Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trust

I got a visual instruction on social media the other day on what to do if I get pulled over by the police. "Get my wallet, ID and registration out before the officer approaches the car. Have it in plain sight on the dashboard. Have both hands on the steering wheel in plain view. If you have to move your hands off the wheel for any reason, tell the officer why before you do it. Don't ask questions." 

As I watched the video, I couldn't help but think of the principle we learned in grade school, "innocent till proven guilty." When did that get reversed? Was it when we started showing defendants on the evening news, telling the world what the charges were and what evidence was claimed, before their day in court? Was it when police choked Eric Garner to death or shot Tamir Rice? What happened to a basic sense of trust in the well intentioned "other."

Maybe I really started to notice the deterioration of trust with the shoe bomber. I still get upset every time I have to take my shoes off to board a flight. One terrorist and everyone is a terrorism suspect. One crazed person and the whole world has to take off their shoes. Even God doesn't get that kind of respect, with the exception maybe at Hindu temples and Islamic mosques.

I'm inclined to think a lack of trust has been slowly eating away at the body politic in this country, at least since the assassination years of the 1960s. Remember when: Kennedy, King, Kennedy? For some reason we still don't know all the secrets of the Presidents' murder!  And there is so much cloudiness in the Pentagon and CIA, in the halls of Congress and on K Street in D.C., it has to eat away at our confidence and trust in government.

Add to the murkiness the fact the present President has a "kill" list, sending drones after often unknown "others." And we have a Congress refusing to accept its responsibility to declare war and for most everything else. So we wander blindly in pervasive and perpetual internal and external conflicts that only grow more severe in targeting the innocent. We can't seem to understand that a culture in which resort to deadly force is the first option, not a last option, is a culture that is inherently unstable and unsafe. We can't trust it!

Or maybe mistrust escalated with the onslaught of vulture capitalism. When people sitting at a computer could flip stocks and become millionaires overnight. When university education changed to making a living, even making a killing, instead of making a contribution. When most politicians began selling their souls to special interests. When banks bundled lousy mortgages and made huge profits selling them to unsuspecting buyers. When corporations in the hundreds avoided paying for the public good by hiding profits overseas while the poorest paid the most. When something like Pokemon Go could raise the price of Nintendo stock by $7.5 billion in a few days but we could hardly afford Toys for Tots at Christmas.

I'm concerned about the loss of "trust" in this country. I'm concerned about how cops and priests and teachers and public servants and neighbors are all becoming suspects. I'm concerned about the rise of scammers and hackers and cheaters and abusers, who trash the public trust. I'm concerned about the simplicity and cultural acceptance of winners and losers, of survival of the fittest, of privatization of public space, of everyone needs a gun. I'm concerned about the reversal of innocent till proven guilty. 

And I'm concerned about the public discourse that spreads mistrust, that divides us by race, religion, gender, party. I'm concerned about public discourse that threatens our basic principles, like freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble and associate with others. 

Now we have a vice presidential  aspirant calling for religious tests for Muslim citizens. Every Muslim becomes a suspect. Some seem intent on sowing distrust and suspicion. So distrust, fear and terror wins! Trust loses!

I read once where the soul and spirit that animates and keeps a society is mutual trust. So thanks to the friend who watered my garden in my absence. He said he would. Thanks to the banker who helped with a problem. I trusted he would. Thanks to the police chief for doing the right thing. He built trust. Thanks for all those who keep their word, their integrity, their faith.

For people of the Book, one finds manifest reasons for relinquishing fear and building trust. And if we could be better grounded in the message on our coins, perhaps trust in each other could come a little easier.

Carl Kline


Friday, July 15, 2016

Guns for All


Now I've heard it all! You should store firearms in your children's bedrooms for easy access, in case of a violent home invasion. At least that's the advice of Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training, a popular firearm instruction company.

He offered that recommendation at a public presentation at the recent National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. For Pincus, this advice only makes sense since the child's bedroom is the first place a parent will go when the invasion happens. And if you're a good parent, you shouldn't have to worry about your kids accessing the weapons without your permission. To hear him tell it, "if your kid is going to break into the safe just because it's in their room, you have a parenting issue, not a home defense issue."

