Friday, March 24, 2017


Last Sunday as I sat listening to the bell choir play the prelude at church, I recognized the melody in a medley they were ringing. It was the hymn "Be Still My Soul." I was moved by the music. I realized I was moved because my soul was troubled. It wasn't still. I wasn't at peace.

The soul disturbance continued through the greetings, the singing, the Scripture readings, the children's time. It wasn't till the congregational prayer when I approached the lectern that I realized I had to confess my soul sickness. Before I could pray for others I had to unburden myself.

So I told the congregation how I had heard and then read the news from Kansas City. How a man had shot and killed a man of Indian descent, shot his friend, also an Indian national working in this country, and then shot a bystander who decided to intervene. He yelled at the men from India, "Get out of my country."

India is my second home. I've been in India a total of a dozen times over the last 39 years. I've never been threatened nor felt threatened while there, among the very wealthy or the poorest of the poor. 

The first person who contacted me after 9/11 was a friend from India. He assured me it was an attack not just on the U.S. but on all humanity, including him and his country.

I informed the congregation that Sunday evening was India Night at SDSU. It's a wonderful occasion when the community joins with students from India for a night of food, dance and culture. It's an occasion my wife and I look forward to every year. 

But how was I to face friends and neighbors from India that evening? Another terrorist had done his damage, spreading fear and hatred, simply based on a person's appearance or seeming national or religious origin? 

My heart was heavy Sunday morning and it only got heavier as other news surfaced.

As I wondered how we could assure guests or even citizens in this country of their safety, when every unstable and troubled person carries a gun, I received an unwanted response. As he prepared to lament the killing in Kansas City in the State of the Union address, the President, without any fanfare, chose to repeal a regulation that put the mentally ill in a background check database. It's estimated that will allow 75,000 people with a history of mental illness easier access to weapons.

Also troubling was the response of the grief stricken parents of the dead Srinivas Kuchibhotla. They encouraged parents in India to send their young adults to university in Europe or Australia, not to the United States. For them, there was no longer any assurance they would be safe here. Would there even be an India night in the future?

Then I spoke with my brother and sister-in-law. They were with her family in Chile for the holidays. She shared how she spent 45 minutes in a TSA holding room on their return to the states. No reason was given. There was no explanation for a U.S. citizen who has lived here for 40 years. There was no notification to my brother waiting patiently at the baggage carousel (no cell phones allowed in the holding room).

Then came Tuesday night. The Brookings Human Rights Commission introduced a Resolution of Inclusion to the City Council for their consideration and action. It affirmed our place as an inclusive city that treats all people with dignity and respect. The resolution  celebrated our diversity and reaffirmed our commitment to equality of opportunity and justice for all. It confirmed our intolerance of discrimination and hate or bias motivated activities.

Several persons spoke in favor of the resolution. They represented school teachers, ministers, SDSU, the Inter-Faith Council, the larger community. When those who supported the resolution were asked to rise, the council chambers were filled with those standing.

Speaking to the issue, the Councilors one by one affirmed the resolution. One Councilor summed it up saying she believed in the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The role was called. By a unanimous vote of 7 to 0 the resolution was passed. 

We applauded! But we were also reminded that the Council is only seven people. It's up to all of us to put flesh on the bones, at the grocery store, on main street, in school, at church and with our other elected officials.

Thank you Brookings! Now my heart is not so heavy. I know that at least in this small community in the heartland, there is still a special welcome for the neighbor. May it always be so.

Carl Kline   March 24, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Friday  March 17, 2017

"Suffer the little children..."
Tomorrow morning,  my husband and I will  board the ferry to leave the island with 14 kids and 2 faculty members from our local high school.  By boat and bus and train we will make our way to Manhattan to participate in a Model UN conference.  Several thousand high school kids from various points on the planet will gather to learn in a simulated UN experience  - participating on committees, hearing position papers, drafting resolutions, making judicial decisions - - working together across language and cultural barriers to create solutions to real world problems.  Immigration issues will be among the topics they will work on.
            Meanwhile, this morning's paper editorializes on the effort to “devise new forms of bureaucratic cruelty for immigrants. The latest policy proposal from the Department of Homeland Security would separate children from their parents at the Mexico-US border if they’re caught trying to enter the country illegally.”  (Boston Globe  “Border policy on kids harsh and ineffective” Tuesday March 14, 2017 p. A8).

