Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Time to Hope

A Christian Sermon Delivered Nov 27, 2016

Matthew 24:36-44
The reading for today is about the end times. The day of judgment is coming. No one knows when it will be, not the angels, not the Son. Only God knows when this time will come. When we read the text closely, Matthew is careful to avoid making any judgments on the people living in the days of Noah before the flood. There is no judgment on the men working in the fields or the women working in the mill. They are all ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary ways. They are getting married and being given in marriage, or going about their normal every day routines and chores. All Matthew tells us is that the day is coming, therefore, keep away. Stay alert.
In order to understand this text it is helpful to have some historical context and background. After Jesus died there was an explosion of missionary activity in the early church. The followers of Jesus went everywhere to share the good news of the Gospel. Thomas went to India. Peter and Paul were in what is now Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean. Other disciples went to Africa and parts of Europe. As the church spread out new questions arose. One of the central questions was who could be a Christian.
The Romans considered Christianity to be a Jewish sect. The question in the church was whether or not Gentiles had to become Jews before they became Christians, or could they become Christians without first becoming Jews? That question was so important that the leaders of the church convened the first Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35 RSV). The Council decided that Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews. This was a statement about radical equality among all members of the church. It was an important decision that shaped the future of the church.
As the early church grew, leaders had to decide not only who could become a Christian but also how the faith was being shared. Congregations became training centers. It is fair to think of some churches as “mother” congregations that sponsored satellite communities. Schools that we might think of as academies were established. Some of these congregations were predominantly Jewish, some were predominantly Gentile, and some were mixed.
Scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Matthew was written to a largely Jewish congregation and it was written in or around 80 AD (now CE for the Common Era). These two points are important for our interpretation of chapter 24 of Matthew because of what happened in the preceding decades. In 60 CE there was a massive fire in Rome that destroyed one-third of the city. Nero, the Emperor, blamed the Christians and there was a period of severe persecution. The Jewish War in Israel began in 66 CE with the intent of driving the Romans out of Israel. The Romans responded with what we would call a scorched earth policy. They began in the north and moved south destroying everything that represented resistance and killing thousands of people. When they got to Jerusalem they destroyed the city and burned the Temple to the ground. The Wailing Wall is all that is left of the Temple. When people visit the Wailing Wall they are revisiting a site that was destroyed in 70 CE and reliving that history. After they destroyed Jerusalem, the Romans went south to Masada, the last stronghold of the resistance.

It is hard for us to imagine the impact the Jewish War had on Israel. To give you an idea, today in Israel there is universal conscription. Everyone, men and women, serve in the armed forces. At the end of basic training the new recruits visit three places. They go to the Golan Heights in the north, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and Masada in the South. They remember the Jewish War of 70 CE and take a vow, “Never Again.”
Trying to translate the intensity of this history to U.S. experience I imagined taking a day to visit the Twin Tower moment in New York City, then going to Gettysburg and reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address a dozen times and the diaries of soldiers who fought for the South and the North, and then spending a day in Oklahoma City at the Murray Federal Building Memorial. If you have not visited the Murray Federal Building Memorial, I encourage you to go there, spend a day and then say, “Never Again.”

You could also visit the Standing River Sioux Tribe and the standoff in North Dakota. It has not received much attention in the corporate media but what is happening there is being live streamed around the world. People around the world are watching what is happening there as 5,000 to 10,000 people from around the world gather to support and stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I believe this confrontation over the Dakota Access Pipeline will be one of the events that defines the legacy of the Obama administration and it will be the first test of the Trump administration. Mr. Trump says that he wants to heal the nation. I hope he will. This confrontation in North Dakota will be his first test and it will define what happens in the coming years.

