump to the NRA Convention. The existence of evil, for Christians, is the very best reason to arm oneself with the Gospel of peace, following the way of Jesus. The existence of evil is the very best reason to arm our teachers with wisdom, caring and compassion. And if citizens are really law abiding according to the Ten Commandments, why would they even want a gun? Their purpose prepares one to kill; the intention is there! And armed political vigilantes are not good role models for our children. 

Give me a caring teacher, modeling alternatives to weapons, any day.

Carl Kline

 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Abortion

 

  My father was one of a large brood of boys. I was named after one of them, an uncle who worked in a clothing store. Maybe because I was his namesake, I spent several weeks in the summertime with him and aunt Mary. I didn’t know the other uncles personally, only heard stories about them.

One story I’ll never forget was about my uncle Charlie. He was an alcoholic. He was also the maker of a brood. Because he had difficulty supporting the family he already had, as money for food often went for alcohol instead, his wife was in despair about a new and unwanted pregnancy. Since abortion was illegal, she took matters into her own hands with a coat hanger. My father sat with her in the hospital as she bled to death; and Charlie was drunk, somewhere.

Years ago, partly because of that family story, I joined the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies. Since abortions were illegal in the U.S. at that time, our role as clergy was to counsel with women about their pregnancy, why they saw it as a problem, and work with them to consider their options. We looked at all the possibilities, including adoption and abortion. Our role was not to convince them of what to do, but help them make the decision. Then we provided suggestions and resources that would help with their choice.

If a woman chose abortion, we provided them with the details of trustworthy clinics, usually in Canada or England. It was evident from my time with the CCSPP, that only financially secure women were able to afford a plane trip to another country, on top of the expense of the procedure. (Sometimes the potential father was all too happy to foot the bill. “Here’s the money … just get off my back!”) In the days before Roe, poor women faced the dangers of coat hangers and back alley butchers.

I can only speak for the women I saw. None of them took the abortion choice lightly. To a person, they were in desperation for many different reasons. Decisions were taken with careful consideration, even though the emotional baggage was intense. In all of my counseling sessions, only one male was present. My memory is, all the other males were now absent from the relationship altogether, or were making her take care of it. It was no longer a male problem.

One of my issues with making abortion illegal again is, “what about the guy?” There is a move in Louisiana to make abortion a “homicide.” The legislation gives “personhood” to the fertilized egg. If it’s fertilized, doesn’t the male have some responsibility to this unborn offspring? Did he try to stop the “murder,” or did he pay for and encourage it? Shouldn’t there be something in the legislation about the guy, and jail time?

Interesting enough, the Representative introducing the bill in the Louisiana House, Danny McCormick, has also been known to advocate shooting protestors, and as owner of the M & M Oil Company, is opposed to incentives for wind and solar projects. Apparently, violence to the earth with fossil fuel profits is OK.

That’s another problem I have with those who would make abortion illegal. Kill protestors or criminals, and always support the fossil fuel industry as it rapes the earth; and for God’s sake, we need nuclear weapons! The advocates for fertilized eggs are so often missing when there’s the violence of poverty and racism and guns and war; but let the sperm filled egg alone.

And what about the case of rape and incest? Doesn’t it make a difference if a child is conceived in love or violence? Incest and rape are the most under-reported crimes in this country, with 1 in 4 girls sexually abused before the age of 18, and 1 out of 7 boys. If a fetus is aborted, will a rapist who delivered the semen have to serve a longer prison sentence? (It’s unlikely the rapist will be convicted in the first place. Just six per cent of reported rapes result in jail time.) And how often are incest cases reported? How many abortions are sought because an estimated 10 per cent of American families host incest?

What if we went after the reasons a woman seeks an abortion? We could start in the home. We could make it clear as a society we don’t tolerate sexual abuse in the family, of any kind, just as we are making it clear in religious communities. Exposure does wonders for changing behavior.

And what if we taught our boys right behavior with girls. What if we taught them the difference between “yes” and “no.” What if we curbed widespread pornography? What if we made males as responsible for their actions as girls are forced to be, as the carriers of male pleasure.