            All too often, the morning news represents an  “Alice down the rabbit hole” kind of irrationality.  I have to shake my head in an effort to make sense of what I have just read.  Is this for real? I come from a Christian and Jewish background spiritually.  The revered texts of both traditions hold children as a sacred trust from the Holy One.  Hebrew texts admonish adults to teach the sacred law to their children - - and hold adherence to the law as the way to life.  Recognizing that this is always a choice, the texts also exhort the people to “choose life so that you and your children may live.”
            There is a  scenario in the Christian texts where some of Jesus’ own disciples try to keep children away from Jesus.  His stern rebuke rings in their ears: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  Even more pointed, Jesus teaches “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the sea.”   The  “little ones” - - young children - - perhaps just “innocent ones” - - perhaps any child or youth or adult who is defenseless against the power wielded against them.
            Even as this country continues to wrestle with what “family” means there are still some norms that remain in our collective consciousness.  One of them is the notion of the value of the family as a social construct that promotes the safety and well being of children.  Stable families tend to give children a stronger start in life.  And yet, there are policies in the making that would destabilize and destroy immigrant families.
            Currently, mothers with children who are caught at the southern border trying to enter this country, seeking asylum, are processed and released together.  The law states that minors cannot be held in detention.  The proposed new policy would separate mothers from their children.  Mothers would be sent to an adult detention center under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security to be processed while their children would be taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Settlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.  (Boston Globe Editorial March 14, 2017 p. A8).

           It is hard to imagine the pain and terror inflicted on families already suffering under the constant threat of violence - so much so that they choose to leave their homes to flee elsewhere. They come seeking safety only to discover that the nightmare continues when they reach the long sought border of the “land of the free” to be separated from one another and virtually imprisoned while strangers with power determine their fate.
            Perhaps Jesus’ words for this age might be  “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name is responsible for seeing to it that the child is safe in the arms of his/her parents and that the parents are welcome too.”  Perhaps he would say   “Get your act together and work this out in the most loving and compassionate way.”  And, of course, he might reiterate: “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones welcomes me.”
            The threat of the “millstone around the neck” was never literal - - but the weight of the  cruelty to children inherent in the proposed DHS policy ought to feel just that heavy on the neck of the powers that be.  Perhaps it might weigh heavily enough to warrant reconsideration;  perhaps heavily enough to warrant a turn in the direction of hospitality and compassion as attributes to be utilized when considering the fate of so many suffering members of the human family.
            Tomorrow we will begin a 4 day journey with 14 teenagers - children on their way to becoming adults.  We will witness them participating in a process that teaches their minds how to cooperate with others to solve problems.   We will watch as their budding consciousness is stimulated and shaped by their experience of seeing life from the perspective of their peers from around the world.   We will also learn more about how we need to protect and nurture the precious resource that the children of the world represent for the future of humanity.   For after all - we have it on great authority that  they are considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and that it is indeed to such as these that the reign of peace belongs.   The sacred texts do not discriminate across social and political boundaries.   They simply tell us that we must not fail the little ones entrusted to us.

Vicky Hanjian  March 17, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's Time To Reclaim Our Highest Vision: Let's Embrace The Great Turning

      Across the nation, activists, organizers and newly enlivened social change onlookers are hungry for a shared, coherent sense of direction. George Lakey's recent 10-point strategy for nonviolent resistance to the new Trump administration offers an excellent beginning to an absolutely critical conversation about comprehensive movement strategy.

But our many social change movements, which together have begun to comprise the macro "movement of movements" Lakey describes, may have a short window of time to get our strategic ducks in a row. The new administration has demonstrated a determined will to consolidate power, and to do so quickly. Fascistic executive orders; the systematic de-legitimization of existing institutions, checks and balances; unfettered propaganda; and the normalization of bombastic and hateful rhetoric are stark early-warning signs of totalitarian takeover. In this setting, as Lakey argues, the new administration is relying on social change-makers to stay in their customary mode of "playing defense." We're called to be culture-shifting movement builders, but by setting enough fires in enough places, Trump, Bannon and Co. seek to render us firefighters.
      In the face of the new administration's systematic dehumanization, the strength and clarity of purpose needed in order to break free of our defensive posture is going to require us to very thoughtfully and intentionally knit our movements together. This doesn't mean that our emerging movement of movements needs to become a centralized, top-heavy institution. On the contrary, decentralized models of organizing are wholly appropriate right now, and fully in step with the times. But, to move in decentralized concert -- the paradoxical holy grail for movement-makers today -- we need to set our sights on a shared and deeply inspiring beacon.