In response to an audience member, he also contended that "hidden," instead of "locked or secured," guns were perfectly acceptable. I guess Mr. Pincus didn't read about the five year old who found a gun under her grandmother's pillow five days before his speech, and shot herself dead in the head.

Or maybe he didn't know about the nine year old boy days earlier who shot himself in the hand with a gun he found on his lawn. Or did he know, or care, that at least 96 child shootings have occurred in 2016, where a minor accidentally shot themselves or someone else? And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, 278 such shootings took place in 2015.

During the three days of the NRA convention, a five year old girl accidentally killed herself in Louisiana playing with a gun in her home. In Illinois, a three year old girl accidentally shot and killed a seven year old girl. Those are the ones that made the news.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that gun owning families keep their weapons locked, unloaded and separate from  ammunition. About 40 percent of gun owning families actually follow those recommendations.

And as to home invasions, the facts are that home burglaries in the U.S. are steadily declining, as is the number of violent crimes during the burglary. The roughly 100 homicides a year are far outnumbered by the accidental shootings by kids. And of course, there are a huge number of accidental shootings by adults.

But Mr. Pincus is not alone in his gun pushing insanity. The Iowa House of Representatives recently passed a bill to allow children under 14 to legally use firearms, with parental supervision of course. One representative was lamenting the need for a militia of toddlers. She claimed the bill would insure it was perfectly legal for infants as young as one year old to handle firearms. 

One father at the NRA convention bragged about how his son had been handling guns since the age of three. He probably expected the seven month old he was pushing in the carriage to start soon.

Sometimes one gets the impression the elder gun owners aren't so concerned about teaching children gun safety as they are making sure their own addiction is passed on to the younger generation. And of course, the NRA, supported financially by the weapons manufacturers more than the hunter members, wants as many guns sold as possible. So they create a new children's market, just like the tobacco companies. If they had their way, we'd probably follow Africa's lead with child soldiers.

The gun lobby also create new furniture companies, like Secret Compartment Furniture. How about a coffee table with a secret sliding drawer compartment where you can hide your handgun? Or what about an armoire where the top flips open to access your rifle?

It's lamentable that more respectable NRA members don't rein in their leadership and support reasonable gun controls. It's also lamentable how crazy the concealed weapon movement has become. If you drive, don't make a mistake driving. If you teach, don't offend a student. If you preach, don't make a parishioner angry. It's getting to the point where you have to be careful about looking at someone walking down the street, in the restaurant or any public place. What if they think you're giving them the evil eye? 

It's also lamentable that every other day there seems to be an advertisement or a front page article pushing guns in our own local paper. One would think the only happening at the Nature Center was target practice, for seniors or kids. It's like, let's engender a little more fear in the most vulnerable populations and teach them how to "defend" themselves.

Let's be honest. Anyone who conceals a gun in order to "defend" themselves is already prepared to kill another. It's that simple. And given one's mental or emotional stability, age or fear level, that other could be a spouse, a neighbor, a child, less likely an intruder.


The NRA and their apologists like to project a brave and "tough guy" image. On the contrary, it's their fear or anger driven cowardice, that makes them pack a pistol in their pants or even their child's bedroom.

Carl Kline

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Invitation Not Indoctrination


Flying home from Mexico last week, I sat next to a woman from Florida during the Atlanta to Sioux Falls flight. It started well enough. We engaged in small talk as we waited on the tarmac. I discovered she was heading to a family reunion with her husband and youngest son. She learned I was a retired clergy and teacher. As we were airborne, we both read for a while. Halfway through the flight, I made the mistake of asking about her reading material. I'd seen the word "God" on the cover.

She was reading a Bible study. And she had her red letter Bible handy to look up the appropriate quotations. She told me all about the author and how she was well known in women's circles. The more she talked the more agitated she became. The easy phrases of a convinced Christian rolled off her tongue and required my response. Unconvinced of her convictions, I asked her to dig deeper; to look at Biblical passages in context; to recognize that according to the Rabbis there were at least seven layers of meaning in every Biblical passage and they required serious study. She responded by reading passages to me, emphasizing her important points, as if I had never read the Bible. 

