Friday, April 11, 2014

Late Thoughts on the Keystone Pipeline

I have been trying—now and then—to follow the “to be or not to be” debate on the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. And I have had occasional conversations with people who present themselves to me as being well-versed and knowledgeable about the ins and outs, pros and cons, of this project. I have felt overwhelmed most of the time. I am dismayed by the actions of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who seem to present a united front supporting the project. The President said he would make a decision in 2013. Now it is 2014. Is he really undecided, or just unwilling to make a decision, or has he made up his mind and just stalling?

I know that $7 billion is a ton of money, and jobs are jobs. As an affiliate member of my local labor federation I am pledged to support unions, and unions support the pipeline because it means jobs. And I do support unions because union members have more job security, better wages and over the long haul unions have made this a much better country.

The corporate elite support the pipeline because it means money in their coffers. And, I say this only somewhat cynically, politicians support it because they know that corporate leaders and lobbyists vote with dollars, and they have the power to influence others. The economic and political cards seem to be in their favor.

On the other side many residents, farmers and just plain folk oppose it; as do environmental organizations and activists. It’s a lot of people numerically and they are not without resources, but it feels like a battle of David and Goliath, especially these days when you throw in all the talk about the need for “energy independence.” Although from what I’ve read it seems like the stuff that could flow through the pipeline will be sent overseas. It is not for domestic use.

One plus to come out of the debate is that we are all being educated about the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer—that giant underground lake that supports life in what was once called “the great American desert.”

To my chagrin I am coming late to this table of discussion. I have been moved to write not because I have been persuaded by experts who argue pro and con, for and against, the pipeline. I have finally been moved and persuaded by Native American relatives like Faith Spotted Eagle, an elder in the Yankton Sioux Tribe, who was quoted in a Washington Post article that appeared in the March 1, 2014 edition and was posted online. The article was written by Rob Hotkainen. I have never met Faith Spotted Eagle and as far I know we have no familial ties. My sense is that she and other Native peoples who oppose the pipeline are speaking out of a spirituality of respect for the earth and all living things. I am learning from Native peoples that we need to experience ourselves as part of creation, rather than as separate from it.

We worry without end about the threat of terrorist violence, but seem to pay no heed to ecological violence at our doorstep and the threat it presents. We are consuming the house we live in. Something like six percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, and we consume close to 60 percent of the entire world’s wealth, and we want to have energy independence. What kind of madness is this? The ancients called it “greed.”  It’s time to talk about sin of greed in our churches. It seems like that would be a fitting sermon in the season of Lent.

Rev. David Hansen

Sunday, April 6, 2014

To Walk Humbly

The flyer announcing a program I participated in this week made me chuckle. It was an interfaith dialogue at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Franciscan center downtown. The flyer has at the top a picture of an imam, a rabbi, and a priest. The rabbi is me, the imam is Imam Talal Eid, with whom I have often participated in such discussions, and the priest is Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Unfortunately, Fr. Bergoglio is the only one who didn’t make it, because as Pope Francis he is quite busy. I love the picture, though, in its joining the three of us. We were in fact all part of the program, which was called, “Pope Francis – A Muslim and Jewish Perspective.”

In the context of interfaith dialogue, prior to the formal program, people gathered with each other at tables for informal discussion and sharing. I sat with a man who expressed concern that interfaith dialogue doesn’t allow us to see each other in context, as who we really are. He felt that the integrity of each faith is lost. Not able to know the other in the innermost way of their being, this man questioned whether interfaith dialogue was meaningful at all and whether we should engage in it.