     Visionaries Joanna Macy and David Korten have popularized the phrase "the Great Turning" as a way to name our collective and diverse efforts to transition from our exploitative and destructive industrial growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society, a shift that they and a growing number of change-makers believe represents a new and pivotal epoch in our human evolution.
     The Great Turning is all-encompassing, giving answer to the great array of our current social and ecological concerns -- from racial justice to indigenous sovereignty, from economic imperialism to murderous drones, from factory farming to fracking, and far beyond. And, by definition, the Great Turning is inclusive of three mutually supportive modes of action: bold nonviolent resistance to the systems and forces of empire, the constructive building up of the alternative society in which we long to live, and a depth of self-transformation, individual by individual, that will enable a critical mass of us to break free of our personal collaboration and collusion with the status quo of the Domination System (a system of which we are a part, if only unwittingly).
     The Great Turning does a magnificent job of meeting our movement of movement's current need for an overarching visional statement, and I encourage us to claim and celebrate it as the spacious, yet exacting umbrella under which our vast constellation of social struggles can now locate themselves.
Some will argue that language such as this, and the high ideal to which it points, is unrealistic, and that the emerging movement of movements should set its sights on lower hanging fruit. This, I argue, would be a potentially fatal mistake. In the face of our existential climate crisis, what has passed as political pragmatism up until now has most definitely become impractical. A great many of our most powerful thought leaders have been going to great lengths to explain this to us in recent years -- perhaps none more persuasively than Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein.
     Movement builders of many stripes have begun to discern the sturdy movement footpath that Alexander and Klein have constructed for us. Alexander's The New Jim Crow, released in 2010, did far more than expose the treacheries of the US system of mass incarceration. The book presented a crushing critique of gradualism and of social change advocates' loyalty to it. The gist of Alexander's argument is that piecemeal policy reform is simply not going to cut it in our age of cultural collapse. What's needed, she says, is a shift in public consciousness that will give rise to a massive social movement with the courage and power to fully transform our economic and political systems.
Four years later, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein followed and expanded on this thesis in a most powerful and instructive way.
     While harmonizing with Alexander's insights about the paralyzing limits of superficial reform, Klein couldn't help but notice, point to and name the elephant standing in the middle of the room: capitalism. Through her monumental and terrifying exploration of the climate crisis, Klein could not escape the conclusion that our society's allegiance and addiction to winner/loser capitalism -- a system that requires by default the two-fold plunder of the earth and poor people -- must be renounced and abandoned, personally and collectively, if we want to see our way to a livable future.
     The Great Turning -- the epochal shift from our extraction-based, plunder-ridden industrial-growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society -- is the natural, inevitable and majestic movement goal to which such prophetic thought leaders are pointing. It's time to rally to this call and to let it serve as the foundation for our emerging strategy for national transformation.

Chris Moore Backman   March 10, 2017
Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission

Chris Moore-Backman is author of The Gandhian Iceberg: A Nonviolence Manifesto for the Age of the Great Turning and producer of Bringing Down the New Jim Crow, a radio documentary series examining the movement to end the US system of mass incarceration.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Decision Making