So let me turn back to chapter 24 of Matthew. If, as I assume, he is writing to a largely Jewish congregation and he is writing after the Jewish War, he is writing for a community that has lost everything. The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed. The Temple is no more. Leaders have either been killed or taken into captivity. Thousands of people have died. What is to be done?
To answer that question we have to turn back to the first chapters of Matthew. He begins with a “genealogy of Jesus the Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1). It is as if to say that the Jewish War is our context but it does not define who we are or what our future will be. The genealogy of the community goes back much further and its roots are much deeper. Keep Awake. Stay Alert.
Matthew then recalls the angel coming to Joseph and telling him not to be afraid because Mary will conceive and bear a son, whom Joseph is to name Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sin” (Mt.1:21). Salvation is a key theme in Matthew. But pay attention to what Matthew does.
In verse 21, Jesus is to save “his people”—the Jews—from their sin. But then Matthew tells the story of the wise men coming to Bethlehem. They are coming from Persia. They are not Jews. They are probably Zoroastrian. They follow a star that shines so brightly that they can see it day and night. But when they get to Israel, Herod summons them to a secret meeting and commands them that once they find the child they must return to him. This is extraordinary. The star is so bright that the wise men can see it day and night, but Herod is so spiritually blind that he cannot see it. At the end of this episode, the wise men return to their own country by “another way” (Mt. 1:21). In defiance of the explicit order of the king, they go home another way, presumably to let others know what they have experienced, that is to be evangelists.
Stay Alert. Keep Awake. Do not let the Herod’s of this world define what is possible, or what the future will be. “Creation groans” Paul writes in Romans but “waits with eager longing” (Rom. 8:19), or more graphically, “stands on the tiptoes of expectation” to see what the followers of Jesus will do next, to see what we will do next. Amen.
Rev. David Hansen

Friday, November 25, 2016

Race and the Media

Back in the late 1970's, there was a revolution happening in the Central American country of Nicaragua. After forty some years of dictatorship under the Somoza family dynasty and their control of the National Guard, the people of the country had enough. They overthrew the regime and established a communist  government under the Sandanistas. 

During that revolutionary period, I recall watching film on the evening news of demonstrators against Somoza being pursued by tanks through the streets of Managua, the capital city. Shortly afterwards, I was in Mexico for a course on Liberation Theology. Watching the evening news in Mexico we saw film on the same demonstration, with one difference.

In Mexico, the camera was wobbling all over the place. The view was not steady, because the cameraman was running through the streets with the demonstrators, looking back at the tanks. In the U.S., the cameraman was either riding on the tanks or walking with them. His hand was steady.

It was a lesson for me on "point of view." It makes a difference whether you are with the cat or the mouse, with those with weapons or those without, with the powerful or the powerless.

I've been watching the mainstream media coverage of the conflict at Standing Rock. When you compare it to the coverage on social media, it seems like there must be two distinct worlds, not just two world views. It's the difference between prayerful and peaceful water protectors and unruly, rioting protestors. 

And then mainstream media always emphasizes the "3.8 billion pipeline."  Those figures hardly ever come up in social media. The only time money gets mentioned is when camp supporters document how much money the President-elect has invested in the pipeline, or how much is needed to continue winterizing the camp.

A difference between the Nicaraguan revolution and the one in North Dakota is that there were a limited number of cameras in the late 70's. Everyone at the camps in North Dakota has a camera. And pictures can be shared, instantaneously. The whole world is watching and any brutality or injustice can be exposed.

But some will say even visual evidence can be manipulated. So they give more credibility to personal testimony, to the reports of those who are present and experiencing the events. Brookings residents have an opportunity to hear first hand from two women from the Standing Rock Community this coming Wednesday, November 30.

Avis Little Eagle is a journalist and publisher of the Teton Times and has held several offices in tribal government. Phyllis Young is the founder of Women of All Red Nations and is recognized for her work in local government as well as internationally. Both will be present and speaking at 7:00 PM at the United Church of Christ on Eighth Street South Wednesday night.

Lurking in the background or hidden in the fine print of every report from Standing Rock is the issue of race. As a society we still aren't comfortable uncovering our historical baggage. To look at the racial divisions in this country honestly raises questions of responsibility, accountability, guilt and forgiveness. Every time questions of race are raised in a serious way, the dominant culture tries to ignore them or repress them with overwhelming force, rather than facing them with courage and commitment.