I shared the man’s question as I began to speak in the formal part of the program. I then explained that through engagement with others and by learning about them, I learn more about myself. I set as a framework for reflecting on Pope Francis a verse from the prophet Micah (6:8) that since my chanting of it at my Bar Mitzvah has remained a guiding star in my life, Higid l’cha adam u’mah Hashem doresh mimcha/It has been told to you O mortal what is good and what God seeks of you, only to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. As I have often shared, when I spoke at my Bar Mitzvah about what I had chanted, my mother asked me to make a slight addition, “to walk humbly with God and with people.” 
Acknowledging that my mother would have liked Pope Francis, I shared my own impressions and what I draw from him -- excitement, inspiration, and appreciation. I appreciate the mirror that he holds up for all of us, reminding us to look deeply at the relationship of our behavior to the beliefs we profess. In whatever ways our challenges are different, I also identify with the process of wrestling with the nature of change in a religious community that reveres tradition, a community in which the past lives in the present as we look to the future. 
If we use Micah as the lens, all facets of life come into focus. In his manner, the Pope asks me to look at my own sources and to consider a Jewish response to what I see in the world around me and within myself. His concern for the poor and the downtrodden reprsesents a bridge between the personal and the political. His personal humility is symbolic, representing what should be, underscoring that opulence in the midst of so much poverty is wrong. He makes me think of a story from the Talmud Yerushalmi, the Jerusalem Talmud as compared to the Bavli, the more expansive Babyonian Talmud: 
Rabbi Chamah bar Chanina and Rabbi Hoshayah Rabbah, the Great, were walking among the (magnificent) synagogues of Lud. Rabbi Chamah bar Chanina said to Rabbi Hoshayah (seemingly with pride), "how much money did my ancestors sink here?" Rabbi Hoshayah said to him, "How many souls did your ancestors sink here?"
Walking humbly with God and with people, the Pope makes us think of how Moses is described as anav mikol adam/the humblest of people. Living and modeling values, he washes the feet of the poor and despised, kissing God’s image in a disfigured face. Living and modeling values, it is the day-to-day details that he challenges each of us to think about in the context of our own lives. It is about where and how Pope Francis has chosen to live; humble quarters, an ordinary car rather than the Papal limousine, paying his own bill for the room in which he stayed during the conclave that elected him as pope, appointing Cardinals from poor countries. In regard to gay people, the Pope said “who am I to judge?” The rabbis taught that we are to judge another according to kaf z’chut/the scale of merit. Not to judge another is only a beginning. The key is in how we act and stand in the other’s presence.

During the question and discussion period following the formal presentations, I was reminded of my earlier conversation as to whether interfaith dialogue is worth it, whether we can really know the other in their innermost being. A man began to challenge Imam Talal, going on and on asking about violence in Islam, about terrorists and about wife-beating. Imam Talal remained far calmer than I was feeling and he responded with nobility and compassion. I was probably less measured in my response, warning against the danger of assuming to know the inner struggles and challenges with which we all wrestle within our own traditions. From within, we meet the challenges of our own faith and people with love as we draw from deep roots. From within our own traditions we are part of a larger context in which beauty and emotional attachment nurtured throughout our lives cushion those elements of our own people and teachings that pains us.

In the week’s Torah portion, Sh’mini (Lev. 9:1-11:47), we find the very middle of the Torah, the silent space between two words, darosh|| darash/seek||surely seek. That is the challenge for all people of faith, to seek deeply in the innermost places of who we are. It is true that we cannot enter that place of such depth in another’s soul, but in our engagement with each other we are touched by intimations of who they really are. And that is a gift that can only enrich us all. 

I am grateful to have spent an evening this week with an imam and a priest. Even if the priest could not make it, he was with us in spirit and his spirit touched me. Pope Francis has reminded me of just why the words I chanted at my Bar Mitzvah are so important to me. As my mother would have reminded the prophet Micah himself, so she would also have cautioned the Pope, and I believe he would have smiled, acknowledging that to walk humbly with people is to walk humbly with God.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Civil Rights & Wrongs: Thoughts on Religious Freedom

The current debate about the need to protect “religious freedom” reminds me in some ways of another debate that took place in this country in 1883, the year that the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land and water, theaters, and other places of public amusement. . . .” was unconstitutional. In explaining its decision the majority of the Court found that private acts of discrimination were simply private acts that the federal government was powerless to correct.