     Some years ago I worked closely with an international peace organization that has now been in existence for 35 years. We have always been organized into country groups with active support networks in at least a dozen nations. These country groups recruit, train and support volunteers for the projects. 
     We have supported projects in several countries around the globe where we were invited to offer protection for human rights defenders, who often put their lives on the line defending human rights in dictatorial and repressive regimes. Projects have taken place in El Salvador, Nepal, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, N. America, Haiti and Kenya, to name a few.
     The first project was in Central America, where mothers of disappeared husbands and sons were politically active. The mothers were seeking knowledge of their loved ones, oftentimes with gatherings in public places with signs and speeches. The mothers were being targeted by repressive forces, in many cases the same ones that had disappeared their family members. Because of their activity, some of the mothers and their remaining family members were receiving death threats.
     Peace Brigades International (PBI) was asked to send volunteers to accompany the mothers and their families with unarmed peacekeepers, drawn from the different PBI country groups. These volunteers are people trained in nonviolence and the culture and language of the people requesting them. They give six months or longer of their lives in virtual war zones to accompany these brave defenders, who are risking all for basic human rights. The work day of a PBI volunteer might mean observing at a parade. Or it might mean walking a child to school in the morning and sitting outside the school all day, making sure the child is not kidnapped.
     Non- partisan in approach and visually identifiable by their clothing, these PBI volunteers speak with all the different parties to each conflict upon arrival. Their mission is to simply accompany human rights defenders. Testimony about the effectiveness of this accompaniment has been consistently positive, with gratitude expressed by human rights defenders in all of the countries where projects have taken place. 
     PBI is governed by an International Council. Attending one of the annual meetings in Switzerland, I was introduced to how decision making is supposed to work. PBI from the beginning has been committed to consensus decision making. Everyone has to agree before a decision can be implemented. You can abstain, but one person can also block the decision of the whole group.
     At this International Council meeting, we were some sixty persons, from all the various countries and projects, using three languages. Some of the decisions to be made had people lined up on opposite sides. Disagreement was heated. Feelings were intense. Individuals were adamant. Consensus seemed impossible, especially in three days. But without decisions the organization would be left it limbo.
     Experienced facilitators were appointed. Intense meetings with the most invested persons followed, often late into the night. By the end of the gathering we had made our decisions as an organization by consensus. No one's opinion was ignored. No one abstained or blocked. Everyone prepared to move the organization ahead as one body.
     Afterward, I wished our Congress could witness what happened. Democrat and Republican principles are no more polar opposites than opinions in that PBI gathering. Yet, for some reason, our government has descended into a wrestling match with no end in sight. Could it be that the primary commitment in Congress is not to democracy? Could it be that the primary commitment in Congress is to "my way or the highway?" Why can't we seem to elect our representatives based on their willingness to work with others to move us forward together?
     Now we are faced in this country with the most politically and racially divided nation we have seen in my lifetime. Even the sixties, an era of the civil rights struggle and an unpopular war in Vietnam, didn't have the explosive potential of our present historical moment. Thousands have been marching for Immigrants, for Muslims, for Refugees, for Black Lives Matter, for Standing Rock and No DAPL. And we will soon see millions of women striking on International Womens Day and perhaps a million more gathering in Washington, D.C. for the climate in April.
     In the meantime, we have a President who doesn't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. He thinks he is  just following up on his campaign promises. He seems oblivious to the fact that he was elected by one quarter of the electorate after a divisive, sometimes hateful campaign. He seems puzzled he should have to move the country forward with communication, consultation and some kind of consensus.
     In a country this large and diverse, consensus won't always happen. But if our ultimate commitment is to the democratic process, we have to try. Can you hear Senators, Congresswomen? Can you hear SD State Legislature? Can you hear Mr. President? Could you try?

Carl Kline    

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Stranger In The Kitchen

    Over the last twenty years or so, it has become the custom of the various congregations on our island to offer free hot meals to all comers during the winter months.  Currently, all seven days of the week are covered.  The meals vary from a fixed menu of lasagna and salad for lunch on Sundays to a chef catered dinner on Saturday evenings to a grand potluck on Wednesdays.  Our little congregation provides home made soup and casseroles and dessert on Tuesdays. 
            The suppers draw from a varied population.  Some folks are homeless.  Others are young families struggling to make ends meet.  Still others are alone and in need of the social contacts.  Many are seniors who don’t enjoy cooking for one person.  The one thing all the community suppers hold in common is that they are open, welcoming places for members of the community to gather throughout the gray winter months regardless of what draws them.
            Last Tuesday we served spaghetti with meat sauce and a salad augmented  by a corn chowder and a rice and bean casserole contributed by two of the guests.  Following the meal, the clean up has also become a community thing.   Guests bring their dishes to the kitchen.  Some volunteer to scrape.  Others to load the dishwasher.  Still others put the folding chairs away and store the tables until the next time.  Often a sense of joy and “family”  floods the atmosphere.
            After dinner one of the guests joined me in the kitchen, eager to scrape dishes for me to rinse prior to loading  them in the dishwasher.   A three day stubble, multiple layers of clothing, and a sweet uncertainty about whether he had a place at the table hinted at his possible life circumstances.  He remarked about his gratitude for a hot meal.  I told him I was happy that he had enjoyed it and that I was glad he had come.
He said he had traveled around a lot and eaten in a lot of places, but he had never felt  welcomed until he  decided to try out the community suppers.  He innocently marveled at how kind people were, and how they made him feel at home.  He said he didn’t always know that churches were places where he would be welcome, but he thought that there was something in the Bible about being kind to strangers.  I had to turn my attention to the dishwasher so he wouldn’t see tears welling up.
Over and over again the charge of our sacred texts is to welcome the stranger.  We are admonished over and over again: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)  Both the command and the rationale are given in the same sentence.  We have all been strangers at one point or another in our lives.  The importance of remembering what that feels like needs to be connected with our compassion for the stranger we meet at any moment. 
            Out of curiosity, I consulted Webster for the meaning of  the word “estrange.”    It means to remove from customary environment or associations; to arouse enmity or indifference where there had formerly been love, affection or friendliness. 
            So much of our global public discourse these days has to do with the question of “what to do with the stranger?”   Even on a small island with a relatively intact sense of community we cannot escape the challenges that come with stress-filled movements of  so many human beings who have literally been estranged - removed from their customary environments by war, persecution, hunger, threats of slavery , poverty, or homelessness - and now by increased rigor in enforcing immigration laws, and by the threat of deportation.   The less than compassionate response to the stranger is fear, indifference,  and increasingly, enmity.   We have become strangers who estrange others.
            The ancient text of Genesis tells us that the patriarch, Abraham, was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day when three strangers approached him.  He offered them water, saw to it that their feet were washed and ordered that a feast be prepared for them.   There is a tradition that Abraham’s tent was open on all four sides so that a stranger would not have to search for the entrance in order to find hospitality.  The stranger was not to be feared and rejected, but welcomed and made to feel at home. 
            I had to reflect awhile on the meaning of the tears I felt welling up when I heard my new dish-washing partner wonder at how welcome he felt in our little church.  I wondered why he was surprised; wondered why he couldn’t just take it for granted that he would be welcomed in a church.  I don’t know where his travels have taken him or what he encountered along the way,  but it was clear to me that he had not always encountered hospitality from some of those most responsible for offering it freely. 
            I went to bed with a little prayer of gratitude.  Maybe it was only spaghetti with meat sauce, a bit of laughter and fellowship around the table, a little shared labor in the kitchen after dinner - - but at least we were doing something right.