It's no accident that many are sharing pictures, side by side, of the hosing of black civil rights protestors in the segregated south to the hosing of Native American water protectors in what is increasingly known as the Mississippi of the north. 

There are other similarities. Both have their outside agitators, who if they would just leave, then things could return to normal. The mayor of Bismarck is pleading with all of the outsiders to just go home for the holidays.

I heard someone say "race relations in this country is like an old house." We live in an old house! Built in 1890 there's something strong and resilient about it. But one small problem can also reveal a deeper problem hiding below the surface. You can paper it over or ignore it but eventually the fundamental issue will have to be treated.

Standing Rock is raising some fundamental questions about our relationship with indigenous people. It's not simply a U.S. problem, it's global. Witness the tribal peoples coming to North Dakota from many different countries and every continent. We will either continue ravaging and consuming the resources of the planet to our destruction, or we will sit at a table with first peoples and learn how we can live well together. 

Carl Kline

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Light in the Dark

In the aftermath of the election with all the sadness and anxiety and grief that it has engendered among so many, it was hard to encounter the disbelief that came with the realization that, overnight, the bedrock of a certain level of civility and dependability had shifted so dramatically.  For so many, our worst fears became a reality.

With the dawning of the Sunday morning immediately following the election results, it was a daunting challenge to preach and to fulfill the task of being pastor to ALL of the flock.  Some were celebrating while many were in shock, grieving, not quite knowing where to turn.  Already, the seeds of distrust and separation and alienation had begun to germinate.   I gave silent thanks for the sacred texts that provide authority to preach.  Having companions like Jeremiah and Jesus with me in the pulpit as guides while running through the thistles made it possible to find the way to hold the flock together while acknowledging how much we had all been damaged, regardless of political affiliation, by the gross disregard for the sensibilities of our souls and our humanity during the campaign.    

Together, we could agree that, as beings created in the Divine Image, we have all been deeply and grievously trespassed upon and that the Divine Image has been sullied by the 19 months of verbal, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse we have had to endure since the campaign began in earnest.

So we sang and prayed and cried and worshipped and embraced together to at least begin to heal whatever fissures might have begun to appear in the life of our community. 

And then a miracle happened.

At 3 PM in the afternoon, a birthday celebration began - the celebration of my husband’s 80th. birthday - - the beginning of his 9th. decade.  Right at 3 o’clock the caterer had the gorgeous fruit and cheese platters in place.  Mulled cider and cranberry punch awaited consumption.  Baked brie with plum jam and walnuts enticed - - and the guests began to arrive - - - and extravagant love began to fill the room.

By 4 PM there were 65 or 70 of us, old friends, new acquaintances, folks who had grown up on the island but hadn’t seen each other in years, family members, a broad swath of the community we enjoy and love.  Old connections were renewed.  New ones were made.  There were tributes and greetings given to the birthday honoree.  Songs were sung. Our rabbis gave the blessings.  Candles were blown out and cake was enjoyed by all.

At 5 PM the guests began to depart and it was only then that we could take a breath and ask ourselves “What just happened here?!?”  And why was it such a powerfully whole and loving time together?

As we finally took off our shoes and propped our feet up on the coffee table at home, we thought about the amazing array of folks who had shown up.  Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Paganism, Astrology, Shamanism, Atheism, and Agnosticism were all represented.  Gay and straight, able bodied and not-so-able bodied, children and an almost - centenarian rubbed elbows with a person without shelter. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives actually drank from the same punch bowl.  Monetary gifts were given to the local Food Pantry in honor of the “birthday boy.”

We celebrated life - and one life in particular as my husband crossed a major life threshold.  We felt whole.  We felt joy.  We felt our sense of community in spite of the tumult of the previous week.

I couldn’t help but entertain the notion that we had glimpsed the Reign of Peace, AKA “The KIngdom of God” AKA “The Messianic Age” in those couple of hours completely focused on the things that make us who we are - caring for each other - compassion, even when we don’t agree all the time, extravagant willingness to bless one another with affection and kindness - - and an unabashed predilection for  hugging and simply saying to one another “I love you.”

