Friday, February 26, 2021

A Late Winter Pause

 It’s the quietest week of the year on the Vineyard.  February is always subdued.  Seasonal residents are still in warm sunny places. This week the schools are closed and families who can take advantage of the “down-time”  scoop up the kids and head “off the rock” for a few days of family time together - even with the various Covid restrictions.  So - no school busses  and virtually no traffic at all.  A time to pause.

Last year at this time, we had just celebrated Purim with all the fun and joy that attends the holiday.  It is hard to believe that was the last time the community was together face to face.  Within days of that celebration the island was in lock down.  The streets, normally quiet anyway in February and March, had the eerie feeling that came with some of the scenes in the long ago movie “On The Beach” - - no

cars at all - no sounds except the familiar one of  seagulls scavenging for their breakfast.   

I was in the midst of rehab post knee surgery.  In the Physical Therapy department at the hospital staff and patients kept asking many unanswered questions.  Have you heard….? What does this mean for us here on an island?  Will we be protected by the waters around us?  Can we finish the recommended course of PT? And then abruptly, all services were closed down except for emergency interventions.  

And we plunged into unknown territory - uncertain about how to protect ourselves.  Masks? No masks?  Wear protective gloves everywhere?  Disinfect grocery store purchases before bringing them into the house?  What about safety when traveling in a car with someone else?  Stock up on toilet paper? Hand sanitizer?  Grocery store shelves were unaccustomedly empty of many basics.  Finding flour and sugar became a challenge.  The meat eaters among us veered toward vegetarianism as the meat and poultry departments struggled to meet the demand when food supply chains were interrupted.

Our college age grandchildren were summoned home when their spring semester was just getting underway.  Students around the country struggled and continue to struggle with remote learning and the precious continuity of their education, regardless of their ages, has been seriously and detrimentally disrupted.

 And here we are, one year later.  Various earlier anxieties have been augmented by questions about when the vaccines will be universally available.  The unheard of speed in the development of vaccines is offset by production and distribution challenges.  Questionable equitable distribution, long waits for appointments, mistrust of the vaccines themselves all keep the fear levels high.

A new administration is gradually taking hold in Washington.  The news from Dr. Fauci is cautionary, but generally hopeful.  We understand more about transmission and we know better what effective precautions to take to protect ourselves.  Running routine errands seems less fraught with the earlier fears.  Conversations drift in a subdued but celebratory direction as people compare experiences with getting the vaccine.

The past year has witnessed so much tragedy and violence, sickness and death, divisiveness and destruction - and yet, here we are, hopefully headed toward wholeness and well being on so many levels - medically, socially, politically.  I like to think that humankind is wrestling with how to live out an expanded consciousness now.  What will we do with the greater clarity of  awareness about the terrible racial inequities fully exposed by the pandemic?  How will we build trust in our political systems in the midst of the ongoing anger and violence that color relationships in both houses of congress post insurrection?

Our local PBS channel has been running a quote from James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  That seems to be where we stand - - challenged to face into all that has been revealed of our violence, our darkness, our mistrust, our unwillingness to sacrifice,  our lack of regard for one another in the midst of crisis…

Perhaps hope lies in the awareness that the pandemic has cast a spotlight on all our brokenness - and when light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it.    A quiet week on the Vineyard.  Time to pause and reflect.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, February 19, 2021

"Let them make me a sanctuary..."


 Some words from the past from the pen of Walter Lippman in The Good Society (1937): “For there is no longer a general understanding among civilized (men): they cannot fall upon a common allegiance to assuage their partisanship; they have no consensus of accepted ideas.  Yet these things they must have if they are to restore civilized order.  There are no end of fashionable opinions.  But as against the convictions of those who are ready to kill or be killed to achieve their ends, the civilized arguments are subtle, complicated and effete.  In the epochal crisis of our time the cause of civilization is being defended by men who possess a great tradition that has become softened by easy living, by men who have forgotten the necessities in which their principles were wrought.”  While Lippmann was writing during the dynamics of the 2nd World War, he could have been writing about our current situation in the USA.