Soon she was looking at me as the heretic I suppose I am. She was especially offended when I told her we had to love our enemies. That it wasn't enough to say "we believed" for salvation. We actually needed to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Regrettably, the conversation became heated. She must have been convinced there was no salvation for this poor soul, full of the devil as I was. And I was increasingly aware of how disturbing our raised voices must have been to those around us, including her husband across the aisle. I eventually surrendered. But not before two things happened.

Maybe Bishop John Shelby Spong was more responsible than I for my eventual rejection. While it was still a conversation, I was able to tell her about Spong's non-theistic understanding of God.

Spong rejects the idea of God as this supernatural being that intervenes periodically in human affairs and human lives. Instead, he understands God as the God of Life, Love and Being. So for him, a person worships God by living life fully, loving wastefully and being all you are meant to be. 

For those seekers in this generation, not captured by fundamentalist purveyors of sin and salvation, Spong makes sense. In a scientific age, he offers an understanding of a relationship to divinity that invites relationship without denying intellect.

For instance, as a pastor I've attended many death beds. Those die hardest who have regrets, not so much about what they did with their life, but rather with what they failed to do. Those die easiest who have lived life to the full. If God is the giver of life, as most world religions affirm, then we honor that gift by living life to the fullest.

India taught me over several visits that I'm a banker, with a large savings account. The demands of adjusting to the climate, culture, etc. were so extreme I banked energy, conversation, chocolate, everything. I needed a savings account to make sure I would survive. Only over time did I realize risk was rewarding. My limits were almost infinite. I didn't need the savings account. I could live and love wastefully. Usually when one thinks they are "wasting" love on the unloveable, on the untouchable, that is when it truly begins to approach the divine. "When you do it unto the least of these …"

And what does it mean to truly be me? It's a huge philosophical and theological question. At least if we ask the question we have a chance of perhaps discerning the answer. And since God for Spong is Being with a capital B, being who we are meant to be is our most intimate identification with the divine.

Well, I didn't say all that in the conversation on the plane. Even the basics of a non-theistic God stirred the emotions and forced a torrent of Biblical quotations and doctrinal statements. Then the second thing happened. We began our descent and my ear plugged. Usually I'm able to yawn or do something to alleviate the pressure. But this time nothing seemed to work. With each passing minute the pain got worse and the ear more plugged so I couldn't hear at all in that one ear.

As my seat mate continued trying to save my soul, I had to tell her that the ear toward her was so badly plugged I couldn't hear a word she was saying. I want you to know that's the honest to God truth. It was only the ear toward her. 

Convinced Christians, take note! The Christian faith is an invitation not an indoctrination.


Carl Kline

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nightmares

Lately I've been reading before I go to sleep at night. My preference is novels, fiction. It helps keep me balanced given all the real life, non-fiction nightmares during waking hours. 

Two nightmares I'm considering this morning: the plethora of political propaganda and posturing so perpetual and pervasive these days; or since it's earth day as I write this, the nightmare of the dangerous, dim witted denial by dogmatic decision makers that anything's wrong with the climate, even when Hockley, Texas gets 17 inches of rain in 24 hours. 

That latter category must include Senators Rounds and Thune, as they signed a letter this week asking Secretary Kerry not to fund the United Nations organization working on climate change.

But let's leave the nightmares for another week. There are four books from late night reading to recommend.

The first is "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann.The plot revolves around the tightrope walk of Philippe Petit between the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974.  A 24 year old Frenchman, Petit held onlookers spellbound for 45 minutes as he made eight separate passes on the 200 foot stretch between the two buildings. Obviously enjoying himself, 1,350 feet in the air, he walked, danced, lay down and knelt on the wire. Later he said he could hear the murmuring and cheers of the crowd below. This event is not fiction. He was arrested by New York City police and later sentenced to performing for children in Central Park. You can even find pictures of his walk on the web. (If you don't like heights you may want to avoid the pictures).

But don't avoid the book. It is fiction. Philippe is not the main character, just that his walk is the event around which the story unfolds. The main characters are others who this event touches with some significance, as onlookers or connected in more obscure ways.