Men sitting on our highest court who have been implicated and escaped charges of sexual abuse should recuse themselves on this case. If not, I agree with the person who proposed that, “all women who care about their right to choose go on a sex strike, married or not. For the men who support them, call your representatives and express your unhappiness.”



 

In the end, those who read Scripture should know that God breathes the breath of life into the newborn. Before that, their mother breathes for them.

 Carl Kline





Friday, May 20, 2022

"The Pause That Refreshes..."

 

There are two somewhat renowned intersections on the island.  One  is the notorious “5 Corners” and the other is the intersection of the Edgartown Road and State Road. There are no traffic  control lights.  If entrenched island custom holds, there never will be.  Drivers, especially during the height of the summer season, approach each intersection with cautious trepidation. Islanders’ conversation about summer traffic often leads to the revelation of driving strategies like taking the long way around in order to avoid making left turns across traffic.  Traffic jams are a given.

The arrival of a ferry, full of cars with drivers anxious to reach their destination after a long trip followed by a 45 minute crossing from the mainland, increases the challenge of moving through 5 Corners.  Drivers push their way through the intersection, often ignoring stop signs and creating a dangerous snarling gridlock.  Islanders know to schedule their trips into town to avoid the arrival of a boat.

But something else happens at these overloaded intersections that seems instructive for life.  With traffic backed up in several directions, a driver will simply pause and permit cars to make a turn in front to her - - perhaps allow several cars to get through the intersection before continuing on her way - - and the traffic begins to flow smoothly again. Just a brief stop to allow a few cars to make their turns and move into the flow of traffic and the potential traffic jams and delays are diffused. At the Edgartown Road and State Road intersection this often results in a kind of choreographed ballet as other drivers get the idea.   A spirit of creative cooperation prevails.

Pedestrians frequently play an unwitting role in the flow of traffic, especially at 5 Corners.   Cars have to stop to permit them to cross the busy intersections safely.  When this happens, vehicles in other lanes have a chance to make their turn into the flow of traffic and things keep moving, albeit at a snail’s pace, especially during the summer months.  The minute pauses make a difference.

Across the busy summer months, there are so any opportunities for either chaos or cooperation as   
supermarkets and restaurants and beaches fill to bursting with human energy, both positive and negative.  Every resource is taxed almost beyond its limits.  When Labor Day arrives and the crowds begin to return home, it is as though the island exhales.  The off-season “pause that refreshes” begins.  The beaches are liberated from millions of foot prints and gulls prevail once again.  Business owners challenged by too many demands and too few workers begin to breathe a little more easily. With the change of seasons and the return of a relative peace and calmness, the island heads into the winter months of rest and restoration.

Our Torah reading group focused on the portion called Behar (Leviticus 25) last evening.  It is one of the shorter portions, a mere 55 verses or so, but its emphasis on restorative balance is critical for our time.  The principle of sabbath is reiterated over and over again.  The Divine Imperative brings order and balance to the land and to people through the command to allow rest to happen.  For the health of the land and for the health of the humans who inhabit it,  a regular pause in all activity is crucial.  A sabbatical rest allows the land to recover.  There is a good reason for a sabbatical from various forms of employment so workers can rest and rejuvenate.   A sabbath rest restores a certain fundamental liberty from the pressures on the land, from the pressures of constant labor.

It may be a huge leap from a momentary pause on the part of a thoughtful driver to the notion of a generous sabbath pause for a land and for its people but there is a relationship between how we attend to the smaller details of life and how we treat one another and the planet.  

The sacred texts do not invite us to pause - - they command it.   The wisdom behind the texts is in the service of all humankind.  It is in our own best interest to slow down, to pause, to feel ourselves as part of a larger flow of life - to take time to rest and restore ourselves - and even more importantly to find ways to allow the environment around us to be left alone to rest and replenish itself as well.   

It is Friday.  At sundown Shabbat begins.  25 hours in which a great and graceful permission is given to rest.    Would that humankind could do and hear the command to pause and allow the flow of human life and the life of the planet a time of restoration.


Vicky Hanjian








Friday, May 13, 2022

"What has been lost?"

 


We returned on Saturday, about a week ago, from a lovely road trip with dear friends through parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. In a succession of 75 degree days, the redbud was in bloom everywhere and spring was much more “there” than it was "here" when we returned to the island.