In the wake of the 1883 decision “indignation meetings” were held across the country in protest of the Court’s ruling; a ruling that paved the way for almost a century of racial segregation. The 1883 decision was not overturned by Congress until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The religious liberty act, so-called, professes to protect acts of discrimination because they are private acts of conscience that the government is powerless to correct. Let us assume for a moment that state legislatures and the courts want to return to 1883, and reverse the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of the basic principles of a good law is that it can be enforced. How will we protect the religious freedom of those who want to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender persons? Obviously since the color of the offenders skin will not serve as an identity badge, we will need something else. We will have to enact legislation that will allow us to identify the people we want to discriminate against. Perhaps we could require them to wear a pink triangle?

I submit that this is a road we do not want to travel. It is time to call this type of legislation what it is: discrimination masking as religious freedom.

Reverend David Hansen

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Will Peace Come?

This past week, singer/songwriter Jerry Leggett was in town. Jerry and his spouse Patsy are on a tour in association with the Dayton International Peace Museum in Dayton, Ohio. Their stop in Brookings was between two stops in New Mexico and one in Des Moines. There will be many more before the tour is over. They call this adventure, "Turtle with a Mustache."

There's a story behind the phrase. Attributed to Ajhan Chah, the story goes: "A wise one said, 'looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache. You won't be able to find it. But when your heart is ready, peace will come looking for you.'" 

There's certainly wisdom in this saying. Especially for those of us who live in a society now perpetually at war, looking for peace seems a futile effort.  But perhaps our hearts aren't ready. Perhaps on the inside we are still at war, with the planet and with each other. We pay taxes for bloated war budgets. And we always seem to want more jobs in more war industries, creating bigger and better and more terrifying weapons. 

Jerry is looking for the peace almost all of us say we want, and shares his music looking for hearts that are ready to receive it.

Jerry is probably best known for an earlier two year tour, where he covered some 100,000 miles across this country with his "Peace Bubble." The bubble is one of those mini silver trailers, just big enough to hold the necessary equipment and provide an emergency sleeping space on the road. Painted and labeled appropriately, it was a quick draw wherever he stopped and if it was at a park or city sidewalk, when he got out the guitar and started playing, the people came as well. That gave him a chance to ask hundreds of people the big question of the tour, "what does peace look like to you?" Patsy, the photographer, kept the visual record. And at concerts and spontaneous happenings all over the U.S., folks gave their thoughts about the face of peace.

When asked if there was any consistent response to the question of what peace looks like, Patsy said people associated peace with justice. If there was justice, fairness, a sense of equity and equality, there you could see the face of peace. Some of our greatest peace makers have proclaimed the same. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that injustice anywhere can lead to conflict and violence and threaten peace everywhere. 

Last evening, my attention was drawn to an article about Guantanamo and the continuing incarceration of prisoners of the "war on terror." Written by Gary Thompson, an attorney who represents pro bono detainees at the prison, I was informed about the status of those his firm had represented. One prisoner had been released. He had been imprisoned for five years in horrendous conditions, essentially for being charitable. A second had been released after seven years, a case of mistaken identity. The third was still waiting to be released. A ballet dancer by profession, he was arrested as a Muslim refugee from Russia, in Pakistan, and turned over to the U.S. military. Although he has gone through the habeus corpus process and been cleared for release, the government appealed and the appeals court has been sitting on the case for two years now. When the article was written in 2013, this third prisoner was in his 11th. year at Guantanamo, his 12 year old son still waiting to someday meet his father. 

It's hard to understand how the injustices at Guantanamo will lead to a world at peace. It's hard to understand how the weapon of choice these days, pilotless drones, will lead to a world at peace. And denial and/or despair over the state of the world certainly won't get us there. Instead, we might well try the big three: faith, hope and love.