After saying I preferred reading fiction, two of the other books I want to suggest are non-fiction. 

If you sometimes wish for greater solitude, away from the busyness and craziness of contemporary life, you might enjoy "The Consolations of the Forest" by Sylvain Tesson. Here is someone who seeks and finds silence and solitude in a small cabin on Lake Baikal on the Siberian taiga for six months. He wards off cabin fever with almost daily excursions into the forests and mountains and on the frozen lake. He befriends birds, chops wood, eats fresh fish, drinks large quantities of vodka and reads some very heady books. 

Although it isn't fiction, it gives you an opportunity to escape those day time nightmares with him. Dress warm though. Those Siberian winters can be considerably worse than South Dakota.

The third book is very disturbing but hard to put down. It actually sends you to bed with a daytime nightmare instead of a quiet sleep. After the first two nights reading it before bed, I determined to just read the rest in the light of day. The book is "A Mother's Reckoning" by Sue Klebold. 

You may remember that last name from the shooting at Columbine High School back in 1999. Sue's son was one of the two shooters. They killed 12 students, 1 teacher and injured 24 others, before killing themselves. Their intention was to kill many more, given the explosives that failed to detonate. 

The book is the attempt of a mother to come to terms with a horrific act her son has committed, to understand what she might have missed, how it might have been prevented, what contribution she might make to an understanding of what she calls "brain health." 

One of her conclusions is that her son was suicidal. Based on evidence he left behind this is likely accurate. She doesn't use this as an excuse but it seems a stark warning to us all. (The radio news reported this morning there has been a spike in adolescent suicide, especially among girls). And these days we have even coined the phrase "suicide by cop."

The last book I've just begun. It's called "Small Wars" by Sadie Jones. The novel is set in English occupied Cyprus in 1956. Even in the first few chapters I'm beginning to see the challenge of "how honor can exist amid cruelty" and "what becomes of intimacy in the grinding gears of empire."

It's hard to truly recommend a book till one is finished. Suffice it to say "Small Wars" is engaging so far. And, I like the title. It describes too much of life. At our worst, we've strayed from our best sense of being neighbors, co-workers, a human family. Too much of life seems to be made up of small wars. Small wars only lead to bigger wars and I already sense in the novel, bigger wars are coming. 


In the same way, small acts of kindness, or forgiveness, or peacemaking, small acts of conscience,  can lead to bigger blessings. We have a choice. Already, I'm seeing that in "Small Wars" as well. Read on!

Carl Kline

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pollens & Strangers

Summer is about to descend on our island.  Already the streets are more crowded during the day.  The sleepy laid back energy of the off- season gradually shifts to one of greater vigilance as visitors blithely step off the curb in front of a moving vehicle to get the best photo from the middle of the street.  There are more people walking to their destinations at night, on the wrong side of the road, dressed in dark clothing, barely visible until my headlights are almost on them.

The season is here and with it come the strangers.  It is an annual event but somehow we are never quite ready.  

Our sacred texts instruct us to welcome the stranger, to be hospitable to  the “alien within our gates”.  The teaching is ancient, but living it out does not come automatically. Every year I have to grapple with my feelings of discomfort, the sensation of having unfamiliar guests in my “living room.”  Crowded streets, long lines at the post office, no parking spaces anywhere, trash left behind on the usually pristine beaches all make it difficult to embrace the command to welcome the stranger.

This year the abundance of pollens in the air are an apt metaphor for the sense of unwelcome invasion that tries to gain foothold.  It lands everywhere.  Even the keys  of the computer are gritty with it.

The rabbi asked us to look closely at the admonitions for relating to the stranger.  She invited us to understand that there are “concentric layers” of strangers in our lives.  There are strangers in our families - the ones who are estranged -distanced - in some way; there are the strangers who choose to make their home among us and dwell in our midst; and there are strangers who are just passing through, those who will touch our lives, significantly or peripherally, and we will never see them again.