Our travel day at the end of the trip was long.  An hour long drive to the Philly airport; 5 1/2 hours on the train to Boston South Station; a 1 1/2 hour wait for the bus to Woods Hole followed by  1 1/2 hours on the bus and then the final 45 minute leg of the journey on the SS Martha’s Vineyard.  A wintry and foggy wind blew me up hill all the way to where we had parked our car for the week.   When we awoke on Sunday morning, it was clear the week of travel had caught up with us as we crawled toward breakfast in a state of weariness bordering on exhaustion.   We opted for ZOOM for morning worship and then set about unpacking and tending to the accumulated laundry.


Word of advice  - -  in a state of sleep deprivation do not attempt to do any task that requires thoughtful sorting of laundry!!   As I pulled the wet clothing out of the washer, I noticed a strange dark lump in the load.  It turned out to be my husband’s “little black book,”  the most recent iteration of the pocket calendar he has carried in his pocket for more than 60 years.  The significance of this loss will be most real to United Methodist ministers of a certain age who, in another time, before the advent of smart phones, could not live without that small pocket calendar on their person at all times.

45 minutes later, I pulled the laundry from the dryer - and discovered another strange lump,  this time in the pocket of my husband’s jeans.  His wallet was also victim to my sleep-deprived
inattention to detail.  I have joined the ranks of the money launderers!  Also the launderers of drivers’ licenses and family photos and credit cards, all of which we were able to successfully dry out.  

Not so the pocket calendar.  It sits on the kitchen counter, slowly drying, pages stuck together - accusing me every time I look at it.  

Those little pocket calendars, accumulated over 60 years, carry the skeletal bones of our lives.  Meetings, medical appointments, birthdays, deaths, family celebrations, holidays, vacations - a life history of a marriage in “shorthand.”  The loss of even one creates a hole in a store of memories that cannot be refilled, especially as we age.


My thoughts roam to the multitudes of Ukrainian families displaced by war, homes bombed and burned, making rapid departures bringing only what they could carry.  I mourn the loss of one “little black book” - which can probably be reconstructed.  I can’t begin to imagine the grief that colors all of life with the loss of precious family mementos, heirlooms from the past, beloved books, precious toys and security blankets, the sense of place and belonging that come with a stable home in a familiar community.   Even with the aspirational thoughts of making the aggressor pay reparations, there is no way to recover the irreplaceable minutiae that make up the “face” of a community’s or a family’s life.  The losses set in motion a grief that will live far into the future - - into the coming generations who will not be able to leaf through an old family album or enjoy some curious bit of memorabilia passed down through several generations.   The war is stealing the memories of families and communities, the many bits and pieces of their lives, if not their lives themselves, replacing them with trauma.

Last night over dinner our Torah study group discussed “Emor,” the prescribed reading for this week.  It occurs near the end of the Book of Leviticus.  It is full of difficult teachings that are troubling in our day - but something emerged from our discussion.  Albeit, taken out of the context of the prior verses, verses 31-33 of Chapter 22 seemed to leap off the page: I am the Lord.  And you shall keep my commands and do them. I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name, and I shall be hallowed in the midst of you.  I am the Lord Who hallows you, bringing you out of the land of Egypt to be God for you.  I am the Lord.

 As I keep turning these phrases over and over in my mind, I wander back to the early chapters of Genesis where the text affirms that humankind is created in the image of God - b’tzelim elohim.
After much rumbling around, the connections are made. When we “profane” another human being, or another human community, we “profane”the image of God - - our guiding metaphor for holiness. Our own holiness as beings created in a divine image is transgressed - and that transgression tramples on Divine Holiness.

War, in all its forms, profanes the image of God as it destroys human life and the quality of human life.  It tramples Holiness in the dust.   It is unholy.

In a day or two, thanks to Amazon, another “little black book” will arrive in the mail.  It will be tedious, but we will be able to re-construct our immediate history of the last 6 months.  I wonder “What will it take to restore the memories of so many lives when the war has run its devastating course?”  “What will it require of the larger human family to serve so many families who have lost so much?”  “What kinds of memories will replace all that has been lost?”

Vicky Hanjian