After so much toxicity over so many months, I think we got just the right antidote. We will all continue to feel the ongoing reverberations that come with each new day’s headlines. We have some incredible challenges in front of us as the new administration moves ahead. There will be much pain to be endured, much danger to be confronted, much fear to be countered. What the recent election portends cannot be ignored.  But something happened in our community that assured us all that we will transcend because we know what joy and wholeness are - - we like the way that feels - - and we know how and where to find them - - in one another’s company as we celebrate each other, maintain vigilance in behalf of the vulnerable among us and hold on to the vision of prophets and visionaries of the time for beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

The energy for the work that lies ahead will be fueled by the righteous anger that arises from the strength of loving compassion which we must nurture in community together for one another and all creation in the days to come.  

For many of us, there is another big birthday to be celebrated in the not too distant future.  A birth that heralds the coming of light into the world at the darkest time of the year.  It coincides with the lighting of the first Hannukah Candle this year.  May it be a time of Light Sharing together as we face an uncertain future in unity with one another.

Vicky Hanjian
2 Pictures: Armen Hanjian at the Food Pantry

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moons, Moans and Memories

It's hard to understand the human mind. Sometimes it simply has its way with us. One can be in a totally different world of thought and a memory intrudes, out of the blue. For some reason, I started remembering yesterday I and Thou. It's a book I read years ago by Martin Buber.

Buber believes there are two ways humans have of engaging the world. The way we normally engage is what Buber calls "I-It". It's a subject - object relationship. So if I'm looking for a home or a car, or perhaps even a wife, I collect the appropriate data, analyze and classify it and weigh the attributes. 

This way of engaging the world sees the "it" as something to be utilized, selected for some purpose, a collection of qualities and quantities. The "I" in this kind of relationship is more observer than participant. The "it" can be discarded when it is no longer useful, whether a car, a home, even a wife.

The second way of engaging the world is what Buber calls "I-You." In this mode one enters into relationship with the other in a way that transforms them both. This can happen between humans, like in a marriage, but also with elements of nature or even with inanimate objects. So you can have a transforming relationship with a dog, or a piece of music, water (I'm anxious to get in the shower), or even the moon.

The third way of engaging the world is what Buber calls "I-Thou." Of necessity, this third way recognizes a relationship that is beyond our capacity to objectify it. In this relationship we are not in the driver's seat. We can not control or manipulate the Thou. But if the Thou takes hold everything changes, because we understand the world around us in a totally new way, as endowed with presence that transforms the world, and more importantly, transforms us.

That's the first memory, the Buber book!

But there's also a moan! Because I'm remembering (a second memory) as I write this, we are recognizing Veterans Day today. As a nation we are honoring and recalling the lives and deaths of millions who fought and died in this nation's wars. 

Inherent for me in the day, is the grief I feel for the all too present capacity humans have to turn peoples and places into the "other," to the point where all are expendable. How is it that we still are not able to see those who come from different races, cultures, countries or creeds as a "you," open to mutual relationship and transformation? Why must the other always be treated as an "it?" Are we inherently, perhaps even genetically, frightened that we might be changed?

Buber wrote I and Thou in 1923. Even then he was recognizing how modern society was built on "I-It." He saw all the institutions of the day built on this kind of objectifying of others; economics (especially economics), politics (especially politics), the military (especially the military), education, even the family. 

For Buber, the result of an "I-It" society was eventual alienation, a sense of homelessness, a loss of identity, an existential angst. It results in a pervading sense of meaninglessness, a pervasive feeling of fear and impending doom. 

A second moan! The 2016 Presidential election! Talk about a society in existential angst with a pervasive feeling of fear and alienation. It's the U.S. today writ large! Maybe we need to transform our culture from "I-It" to "I-You," even "I-Thou."

So what to do? I'm going to look for the moon! Monday night will be a "super moon." Because the moon will be full and closer to the earth than at any other time in 2016, it will appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter. It will be closest to the earth since January 26 of 1948. It won't be as close again till November of 2034. I'm hoping for clear skies.