We have also been having discussions about the Biblical injunction to “be holy for I your God am holy” - -  how to be holy, how to bring holiness (wholeness?) into the world around us when the widening gap between the wealthy visitors and the less than affluent “year - rounders”  who provide services becomes more pronounced with each passing season.   Learning how to be “holy be-ings” who can embrace and welcome the stranger is the challenge with the onset of every summer season.

How do I determine what is a “holy being?”   Sheila Peltz Weinberg suggests the following :
Who are holy beings?
They are beloved, clear of mind and courageous.
Their will and God’s will are one.
Raising their voices in constant gratitude
they marvel at every detail of life,
Granting each other loving permission to be exactly who they are.
When we listen for their sweet voices,
we can hear the echo within our own souls.
Ahhh! So there is the challenge to be encountered in the midst of the stress of any particular moment in life!  To give thanks continually - - to marvel in wonder at the immense diversity and beauty of life - - to grant loving permission to all we encounter to be exactly who they are.

And so, as I ponder whether to try one more time to clean up the invasive pollens or to simply let them be for a bit, knowing that they do, indeed, serve a function in the grand scheme of things, I try to shift my perspective - - and be at ease and at peace with their microscopic invasive forces.  Maybe I can just let them be pollens being pollens - - maybe utter a “God Bless You” with each inconvenient sneeze they evoke. Maybe I can let them be my teachers as the season progresses.  

Strangers, like the pollens, come and go.  May they each be blessed with a sense of well-being, a sense of being welcomed, a sense of respite and relief from their daily stresses back home.  May they be whole.  May they find wholeness (holiness) here.  May they be restored and take a measure of holiness home with them.

Wherever we are, the stress of encountering the stranger may give us pause to reflect.  There is much in the worldwide political and social and economic climate of our human existence that summons us to fear the stranger - to see an enemy in the stranger - to resist the presence of the stranger in our midst, to resent whatever the stranger might represent to us.   As a  stumbling peacemaker and as a struggling practitioner of  living nonviolence,  one thing I can do is to give thanks and marvel at the amazing array of human diversity - and perhaps utter a soft “God bless you!” each time an allergic response to the stranger makes itself known.   Pollens and strangers - - they come and go.  May peace be with them.  May they each fulfill their reason for being as this planet turns.

Vicky Hanjian




Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Defense of Public Education


Our public school district, like public schools across the U.S., is in a time of great stress. Budgets are tight, enrollments are rising, diversity is expanding, and the pressures to reduce staff and privatize jobs is unrelenting. I view public education as a sacred trust that is worth supporting and defending. Education is a ministry of the highest order. I believe that people who are interested in nonviolence must speak out in defense of public education.
Let me say upfront that there are times when privatization is in order. But there are also times when privatization is little more than a form of modern day piracy. This type of privatization transfers assets to the wealthy, and saddles the public and individuals who are least able to shoulder the burden with the costs. Pressure to privatize custodian jobs in our school district is intense and other efforts to protect certain jobs and benefits while asking others to sacrifice is ongoing. Both actions are morally offensive to me. They are designed to protect the power and privileges of some at the expense of others.

Privatization and staff reduction puts the burden of responsibility in the wrong place. The problem is not that custodians, teachers, librarians, nurses, aides and others are making too much money. In Kansas, the budget crisis was created by the state legislature and the governor when they decided to eliminate income taxes for the wealthiest 330,000 people in the state.
It is worth noting in the context of public education the word public comes from the Latin poplicus, meaning “pertaining to the people.” The word private, in contrast, comes from the Latin, privare, which gives rise to the word “deprived.” The Greek word for a strictly private person is idiotes, from which we get the word idiot, meaning a person who does stupid things—like robbing the public purse for private gain.
Although assurances are given that privatization will save millions of dollars, this is not guaranteed. I would be surprised if privatization contracts contain any clawback agreements that would reimburse the school district if the savings promised were not met. I invite you to go online and read about school districts that have privatized custodial services, sold custodial supplies and equipment, and created an employment environment that invites high turnover and low wages with few benefits. More than one school district reports they had to spend millions in un-budgeted expenses for custodial services after they voted to privatize these same services to save money. The Chicago public schools is a well-documented study in the failure of privatization.