Vicky Hanjian 

Friday, February 17, 2017


I'm thinking about fathers. I just finished a short story by a writer who was disappointed by his father. His father was abusive and died young from too much alcohol. Years later, the son was contacted by one of his father's war time buddies wanting to know about his father's life. They began a correspondence. Soon a picture arrived of the four Navy buddies at a bar with the son's dad smiling boyishly in the middle of the pack. Eventually the correspondence led to a meeting with the three remaining war time buddies; three seniors around a kitchen table with the one middle aged son. In the reunion picture shared with the story, the son took the father's place in the line-up. The story ends, "And I am in my father's place."

Are we sometimes destined to do that as sons? Do we take our father's place?

I've considered myself fortunate as I've had several father figures in my life, male mentors that were there at the time I needed them. They weren't a replacement for my father, but they modeled a different way of being male in the world that could be integrated with early family experiences and personal genes.

There was Randy and Ken, who both taught me how to find the words I needed and to speak with confidence. There was Ed, who helped me learn how to respect rather than conquer a mountain top and Richard who showed me what  patient and untroubled crisis management looked like. There was Bob, who modeled how to balance joy with pain, laughter with suffering and be a truly welcoming neighbor. There was Harivalah, who instructed me in what justice and service looked like and Ramachandran who showed me the color of wisdom. There was a second Bob, who always had my back, even when I probably didn't deserve it. And there was Narayan, who made me recognize the dignity and integrity of Truth.
They were all my elders, like my father. They were all instrumental in shaping who I would become. When I think about it, I really have taken their place in a world that needs what my father and each of the others had to offer. I've tried to integrate a piece of them into my own space in life. Most of them are gone now, so someone has to take their place, don't they?

How fortunate for me! How privileged to have so many male models when many young men have none. It makes me wish that all men could be elders and mentors, as well as parents, to younger men. Whether it's volunteering as a big brother, coaching a sports team or working with a church youth group; young men need male role models, beyond the primary one at home. And they need the kind of father figures who can share the best of what it means to be male with them.

Another wish I have for men is that they could be more involved in the birth process. It is so intimate for mothers and usually so distant for fathers. It makes one wonder if that's why the male parenting role is often the distant, authoritarian one ("Just wait till your father gets home."); with the mother alone for nurturing and comforting the children.  

And it makes me wonder if the absent birth father from the creation of life, might also be a reason for the seeming male ease with the taking of life. Men simply don't know, intimately and physically, what it takes to create life. Usually the male role is finished quickly. Maybe it takes nine seconds, not nine months.    