The night sky, if we take the time to look, reminds us of our finiteness. It's all bigger than we are. And if one is able to discard the "I-It" mentality, not try to grasp or use the night sky for a purpose, we might even be exposed to potential relationship with a "Thou."  

Awe always has an aspect of reverence and wonder. Awe can inspire us to new modes of relating. And an "I-Thou" relationship can relieve our moans and enable us together to make new and more beautiful memories.

Carl Kline

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Practicing Nonviolence

Recently in a class I am taking at South Dakota State University titled Peace and Conflict Studies, I read a short excerpt from a book titled "Approaches to Peace", assembled by David Barash. He talks about how people who practice nonviolence must do so with "a willingness to be abused by the authorities and yet to respond nonviolently, with courage and determination, even politeness" (Barash 243). 

I found this notion very intriguing, especially with all that is going on in the United States today. There are many movements and protests, violent and nonviolent, happening all across the country. However, not many of these affect me personally. Living in small town South Dakota, I don't really have to concern myself with these movements unless I want to. 

This piece from Barash got me thinking, if I did involve myself and chose to fight for a cause, is this how I would hold myself- with politeness toward those trying to fight against me? Choosing to fight for a cause that is found to be worth fighting for is a huge decision; it is an even bigger decision to choose to fight nonviolently. 

I think many people are confused by the notion that fighting for a cause must contain violence in order to win or subdue the 'enemy'. Nonviolence is not an alternative to fighting, it is simply a different way of doing so. 

With all that is going on in our country, many groups seem to view their cause as having supporters and enemies. When groups use the practice of nonviolence, they are not only helping their own cause, but they are helping their opposition as well. Rather than having to end with winner and loser, why not end with a compromise or a 'tie'? 

I think people very quickly lose sight of the fact that we are all living here together and can achieve a place of harmony if only we stop viewing each other as being allies and enemies. Facing issues with courage, determination and politeness could change the way the entire country takes on disagreements and movements. By keeping these three things in focus, I think that different groups could successfully work through differences and disagreements without having to incorporate the violent aspect.

Anna Chicoine
Guest Blogger

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where Does It Come From?

It was a beautiful autumn in New York. We decided to take the youth from the church on a Saturday outing to a farm north of the city. One of the church members had this country home on several acres with trees and fields and a stream. It was great weather, a perfect time of year and a terrific location to be out of the noise and concrete of the city.

In my minds eye I see them now. Forty middle school students walking in a pack, close to the country home with a boom box in their midst, turned as loud as it would go. There was no movement into the fields and trees. There was no investigation of the stream. It  was as if this unfamiliar environment was not only foreign but frightening.

I'm certain if one were to ask these young people where their hamburger came from, they would say McDonalds or perhaps the Coop grocery store. They never had the experience of chopping off the head of a chicken on the farm or even watching a live pig turn into pork chops in the SDSU meat lab.

They didn't know the origin of their food, the process through which it arrived on their plate, the people who labored to put it there.

Those in rural areas can smile and even lament the food ignorance of city folk. But when you look more closely, the ignorance of where things come from is pervasive in the whole culture. Do we know where the aluminum in our car originates? There's not much bauxite in the U.S.! Do we realize the health and safety risks some take so there is copper for our wiring? Do we know the sacrifices whole communities make to supply our needs and wants?

A copper mine in Peru is reported back in business after it was halted for ten days by protesters.  They were objecting to the noise, dust and environmental destruction the Chinese owned mine was bringing to their homes and communities. The mine expects to deliver 400,000 tons of the metal a year, producing a fifth of the copper output of Peru. 

The protest ended after police shot and killed one of the protesters with a bullet in the head. Reports from the company say talks are now taking place to try and develop alternative transportation options as the government investigates the killing.

This is not an isolated incident. Oxfam International reports that 2015 was the deadliest year ever for those people struggling to protect their homes and environment from extractive industries. And of the 185 human rights defenders killed around the globe, 122 were killed in Latin America, places like Peru, where the Goldman prize winning environmental activist Mazima Acuna de Chaupe was recently attacked and hospitalized, allegedly by security guards for the gold mining company that wants her land.

