Friday, October 11, 2019

Discovering Ourselves in the Process of Discovering Each Other

It was a rare gathering, one in which vulnerability was on full display. Walls fell away and defensive fortifications crumbled, all of the ways we use to separate ourselves from each other by closing off what is hardest to share in being who we are. There were tears and outbursts of passion. So too did compassion flow as people met in the open camp of true encounter. There were interruptions, as when a speaker used pronouns that excluded some among us, a lovingly firm challenge calling the speaker to pause and consider. And so the speaker did, setting at ease the one who had taken a risk.

        Race and racism became real as lived experience, challenge felt by the most open of those whose whiteness brings privilege, if even in spite of ourselves, yet to acknowledge. There were shallow assumptions of Christians in regard to Israel, failure to understand the deep roots of anti-Semitism, Jews challenged to convey the immense complexity of our historical fears and why. And among us all, there were microcosms of identities within identities. 

There were times when those most alike met as a caucus, Ashkenazi Jews meeting separately from Mizrachi and S’fardi Jews, Christians of color meeting separately from white Christians. It felt awkward, painful, to so separate, and yet to strive within our own microcosms to break down the walls we carry within ourselves just a little more by looking most honestly and freely at who we are.

It was a three-day conference under the organizational umbrella of “Faith in Action.” The organizing rubric of the gathering was, “Anti-Semitism, Racism, and White Supremacy.” From the beginning we were challenged to bring all of ourselves into the open camp, to truly share who we are. In so sharing so we could dare to tread upon the common ground, to know the love that joins us, even as we walked gingerly among the minefields. We gathered to the singing of an old spiritual, sung from deep within the soul of a people, all of us sharing, trying to feel what it means, to grasp the intimations of its meaning beyond the words, “Before I’ll be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free….” How to hold the fear of a black mother and father among us for their young son growing up to be a black man in America?

How to hold the courage of a young trans person only recently become in the world who they always knew they were within? It was their courage in quivering voice that challenged the one who spoke with pronouns that denied this young person’s presence. How to hold the brave awkwardness of a white Christian man trying to figure out his place in all the swirling of identities, amid all the sharings of what it is to be of a minority of one sort or another. How to hold and honor the depth of not knowing felt by most of the non-Jewish participants who listened as Jews discussed in a fish-bowl setting the ways of our relationship and struggles with Israel and each other? 
How to hold the tender truths of who we are among ourselves as Jews? We shared of our fears in the face of resurgent anti-Semitism, and of the challenge in discussing Israel even, especially, among ourselves. As Jews shared in that fishbowl setting, there was something poignant and tender in a common thread of attachment to Israel, a thread so frayed for all the torment in the nature of our relationship to what is today, and yet a thread of hope that joins us to each other in our struggles and in our yearning. As walls fell away, trust emerged, vulnerabilities shared in the open space of our gathering.

       It is a powerful teaching that pulsates just beneath the surface of the weekly Torah portion Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13:1-15:41). The words mean send forth. Moses calls on leaders from each of the tribes to go ahead of the people to scout out the land. All but two, Calev and Y’hoshua, return with a gloomy report, warning the people that giants live in the land and there is no way for us to enter. As the people weep and plead for a leader to take them back to Egypt and the chains of slavery, the scouts tell of the giants in the land and then say, we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers/va’n’hi b’eyneynu k’chagavim, and so we were in their eyes. It becomes a powerful teaching about identity. How do we see ourselves, and how does our self-perception influence how others see us? Should it matter to us how others see us?

With an ironic twist, the Torah teaches of strength found in vulnerability. On the surface, the narrative is about a people’s desert journey. In reading Torah, it is always important, though, to remember that the sacred narrative is not primarily about them and then, but about us and now. 

       So does the Toldos Ya’akov Yosef, an early Chassdic leader, teach of Moses’ call for scouts to go forth to search out the land. It is not about an external search says the Toldos, rather, dayka la’tur et atz’m’cha/it is surely to search out yourself. Moses tells the scouts to see what the cities are like in the land to which they go, whether the people live in open or in fortified places. The great Torah commentator Rashi teaches of this verse’s import, if they dwell in open cities they are strong, and if they dwell in walled cities they are weak.       
             Strength does not come from walls, from closing ourselves off from each other. As the Toldos Ya’akov Yosef guides us, we needn’t read the text as too often read, as simply about a long ago military matter, the gauging of an enemy’s strength. It is about us and about where true strength is to be found.