A bit more peace music in our heads and hearts might help lead us to a world at peace. A greeter appreciation for the beauty of the planet and of people around us and near us might lead to a world at peace. A greater effort to insure justice for all might lead to a world at peace. And a serious effort on the part of all of us, to exchange the disharmony in our lives and souls, just might lead to greater harmony all around us. If we get our hearts right, peace just might seek us out.

There was a potter at the concert the other evening who makes turtles out of clay. He asked for Jerry's address. I'm guessing Jerry might get a turtle in the mail, a turtle with a mustache. 

Carl Kline

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight

 Even as recently as a year ago, I was not aware of an organization called the “National High School Model UN”.   It simply was not on my horizon.   With the advent of my granddaughter’s becoming a freshman at our regional high school, my horizon has changed, broadened, expanded - -become much more colorful.

I have just returned from being a chaperone for 13 young people from our high school, my granddaughter included, as they attended the 2014 NHSMUN conference in New York City.  They were among 3600 high school delegates from all over the world, convened for a “learning through simulation” experience, becoming a model UN for 4 days.

For 4 days, it was my honor and privilege to visit simulated UN committee sessions as these amazing young people debated issues, wrote position papers, created resolutions, amended those same resolutions and worked together to get resolutions passed.

In the process I observed them learning how to work cooperatively with total strangers, how to share diverse views and opinions and work toward mutual understanding in the service of a higher good.  I watched as kids took on the identity of the countries they were assigned to represent at the UN – learning about serious issues from the perspective of their assigned countries, learning how to respect opinions they did not agree with and how to find diplomatic ways to move the debate forward. In the committee sessions I observed the building of alliances on many levels - - from the level of simulated political and diplomatic debate to the level of more experienced kids helping the “newbies” learn how to function in their committees –across the lines of their “national interests”.  I watched kids gain confidence in finding their voices to speak in behalf of their assigned countries in debate - - going from rapidly beating hearts and sweaty palms to being able to state their positions clearly and with confidence over the course of the conference.

A highlight of the weekend was observing our 13 delegates, ranging in age from 14 to 18, as they interacted around some very difficult issues in a briefing session with the permanent representative to the UN from Uganda, our high school’s assigned country.  I sat, astounded, impressed and proud of the way these young people were able to maintain a mature and open receptivity as they listened to His Excellency’s gracious briefing on the country they were assigned to represent.  I was even more impressed by the way they were able to take the information he gave them and weave it into the debate when they returned to their committee sessions.

I came home high as the proverbial kite, feeling renewed hope that if the world is going to be in the hands of these kids in a few more years, we might just be OK.

As the kids cut loose on the dance floor on the final night of the conference, I was reassured that they are very normal, energetic teenagers who just happen to have exceptional interests and abilities - - and a burning desire to make the world a better place.

After a really good night’s sleep on my return home, I went to morning worship this morning and was blown away by a brief response to a “Canticle of Covenant Faithfulness” that was used in the service. It was an adaptation of Isaiah 55:6: “Your face, Lord, do I seek.  Hide not your face from me.”  It brought to mind the ancient story of Moses on the mountain with God and being forbidden to see the face of God.  It also brought to mind the great teaching that humankind is created in the image and likeness of God.  The two notions are paradoxical.  On the one hand, human beings may not look directly upon the face of God because the power of such a possibility could mean annihilation.  On the other hand, we are to recognize the image of God in every human being we encounter.

As I sang the response to the canticle, I had an overwhelming realization that the “high” of the Model UN Conference came from knowing that I had seen the compassionate, wise, intelligent, loving, reconciling, passionate face of God revealed in 3600 physically beautiful, energetic, funny, intelligent, wise, thoughtful, generous, compassionate and passionate faces of the youthful delegates to the conference. 

The ancient prophets often prayed “How long, O Lord?” as they anguished over the state of their respective worlds – wanting to know when their great God would intervene and make things right.  For a brief moment in time, in the company of 3600 kids, I was privileged to know that the answer to the age old question is right in front of me - - hidden in plain sight.