And this trend continues. There have been 58 additional murders in the region between January and May of 2016. More recently, a Brazilian environmental official and two Honduran environmental leaders were assassinated.

Huge mining and energy projects, driven by financial speculators and international corporations, are trashing the Latin American landscape. They are forcing the displacement  and loss of land and livelihood for whole populations of rural and indigenous peoples.

In the meantime, governments stand on the sidelines or blatantly support the exploitation, economically dependent on resource extraction for their well being and political stability. Protocols and licenses for doing business are ignored or minimized to provide the companies with easy access and limited roadblocks.

The only roadblocks are established by the people on the land, like at the Peru mine, where the protester got a bullet to the head.

Meeting with people from all over Mexico this past June, from all walks of life, I realized that all of them were confronting mega resource projects in their own back yards. Mines, hydro electric projects, fracking; you name it, they were facing it. As we met over the course of several days, news came of the killing of teachers in Oaxaca, a related struggle. It became clearer and clearer that the common people are quickly becoming disposable. If you are a farmer, anyplace, and there are resources to be exploited where you live, you and your land are in danger. It is called "development." And enormous financial institutions, infrastructure corporations and extractive industries will convince political elites to sacrifice a few "radical environmentalists" or "Indians" for the sake of the many.

Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home, writes: "The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone." One assumes that includes clean, fresh water.

Was I talking about resource extraction and exploitation of the poor in Latin America? Or was it North Dakota? The situation playing out at Standing Rock is a historical and moral disgrace for the U.S. The political and financial enablers should be ashamed. There hasn't been a killing yet, but only through the grace of God, given the stakes. 

Do we know where our water comes from? Out of the faucet, right?

Carl Kline

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Inside Conflicts of a College Student

Growing up you are always told to accept others for who they are, and to not judge them. But often what we are not taught is the inside struggles many go through. The constant questions of whether they are good enough, if what they are doing is right, if where they are is where they are supposed to be, and so many other vital life questions. Often what we do not see are some of the biggest conflicts in a person’s life and often times all these people need is a little bit of encouragement and support but what we give them is a sign of disappointment and disapproval. We as a society need to encourage students to seek help when they are struggling mentally and emotionally.
As a college student many thoughts go through your head. All of a sudden you are pushed out of the nest and no matter how prepared you think you are you can never be prepared enough. All the decisions you are suddenly forced to make: what do you want to do with your life, where are your going to live, and how are you going to afford all of this are just a few of the many life defining questions that are thrown at you. Internally you go through a whirlwind of emotions> You do not know if you are prepared for this. You are suddenly faced with the question, is all this worth what you want to do in your future? All of a sudden it feels as if you are taking on life all by yourself and no one is there to support you.
As a struggling college student all you want to balance out your life is to have a conversation with someone. You want to tell anyone and everyone that will listen about your current life struggles, but a lot of times everyone else is so engulfed in their own lives or studies to just lend an ear. All of a sudden you realize you truly are in this big world all alone, and reaching out is almost impossible. Not everyone is accepting and you do not want to be looked at differently. Almost everyone you encounter tells you to buck it up, you will be fine, and you are just in a slump. The world seems to get darker and darker, you are constantly inflicted with all these internal struggles and you do not know whether to keep trying to push them out and go about life normally or to succumb to the pressures of your mind, to shut everyone out and just pretend you never existed.
As someone who has been in the dark place of their own mind, a simple smile and telling someone you care can do wonders. We need to go away from the stigma that mental health is not something that can be harmful. These internal conflicts can lead to so much struggle within a person and so much damage within a community. Thousands die annually of suicide and this leaves an ever lasting impact on a community. Reach out and help someone, you never know how much that can mean. Just have a normal conversation, you never know what someone is going through and how much that conversation may help someone come out of that dark place even if just for a few minutes. We should all strive to talk to at least one person we do not know weekly, if not daily. Be the ray of sunshine in someone’s life just one day and you will leave a lasting impact for a lifetime.
By Rebecca Urban
Guest Blogger