In our weekly encounter with Torah this week, our little study group read about the building of the mishkan (sanctuary, tabernacle) described in Exodus 25 and following.  The Divine imperative was “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  (Exodus 25:8)  Our conversation around this short verse led us in many directions until one member of the group cited Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ (of blessed memory) book The Home We Build Together.  Rabbi Sacks reviewed the early history of Israel from the time of their exit from Egypt.  The Biblical texts portray the Israelites as “a querulous, almost ungovernable group.”  Under Moses’ leadership they leave the constraints of slavery behind and almost immediately begin to complain about the conditions they encounter in their new freedom.  Rabbi Sacks writes: “Putting all this together (ie the exodus from Egypt, the complaining and yearning for the familiar predictability of slavery, the yearning for a god the people could see, as in the Golden Calf) we arrive at the boldest of all Exodus’ political statements.  A nation - at least the kind of nation the Israelites were called upon to become - is created through the act of creation itself…in commanding Moses to get the people to make the tabernacle (sanctuary), God was, in effect saying: To turn a group of individuals into a covenantal nation, they must build something together.”

I live on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod.  Travel in almost any direction on the mainland involves crossing over the Cape Cod Canal via either the Bourne Bridge or the Sagamore Bridge - sister bridges built by the WPA circa 1935.  The Bourne Bridge is iconic for me.  When I am leaving the Cape, it rises out of the misty canal, visible a mile or so before I actually get there. To me it means access to “America” on my infrequent trips off island.  On the return trip, approaching the canal from the mainland, the Bourne Bridge comes into view with a great sigh of relief - - "I’m almost home."   It is ceaselessly amazing to me that this steel and concrete and asphalt structure, so often clogged with vehicular traffic that makes a trip daunting, can, nonetheless evoke powerful emotional responses.

The two bridges, Bourne and Sagamore, rose up to dominate the horizon on the Cape Cod Canal as a result of the labors of the WPA - - a product of the New Deal era in the run-up to WW 2.  At one time it employed as many as 8 million people working on infrastructure projects around the country.   The goal was to supply meaningful and well paid work for “the family breadwinner who had been out of work for a long period of time” - - work that would benefit the whole.
As our little group kept chewing on the the text from Exodus and Rabbi Sack’s commentary flung alongside the words of Walter Lippmann, we began to envision a country where, under enlightened leadership, we might collectively put our shoulders to the wheel and construct, build, create together an infrastructure that would draw us, as a nation, into a more harmonious identity - one built on productivity and creativity in the service of all.  Something we could all take pride in because we helped make it happen.

If, in our diverse culture, we are to be able to learn to live together with all our differences, politically, ideologically, spiritually, economically, perhaps we need a sense of common purpose, a sense of belonging, a sense of making an important contribution that comes with working through the process of creating something good and beautiful and useful to the whole.  

“…that I may dwell among them” - carries within a few words the inspiration of a vast vision - - a culture, a society, perhaps a world, in which the divine attributes of compassion and grace, kindness and faithfulness and forgiveness dwell in a spacious hospitality among us in a society that truly permits the Holy to  dwell among us.   

Can we, as diverse and “querulous and ungovernable” as we are, can we actually create and co-create by working together to rebuild the crumbling structures that bind us together?

 Vicky Hanjian

Friday, February 12, 2021

Side By Side

 While reading Krista Tippett’s book Speaking of Faith recently, I became reacquainted with Bruce Feiler’s book Walking The Bible.  Feiler’s narrative about his visit to Hebron brought back my own memories of walking one of the streets of that city perhaps 13 years ago.  My husband and I were with a study group under the leadership of Rabbis For Human Rights. (The organization’s name has since been changed to T’ruah )

Hebron is the traditional site of the burial place of the biblical patriarch, Abraham and his wife, Sarah.  It is a site revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  It is also the site of some of the most hotly contested issues between Israel and Palestine.  We felt fortunate to be able to visit Hebron as tour groups are often directed away from the city because of hostilities.  The threat of violence was ever present and we were escorted by Israeli police who outnumbered our group by at least two to one. Our attempt to visit Machpelah, the ancient tomb of the patriarch, was aborted when our group was “invited” to re-board our bus and leave or risk arrest.  We never did get to view the tomb.