Vicky Hanjian

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Thin Thread of Water

The room was alive with excitement as we climbed the stairs and entered Spontaneous Celebrations, Jamaica Plain’s community cultural center. The air pulsed with conversation, with laughter, with different languages, strains of Middle Eastern music wafting and dancing up to the rafters. We had come to see a mosaic mural on display for the first time, even as it awaits completion, itself a metaphor, the process as its own essence flowing toward fullness. The project speaks of itself as “seeing through walls,” offering as its purpose “to promote peace and an end to conflict between Israel and Palestine…, our vision of peace, justice and hope for the Israeli and Palestinian people.” Like those gathered to see and affirm their work, the artists are of diverse backgrounds, their own process painstaking in determining over time the mural’s design, love and determination palpable in coming to this day of its presentation.

We slowly made our way to the front of the room to see what we had come to see, the mural itself, though perhaps it really was the people we had come to see, brought together by the mural, as it is meant to do. I saw a friend and colleague in building bridges between Muslims and Jews. Mohamed and I embraced and laughed, delighted to see each other here, drawn without plan to this place of bridge-building. He introduced me to one of the artists, a Palestinian. I introduced him to an Israeli, a relative of one of the Jewish artists. We were all part of a web of connection, standing there in front of the mosaic, all of the small tiles in careful arrangement and brilliant color doing their work before we had even paused to really look.

I stood and stared, taking in the beauty of the mosaic, a sense of quiet suddenly surrounding, walls to be seen through, not to divide, a great golden sun rising beyond for all to see and be warmed by, and there a path to be illumined by the golden light. Two women are painting the wall, their backs to us, each wearing a smock, the Star of David on one, the Crescent Moon on the other, a Jew and Muslim creating together. On the buckets of paint into which they dip their brushes are the words peace and justice in their respective languages, the colors of hope in their striving. There are children playing together in the foreground, swimming in a stream, playing along its banks, some running and flying kites, one floating a boat upon the water, its sails filled out to show Israeli and Palestinian flags. And then I pause and look up toward the top. There is the golden dome of the Mosque of Omar that stands upon what Jews know as the Temple Mount, the Har HaBayit/the Mountain of the House. The light of the sun is refracted through human creation, offering even greater brilliance. And then I look more carefully. Here is the trickling start of a spring that way down below has expanded into the swiftly flowing stream in which children play. It begins at the top, on the holy mountain, as a fine blue line of tile, a thin thread of water.

I am mesmerized, as I had been some weeks ago by a teaching I came upon in the Talmud that has captivated me, that has stayed with me, an image formed of words that won’t leave me, begging for insight. Here before me was the interpretation I had been seeking. It begins as a vision of the Prophet Ezekiel (47:3) in which he follows a stream of successively increasing depth, beginning as a trickle of water flowing from under the threshold of the Holy Temple on that same holy mountain. Drawing on that vision, the teaching in the Talmud (Yoma 78a) fluctuates in time, fluttering between past and future:

The spring that issues from the Holy of Holies resembles at first the antennae of locusts. Once it arrives at the entrance to the Sanctuary, it becomes as the thread of the warp (upon the loom). Once it arrives at the Antechamber, it becomes as the thread of the woof. Once it reaches the entrance to the Courtyard, it becomes as wide as the mouth of a small flask…. From here and onward, the stream will swell and rise until it reaches the entrance of the house of David. Once it reaches the entrance of the house of David, it becomes a swiftly flowing stream…. As it is said (Zecharia 13:1), “On that day there will be a spring opened up for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for cleansing and for purification.

