Friday, September 15, 2017

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

In the Fullness of Nonviolence
Transcending 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

Monday, August 28, 2017


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

Friday, August 25, 2017

 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

Friday, August 18, 2017

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Uninhabitable Earth

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

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."