Feiler describes Machpelah this way: It’s this giant building that looks like a cross between a gymnasium and a castle…And I go into this tiny little room between Abraham and Sarah’s tomb.  All three faiths agree that this is where they’re buried. There’s a ramshackle synagogue with a chandelier hanging down with half the bulbs out, and it’s there that Abraham, at age 175, dies.

The great patriarch’s family was not without its pain and dysfunction.  Early on, Abraham at Sarah’s behest, turns his first born son, Ishmael, along with his slave mother, Hagar, out into the wilderness.  The family’s early traumas make it impossible for Isaac, the firstborn of Sarah, Abraham’s legitimate wife, and Ishmael ever to grow up as brothers.  They go their separate ways, each with a Divine promise that they will engender “a people.”

Feiler writes:In one of the most haunting and overlooked passages in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 25:9)…Ishmael and Isaac - rivals since before they were born, estranged since childhood, leaders of opposing nations - come to stand side by side and bury their father.
 For a short space in time, Ishmael and Isaac are not rivals, not enemies. They are brothers, standing side by side doing the difficult work of honoring their father and laying him to rest.

Feiler continues:What I think is relevant here is that this (Machpelah) is also a Muslim shrine; it’s been a Muslim shrine for hundreds of years.  Muslims and Jews now divide the shrine.  In some ways the shrine is an awkward but really practical model for how you can get along…It ain’t pretty.  Jews and Muslims, they split the shrine and ten days each year each side gets unlimited access to it.  It ain’t pretty, but it does work. And maybe that’s the model here. But what’s important about the Biblical moment is that they stand side by side.  It doesn’t say they hugged.  It doesn’t say they had dinner.  It doesn’t say they moved in and sat down and said, you know, “Let’s forgive.”  And, remember, Abraham had tried to kill each of them.  To me, that is the  model.  And, again, the text seems to understand - predict, almost - where we’re going to be so many thousands of years later.  So the destination here is not some Esperanto mumbo jumbo of a giant religion. It’s standing side by side and respecting coexistence.

As I am writing, the impeachment trial is unfolding in the senate.  It seems, at least at the moment, that an acquittal is a foregone conclusion.  At the end of the day all the enmities will continue to exist as accusations about the success or failure of the Senate trial and its subsequent meaning continue to be parsed and argued.  It will be challenging to move on and for the Senate to be about the business of government when there is so much acrimony threaded through so many fractured relationships.  

I wonder if the story of Ishmael’s and Isaac’s brief reunion for the purpose of completing the most sacred task of their lives -that of attending to their father’s death and burial - might have any meaning for the people charged with governing this country.  I wonder if there is even a remote possibility that the gravity of the work that is ahead of us might cause any of the members of the House and Senate to at least come to the point of being able to stand side by side - - to come to some (even if grudging) respecting of coexistence.

As a father, Abraham was unskilled when it came to wise parenting.  His choices and decisions fed into the devastating rivalry between his two sons - a rivalry that exists today in the enmity between Palestine and Israel.  As a nation, we, too, have been subjected to unskillful leadership. It has fed our already existing divisions and played them into the full blown drama that unfolded in the Capitol on January 6.  It ain’t pretty.

I envision a beautiful poster decorating the halls of Congress - perhaps an image of  Ishmael and Isaac at Abraham’s graveside captioned this way:  Beloved, you don’t have to hug.  You don’t have to sit down to dinner with each other.  You don’t even have to say “Let’s forgive.”  Just stand side by side to face together the work at hand, honor one another’s right to exist and get to work.

It seems so basic, so fundamental - -simply mutual acknowledgement of the other’s right to exist - a foundation, perhaps, on which to build and re-build a functioning government that we might once again view with confidence and pride.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, February 5, 2021

 Stanford University is the home of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. A volume of his letters and papers the University published has been sitting on my book shelf for several years. There are memorable pieces in it.