In the Torah portion of that week, called P’kudei (Ex. 38:21-40:38), the desert sanctuary is completed; “all the work to be accomplished for the Dwelling Place of the Tent of Appointed Meeting was completed…. In time to come, the Tent of Appointed Meeting becomes in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem the Holy of Holies from which the stream begins its flow so fine, as thin at first as the antennae of a grasshopper, as a fine line of blue tile. And now I understood. As in time the desert sanctuary was completed, so too shall the mosaic mural be, and so too the hope of which it sings, of peace and justice, the land and its peoples cleansed and purified of violence and hate. And in that swiftly flowing stream, Israeli and Palestinian children shall play, in peace and unafraid.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Finding an Antidote

A few days ago, my husband came home quite excited about a program he had heard on the radio while driving in the car.  An 88 year old man was telling his story on  National Public Radio.  He had raised a daughter, not his own, to adulthood and she had been killed by a crack cocaine addict.  The case came to trial and the killer was sent to prison.  The storyteller admitted that early on he would have liked to kill the man who had killed his loved one.  As time went by, however, the elderly man, a Quaker, discovered some of the history of the prisoner’s childhood deprivations.  He felt compassion and began to visit him in prison regularly.  Over time forgiveness became possible.   When the elder was asked what influenced him on the path to forgiveness, he recalled a powerful statement he had heard somewhere in the past:  “When you hate, you take poison, and expect the other person to die.” 

Forgiveness is not always our first choice when we have been wounded.  The process of coming to forgiveness takes a long time and, regrettably, we don’t always choose to make the journey to a satisfying conclusion.  So often, it seems more justifiable to just take the “poison” and harbor the resentful wish that whoever has wounded us will suffer the consequences.  Forgiveness is hard work.  In our human interactions it often requires us to look at the role we played in the disintegration of a relationship.  We may need to make a choice about which is more important: to carry the anger, rage, resentment and the need for revenge and retribution with us  into the future, or to enter a future free of that heavy burden so that we may travel more lightly.

There is no simple formula for forgiveness.  If it were an easy thing to do perhaps revenge-determined violence would slowly melt away under the desire for a more harmonious future.  Even when the slightest hint of an inner desire to forgive makes itself known, the difficult memory of a terrible wounding stands at the gateway and makes forgiveness a formidable undertaking. 

Psychologist Stephanie Dowrick has written: Forgiveness deeply offends the rational mind.  When someone has hurt us, wounded us, abused us; when someone has stolen peace of mind or safety from us; when someone has harmed or taken the life of someone we love; or when someone has simply misunderstood or offended us, there is no reason we should let the offense go. No reason why we should try to understand it.  No reason why we should hope for enlightenment for that person. No reason why, from our own pain and darkness, we should summon compassion for that person, as well as for ourselves.

The discussion turned to forgiveness during Shabbat services a few weeks ago.  A very young man was pondering the notion of forgiveness and offered his thought that forgiveness is not so much about the transgressor as it is about the one who needs to forgive.  He had come to the conclusion that refusing to forgive caused him greater damage than whatever the offender might have done to him.   He seemed young to have come to such a conclusion and his words stayed with me through the week.  They  seemed to mirror the words of the elderly man speaking on NPR - - that forgiveness is good for the one who has been wounded.

Indeed, if I listen to the wisdom of the elder and of the younger man, it seems as though the failure to forgive is the irrational stance.  
Stephanie Dowrick observes that through the process of forgiveness “The muscular tensions you had come to assume were normal are eased.  You are less vulnerable to infection or to far more serious illness. Your immune system lifts. Your face muscles let down.  Food tastes better.  The world looks better.  Depression radically diminishes.  You are more available to other people and a great deal more available to yourself, yet you think about yourself less, and less anxiously.”

Real forgiveness is rarely a simple act of will or resolute determination.  It is a non-rational act of the heart, an act of the soul’s desire for greater well-being.  It is the antidote to the poison of hatred and retribution.  We need more stories of forgiveness to light the way to the healing of the grievous wounds of this world.  In a long ago journal I found a treasured quote from A COURSE IN MIRACLES: The  holiest of all the spots on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.  We do, indeed, need more stories to light the way.
 Stephanie Dowrick  FORGIVENESS & OTHER ACTS OF LOVE  W.W. Norton & Company , Inc., New York, N.Y.  1998  p.291.
 Dowrick  p.289

Vicky Hanjian