Schools are public places where people learn self-respect, gain new skills, and learn the values of cooperation and civic virtue. They are meeting places that offer the opportunity for creative inter-generational interaction crossing lines of race, class, and religion. Without this kind of public space the fabric of society soon becomes frayed, and public trust in our institutions begins to unravel.
Fighting to save the jobs of public school custodians is about much more than saving jobs—important as it is that we do this. Fair compensation for everyone who works in our public schools is about claiming, reclaiming, and protecting a vital public space and place that makes and keeps civil society civil. The classroom is where we first learn what it means to be “one nation, indivisible.”

Rev. David Hanson



Thursday, May 19, 2016

Growth

For the last couple of weeks I've started a new morning ritual as I have a glass of juice and piece of fruit in our living room. I have to check out the buds on the orchid cactus. We've had it for as long as we've lived here. It has a special place in the sun where it extends it's arms and legs over several square feet. 

At the very beginning of the season I try to guess how many buds will appear; then how many flowers to expect. Usually there are somewhere between four and ten. This year I'm quite certain there will be six. But I'm open to surprises.

When the buds are in full flower they are a majestic red, beautiful to behold as they open to the sun. They don't all open at the exact same time so the beauty can last for several days. The sight is worth the sticky pollen they drip on the floor and the sense of loss as they gradually wither and drop.

Once we had one of those night blooming cacti that only opened once a year, overnight. If you wanted to see the flower fully open you had to catch it on the right day and in the dark. 

Blooming things, growing things, require patience. I'm doubly reminded of this fact of life as the garden is planted. The promise of an early and warm spring had me putting seeds in the ground only to have temperatures go down again. And now there's a projected frost.

We're an impatient lot! Often instead of learning about growth from the natural world and adopting those rhythms as our own, we arrogantly and greedily chart our own course, nature be damned.

Every parent knows that children have their own rhythm. Some have growth spurts while others plateau. Some are ready to dive right into school and others tend to hold back. Some are introverts and some are extroverts, and parents can push and pull to move their children in different directions but there are always some built in growth patterns that give that child their integrity. Ultimately, they will grow at their own rate.

What is true in families is also true in communities. There are some natural growth processes. As population grows, infrastructure needs to grow as well. With more children a community needs more schools and more playgrounds. To build more schools you need more land and more teachers. And so it goes.

But we are an impatient lot. So we develop all manner of systems and weapons and institutions to promote growth. Sometimes the process is in harmony with natural cycles. Sometimes the growth rate is cancerous.

Some schools can get so big they eat up their students. University class sizes can get so large they discourage teaching and learning. Industrial agriculture and CAFO's can grow so enormous that the product becomes problematic.

The news this morning is that 48 members of the European Parliament volunteered to take a urine test to see if there was glyphosate in their system. Glyphosate is the cancer linked weed killer found in Monsanto's Round Up herbicide. All 48 parliament members tested positive, with an average pesticide level 17 times higher than the drinking water norm.

We would probably find the same result or worse in the U.S. I followed a pickup truck a few weeks ago on I-29 with at least a half dozen 50 gallon barrels of Round Up in the truck bed. Was that going on crops you or I will eventually eat? Monsanto tells us their herbicides are helping us feed the world. But how? By reducing the population with increasing rates of cancer?

Or how about the boom and bust growth patterns one finds with fossil fuels. The new Dakota Access pipeline proponents promote this new white elephant with the promise of jobs and economic growth. And at what expense to water and land and climate? At what expense to the rhythms and harmony of nature? And who will pick up the pieces of a busted economy in the North Dakota Bakken as oil prices are low; or in West Virginia as coal has tanked; or in Alberta, Canada as tar sands workers have lost their homes in an apocalyptic wildfire.

Growth can be beautiful like our cactus, invigorating, inspiring. But as we read in 1972 in Limits to Growth, the earth is a finite system. Things grow, and die. If we are wise, we will observe and respect the inter-relatedness of all things, adopt regenerative agriculture and sustainable life styles and chart our growth accordingly. 

We would do well to heed the words of Shakespeare, "How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees." Or the Chinese Proverb, "Patience is power; with time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes silk."

Carl Kline