One of my favorite letters is one King writes home to his father during the summer of 1944. This is during his first excursion to the North, where he worked in the tobacco fields of Connecticut. Here he had his first experience of an integrated society and an integrated church. You can hear the surprise in his voice as he writes, "We go to any place we want to and sit any where we want to." King later traces his call to the ministry to this summer experience, when he was still a junior in high school and felt an "inescapable urge to serve society."

A later paper in this volume is one he wrote in Seminary on the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Knowing what we know now about Kings' life, and death, the paper is hauntingly prescient. He writes, "What is society's reaction to such men (prophets like Jeremiah)? It has reacted, and always will react, in the only way open to it. It destroys such men. Jeremiah died a martyr."

King preached six different times at the Riverside Church in New York City. Those recordings have recently been released by the Church and Stanford. It was a trip back in time for me to listen again to "A Knock at Midnight," a sermon I heard King give there in 1964, while I was a Seminary student across the street at Union Theological Seminary and working in the Riverside Youth Department.

In the parable a man is seeking three loaves of bread from his neighbor to feed an unexpected guest. The problem is he is knocking on the door at midnight and the neighbor is already in bed. For King, 1964 was midnight in the social order. He believed we needed to get out of bed and address the three social evils of the time: militarism (especially nuclear weapons and soon the war in Vietnam); racial dignity and racial justice; and materialism with its consequent poverty. With respect to the latter, he even believed: “We are saying that something is wrong with capitalism … there must be a better distribution of wealth in this country for all of God’s children and maybe America must move toward democratic socialism.” That conviction and broadcasting it, will surely make you a target in 2021 as well.

The loaves of bread King wanted were faith; faith in God, the neighbor and the future; hope and love. He worried that it was late, midnight, in the social order, the psychological and the moral order. He looked and prayed for the day when the neighbor would wake up, get out of bed, and provide the sustenance needed. He was especially hopeful the community that offered the "bread of life" every week, would lead the way.   Sitting in the first few rows with the Youth Department on that Sunday morning, gave us first chance to shake his hand after the service. I know for many of those young people it was a memorable and inspiring day. I needed to be reminded of the sermon content after all these years, but remember well his presence.

The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute publishes an Essay Series of Kings' work. It includes the sermon "Loving Your Enemies," his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and his "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam," the latter speech also given at Riverside Church. Copies will be distributed to my Peace and Justice class this semester. They would be good reading for everyone on a holiday that bears Kings' name. The Governor might want to add   the booklet to the history curriculum she's proposing.

Kings' last speech before his assassination in Memphis is available on the internet. He wasn't feeling well that day and didn't intend to address the gathering. But his colleagues convinced him the gathered crowd wouldn't leave till they heard him and told him he had to go to the auditorium. As always, his speech was laced with Biblical illustrations and allusions. Once again, he seemed prescient. He seemed to know his future. He said he'd been to the mountain top, seen the promised land, knew he might not get there himself, but that was enough. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." He had to be helped to his seat as the speech concluded. The next day he was dead!

King gets one day a year, a national holiday. Another prophet gets one day every week, plus a national holiday. One could hope that the prophet people worship every Sunday would help them multiply Kings' message and work by a hundred-fold, so they too might be able to see the glory of the coming of the Lord.


Carl Kline

Friday, January 29, 2021


 If it wasn't clear before, it should be now. We're at a historical turning point in this country. We will either go forward into a new and inclusive future, or we will disintegrate into an exclusionary past, where White makes right. The confederate flag amidst the mob in our nation's capitol was the symbol of the divide. And the insurrectionists with the "Civil War" shirts, spoke more loudly with their visual than any words might have done. What was at stake in the continuation of a Trump presidency is White supremacy. Many refuse to admit this elephant in the room, but unfortunately, White supremacy has taken up way too much room in the elephant.