My major research paper in Seminary was on "Human and Divine Fathers." It was a study of Jonathan Edwards and William Adams Brown. My interest was to see if there was a fatherly resemblance. Does one's human father influence one's conception of God, the divine father? There weren't any clear conclusions from the paper, although Edwards was fertile ground for further exploration. Consider his well known work, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Without certain evidence, I'd still make a generalization. Most authoritarian human fathers help create authoritarian conceptions of God. You need especially loving and nurturing mothers or lots of father figures to balance the scales and give God a bit of grace, a bit of forgiveness, some humor and love. And authoritarian males like not only sons who obey and Gods who have strict codes of discipline, but also rulers who carry a big stick. Compassion is not their forte and punishment is understood as justice.

Unfortunately for sons and nations, confined to authoritarian father conceptions of divinity, they don't know that God is so much larger and glorious than those limited realities. All our Godly metaphors pale in comparison to: "When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars set in their place by thee, what is man that thou shouldst remember him, mortal man that thou shouldst care for him?" Or, as 1 John says so well and simply, "God is Love."

Carl Kline

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Walls Don't Work

So apparently the U.S. is going to build a $12 to $15 billion dollar wall on the southern border. Our newly elected President insists that it will stem the flow of illegal immigration, keep us safer and be part of the economic plan to make America great again. Along with the executive order to build the wall came further directions to stop any refugees coming into the country from several nations, where we have actively or surreptitiously supported the wars that made them refugees. Oh, and Muslims are not welcome.

Apparently it is a secret in some circles that war creates refugees; that war gives rise to extremism; that arming other nations means they often use those arms against the innocent; that interventionist and economic policies on the part of the U.S. give rise to people fleeing their homelands, like from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. And besides, it must be a secret to some that walls don't work!

The Great Wall of China is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built to keep those barbarians from the north at bay. It had its ups and downs over the centuries but eventually, in multiple instances, the unwanted hordes found ways to break or bridge the wall. 

On the other hand, the wall has often said more about the rulers of China than the potential invaders. Historically, the wall has come to symbolize the resistance of China to outside influence and the efforts of leaders to control the Chinese people. It's interesting that now, where guards looked out from their towers, tourists scan the horizon in both directions.

Building a wall to keep others out often works against the wall builders and keeps them walled in. There's an interesting example I came across reading about the origins of the Thanksgiving hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God." The hymn was written by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in a small village in Saxony during the time of the Thirty Years War. Floods of refugees took shelter within the walled city of Eilenberg where Rinkart lived. The Swedish army laid siege to the city and plague, famine and fear followed. In time, Rinkart was the only pastor left, conducting as many as fifty funerals a day. Eventually, he was the one who left the safety of the city walls to negotiate with the enemy and bring the siege to an end.

But the wall I'm most familiar with, because it's a symbol from my generation, is the Berlin wall. Here we had a wall separating a country, and separating citizens and families from each other. 

Before the wall was constructed in 1961, over 3 million East Germans ignored emigration restrictions and fled from the Soviet Union to West Germany and then to other Western countries. After the wall was constructed, from 1961 to 1989 when it fell, 139 people were killed or died at the wall. They ranged in age from a 1 year old child to a woman of 80. The wall didn't work. People risked life and limb to be with loved ones and escape oppressive state government and the wall was eventually torn down with great jubilation.

When our oldest grandson was small, he would watch Veggie Tales on our television set. One of the tales we had was about the way the Hebrew people were able to bring down the walls of Jericho. The walls came down because Joshua and the others followed God's instructions to the letter. It took seven days with seven priests with seven trumpets leading the Ark of the Covenant. And on the seventh day they circled the walls seven times and the whole people gave a great shout … and the walls came down.

Each time our grandson watched that video, I always had to reverse the tape several times so he could examine that sequence and the falling walls. It was as if he was memorizing the process, fascinated by the magic of it. The walls of Jericho failed in the face of God's covenantal people. 

I read a wonderful story the other day about 50 women who met on the bridge connecting Mexico and the U.S. They were from both countries and as a symbol of their relationship and connection with each other they braided their hair together or tied their scarves together. Maybe if we provided our U.S. young with goals and life meaning beyond money and drugs, the demand for drugs crossing any border would disappear. And if we treated countries like Mexico with respect, instead of exploiting them with extractive industries that pillage the land and endanger their water; and if we had physically willing and able workers to tend our fields and farms and factories, roof our homes and landscape our lawns, there would be little work and incentive for the "undocumented."

Maybe with the life affirming wisdom of the women on the bridge and the courage of people of faith called to follow the commandments of God, not governments, we will find a way to break down the walls that some would use to further divide us from our neighbors. 

Carl Kline