It wasn't so long ago the Republican party was on a mission to become more inclusive. There was a recognition, especially after the Obama election, that the country was changing, becoming more racially and religiously diverse. The message was that to be relevant as a political party, with opportunities to occupy the White House, the party would have to change too. A Black man, Michael Steele, became Chairperson of the Republican National Committee. That effort only lasted for two years, from 2009 to 2011. Apparently, one Black face at the top didn't didn't mean much at the bottom, devoid of a meaningful platform. Then the inclusive intention seemed to dissolve. Instead of inclusion, the party tried exclusion, with extensive gerrymandering and voter suppression. The crowning event for exclusion was the election of Donald Trump.

Trumps' intention was clear from the very beginning. We knew his history and he was open about his intentions. We knew he lied and spread misinformation, as he did his best to keep the Obama "birther" issue alive. And who could forget his "crooks and rapists" dog whistles, about our southern neighbors during the 2015 campaign.

Once in office: Muslims were banned; the wall was built; dreamers were threatened; refugees were limited; temporary protected status was diminished; Charlottsville had "good people" on both sides; and now, the President "loves" those people who trashed our capitol, threatened the Vice President with lynching and Congress members with God knows what. Wherever he has been able to limit the growth of a population of people of color or encourage White supremacists, he has done it; even separating children from their parents and putting them in detention centers, a morally unspeakable act.

Trump, unable or unwilling to understand racial dynamics, continues to profess his love for Black people. "Well, my message is that I love the Black community and I've done more for the Black community than any other president, and I say with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, and I mean that, with opportunity zones, and with criminal justice reform, with prison reform, with what we've done for historically Black universities, colleges, schools, what we've done. It's nobody's done more. Abraham Lincoln, let's give him the nod, but beyond that, nobody's done more. I love the Black community."

One wonders if the Presidents' love extends to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, or any number of Black Lives Matter marchers? One wonders if he would ever kneel to honor the life of just one Black man? It wouldn't have to be for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Just touching one knee to the floor like a Colin Kaepernick would do.

At the recent meeting of the Republican National Committee, Nikki Haley suggested the party might want to embrace "inclusion" in the future, given the drubbing the party took in Georgia. At the same meeting, Governor Noem said the recently elected Senators from Georgia were "communists." After this President, the Republican party faces a choice and and an uncertain future. But  the choice is clear from the remarks of these women, inclusion or exclusion.

The other party facing a choice is the Christian church, one of the significant supports for the Trump presidency. If the church is not inclusive, it is not the church of Jesus Christ. How you can represent one of the most inclusive and welcoming persons in human history by remaining exclusive is beyond comprehension. If your church community is not racially diverse, welcoming of all sexual orientations, and open to dialogue and friendship with other faith communities, you shouldn't call yourself a "Christian" church. And it doesn't count to make excuses based on location or past  efforts. Change the racist or exclusive infrastructure of the community you are in!  The church's mission is to build the Kingdom, the beloved community.

And please, don't ever tell us again an apostle of exclusion is sent to us by God. That's definitely using God's name in vain.   

Carl Kline

Friday, January 22, 2021

Imagine the Wilderness

The Gospel of Mark begins in this way:

 The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
    Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who will prepare thy way;
    the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he whose mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
 In those days Jesus Came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.”
(Mk 1:1-11, RSV).

When we hear the word “wilderness” some of us may think about the pristine wilderness--an uncorrupted place we can go to on retreat. The wilderness is our own Walden Pond. It is a place set apart where we can go when we want to get away from it all. Others of us may have just the opposite image. We associate the wilderness with a wild and untamed place of danger. Both images have deep roots in our national mythology and storytelling. 

In the Bible the wilderness is a place where miracles happen. In the Hebrew Bible, refugees wander in the wilderness for forty years. When they are hungry manna falls from heaven. When they are thirsty water gushes forth from a rock. In the wilderness the refugees are led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Miracles happen in the wilderness. It is a place where people come to a new experience of the presence of God in their lives.

Witness the opening verses of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Ps.46:1-3, RSV). Clearly the people are in some kind of wilderness. The foundations of the earth are shaking. Everything is busting loose. But rather than asking, “Why is this happening to me?” to people reaffirm their confidence in God, who is in their midst, “We will not fear, thought the earth should change.”

In the Christian scriptures, Jesus is baptized in the wilderness. He did not go to the temple in Jerusalem. He did not ask a temple priest to baptize him. He went to the wilderness, and there he met a wild man named John who was wearing a coat made of camel’s hair and who ate locusts and wild honey. It is a wild scene, but it was not a riot. This is no picture of mob violence. Jesus is not encouraging people to storm the city of Jerusalem. He is not calling on his followers to attack the priests or march on the temple. He is in the wilderness.

It strikes me that Mark tells the story of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in this way because he wants to put us on notice. If we are going to follow this Jesus, if we plan to walk with this messiah, if we are going to be his disciples, we are going to have to leave the comfort and safety of our familiar routines and surroundings. Change is in the air; and the followers of Jesus are called to become agents of change. That is what it means to follow Jesus into the wilderness.

We have just come from our Christmas celebration. We read the Christmas story. We heard the good news of the gospel: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us) (Mt: 1:23, RSV). This good news is more than an agreeable possibility, a pleasing thought. But cold reason is not easily seduced. If we are going to go into the wilderness, we want to choose the time and the place. Prudence--good judgment, common sense, a careful regard for one’s self-interest--this is how the dictionary defines prudence. Before you go into the wilderness be sure you are wearing clean underwear. Be practical.

I do not think that Mark is encouraging us to throw caution to the wind. But he does raise an important question for us when he tells us that Jesus went into the wilderness. How do we define the wilderness today? What is the wilderness that we face? How do we experience the presence of God? What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

 As I reflect on the meaning of the wilderness, I am thinking of the 370,000 plus people in this country who have died of Covid-19, and the families and loved ones who have been left behind, and who need to find a new way to live. I heard a story just this morning of a man who had a shoeshine business. He said since the outbreak of covid-19 his business has dried up. He has no customers. He is in the wilderness. He said that his new home as four wheels, for as long as he is able to keep his car. He is going to be evicted from his apartment, and he no place else to go. 

I think of people who are unemployed and underemployed going to food pantries and bread lines in this the richest country in the history of the world. We cannot afford to house our fellow citizens? We can’t give people a well-paying job? We can spend billions of dollars on the Defense Reauthorization Act, but we cannot help out people living in this country in their time of need? Where is the church in this wilderness? What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

In the service of baptism we make promises. We promise to resist oppression. We promise to seek justice, love mercy, and walk with compassion for others. We can renew our baptism every morning when we wash our face or step into the shower. How will I live in the power of the Holy Spirit today?   

Mark tells us that Jesus went to the Jordan River. He did not dip his toe into the water. He did not wade in the water. He went into the water. Thinking of this scene, my mind turns to the contrasting image of the disciples who locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. I wonder how long they would have stayed there if Jesus had not come and stood among them.

Mark says that John baptized with the water of repentance, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism signaled the end of one way of life; Jesus’ baptism marked that beginning of a new way of life. The poet W. H. Auden said that we live in the “Kingdom of Anxiety.” We are perpetually and forever worried about what is going to happen next. What is going to happen to us? What is going to happen to me?

When I see this image of Jesus going into the river Jordan, in my mind I contrast that image with the memory of people in Flint, Michigan, who were told that the drinking water was safe for them and for their children. The phrase that comes to mind is “water apartheid,” Ched Myers book coined this phrase in his book, Watershed Discipleship. Myers is a good theologian and a good writer with important things to say. If you are looking for a book to read, get a copy of Watershed Discipleship. If we don’t practice watershed discipleship, water will become the new dividing line between the have-gots and the have-nots, and we will have created a wilderness.

The poet Wendell Berry says in his poem: "What We Need Is Here," “We pray not for new earth and heaven, but to be quiet in heart and in eye clear. What we need is here.” Mark is telling us that what we need is here. He is also reminding us that there are others who are here with us. When Jesus was baptized people from the country side and people from the city were there that day. I can imagine that some people Mark is talking about probably carried others who were on stretchers. There in the wilderness a new community, a new society, began to take shape on the banks of the Jordan River. And it was a very good day. Today is a very good day for us as well, this is the promise of Jesus the Christ. 


Rev. David Hansen

Friday, January 15, 2021

An Exhausting Week


An exhausting week.   On Tuesday, January 5, 2021 Rafael Warnock and John Osoff won the GA senate run-off elections thus changing the balance in the senate in DC in history making ways.  The ability to celebrate this potentially transformative election was torn away when, on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the capitol building was stormed and breached by a mob with the intent of overthrowing the senate as it came to voting to accept the electoral college results, state by state.  Sedition, insurrection, 2nd impeachment, all have entered our daily vocabulary as the news keeps unfolding.  There is actual, real time footage of an American president inciting the crowds to march on the capitol.  The result was violence and destruction and chaos and death   People keep  saying “This isn’t us.  This isn’t America” But what if this IS us for all the world to see?

Many years ago I attended a lecture by Marian Woodman, noted Jungian psychologist.  I recall so clearly her take on the "shadow" in the human psyche.  Her wisdom was that until the shadow parts of us that we deny and prefer to keep out of view are brought into the light, eventually embraced and loved and reconciled into the light, that shadow is always in danger of emerging on its own and is capable of "running the show."

 As a nation we have never come to terms with our shadow and now it is running the show in the form of white supremacy, violence, and anarchy. The January 6th assault on the capitol  was just a snapshot of what lies beneath - and not very far beneath the surface.  News analysis reveals that we have not seen the last of it as plans are uncovered for “protests” at state houses across the country.

January 6th is traditionally observed as Epiphany in Christianity.  As has been recognized often in the press, the third definition of “epiphany” in the dictionary is: “showing, appearance, manifestation” in the sense of suddenly seeing or understanding something in a new or very clear way.

For so many of us, January 6 was truly an epiphany - a day on which the dark underbelly, the ugly racism and white supremacy at the heart of this country, the utter violence and disrespect for the orderly transfer of power, was manifested in a very clear way.  Unlike Christian tradition's observance that celebrates the lovely story of The Wise seeking the newborn manifestation of the Divine in humanity enjoyed by religious communities around the world with great music, prayers, drama and a sense of light and renewal, this particular epiphany evokes sadness, horror, confusion, doubt, and outrage...darkness revealed.

We are in the midst of it. It will not go away.  If the year 2020 was an apocalyptic year in which economic and racial inequities were revealed and laid bare by the Corona virus pandemic, 2021 has begun with an epiphany of biblical proportions as we, in one rather spectacularly dark event, suddenly see more - - understand more, in a clearer way.  

The biblical story of Wise seeking the source of greater light is set in the context of an oppressive regime seeking to hold and protect power, intent on removing the threat to power posed by an infant born in a barn.  Instead of cooperating with the oppressive regime, the Wise disregard the order to inform the king of the whereabouts of the infant and return home by a different route.

As tyrants are wont to do when they fear the loss of power, the king becomes enraged  and orders that all children 2 years of age and under be slaughtered.  Echoes of the beginnings of the Exodus story shimmer in the story in the gospels. In the sacred texts, power-full kings and pharaohs tend to react this way.  Herod and Pharaoh are cut from the same cloth and history repeats itself.

A few words from the January 7 statement from the leadership of The United Church of Christ illuminate and guide the way forward:

“Our faith calls us to acts of love, kindness and compassion. Our faith reminds us that the power of God aligns with the poor and the abandoned, the weak and the hungry, the oppressed and the marginalized. We call on all people of faith and goodwill to use what we saw on January 6, 2021, as a call to justice and a reminder of what happens when evil goes unchallenged.”
In the end the darkness is revealed and can be understood in a clearer way.
“Our faithful response to this most recent act of white terrorism and insurrection will be to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, free the oppressed, welcome the stranger, love the neighbor, and fill the whole world with the love of our blessed redeemer, Jesus. And, as we continue to do so, we will walk in the courage to denounce and dismantle theologies and systems of oppression and hatred, replacing them with theologies of freedom, peace, justice and love.”


Oppressive power is thwarted by nonviolent noncooperation through compassionate acts of justice seeking, lovingkindness, hospitality, and generosity.

May the darkness of this particular epiphany lead us into the light.

Vicky Hanjian