As walls fall away and we come out into the open space of shared humanity, our vulnerabilities revealed for all to see, the gift of new opportunity emerges. Acknowledging that sometimes we feel like grasshoppers so easily crushed, in sharing of both fear and pride a new strength emerges. So may we learn to share, bravely coming out into the open space of encounter, discovering ourselves in the process of discovering each other. 

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, October 4, 2019

Climate Strike - A Modest Proposal for an Environmental Ethic

             The Climate Strike on September 20, 2019 was the largest global action in the history of the world. According to various news reports more 4 million people joined in the strike. There were more than 4,000 events that happened in more than 150 countries. In addition to labor unions, and well-known organizations like MoveOn, 350, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, other participants included: Friday for Future, started by Greta Thunberg; Extinction Rebellion, a London-based organization dedicated to creating political change through nonviolent direct action; Our Children’s Trust; Future Coalition; and Friends of the Earth International, and many more. The Climate Strike was to call for an end to the age of fossil fuel. “Climate Justice for All,” was a rallying cry for Climate Strikers.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies land use and the world’s food system as critical issues that must be addressed, if we want to create a sustainable future. According to the IPCC, the world’s food system is “a top cause of deforestation.” Population growth, increasing demand for food, feed and water, more resource-intense consumption and production, and more limited technological improvements in agricultural yields will result in higher risks of water scarcity, land degradation, and wide-spread food insecurity. Shockingly, the IPCC reports that one-third of the food produced is either lost or wasted. The IPCC report calls for reduced food waste, eating less meat, practicing sustainable land management, eliminating poverty, and reducing economic inequality as necessary and practical steps that offer the best chances to tackle climate change. The IPCC report calls for reforestation and carbon dioxide reduction as necessary first steps. 
In the United States, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D. Cal.) has introduced a resolution that would require climate education be taught in all schools. Many members of Congress support the Green New Deal, which in simplified terms is a proposal to wean the US economy from fossil fuels, and create new clean energy industries. Importantly, proponents of the Green New Deal argue that we have the necessary tools and knowledge to begin to implement many of the proposals included in the Green New Deal. But do we have the political will?
There is both domestic and international opposition to calls to end the age of fossil fuels. The Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) exemplifies this opposition. The RCEP is China’s response to the failure of the Trans Pacific Partnership. If it is finalized later this year, the RCEP will include 16 nations that encompass one-third of the global GDP and almost one-half of the world’s population. One goal of the RCEP is to liberalize trade and investment by reducing government oversight and regulation. A second goal is to protect intellectual property rights. A controversial center-piece of the RCEP is a mechanism called the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). If adopted the ISDS would allow corporations to sue states, if state regulations have a negative impact on corporate profits. Critics of the ISDS argue that it is already testing the government’s ability to protect human rights and the environment in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, India and elsewhere.

           Faith communities in the United States can help us get past the present impasse by reframing the debate. A study conducted by Yale University and George Mason University entitled “Climate Change in the American Mind” offers some clues. The study found that 70 percent of Americans (people living in the United States) think of themselves as Christian, and 64 percent of us think the global warming is either extremely, very, or somewhat important. According to the study, two primary motivations for wanting to mitigate global warming are to provide a better life for our children and grandchildren (29 percent), and to protect God’s creation (19 percent). Taking our clues from this study, an ethic for the future must be both intergenerational in the fullest meaning of the word, and ecologically sustainable. A theological ethic based on these two principles will emphasize the importance of achieving balance in all our relationships--present and future to the seventh generation. Mutuality and reciprocity are two key concepts in this ethical framework.
The concept of mutuality carries with it a sense of shared or common interests. Mutual relationships are by definition balanced relationships. Parental concern for our children and grandchildren implies that the present generation is willing to balance its interests with the needs and interests of other generations--both present and future--to safe-guard everyone’s well-being. There are well-established metrics of well-being, which include such things as access to affordable health care, education, housing, public safety, environmental sustainability, and so forth. Mutuality is not an abstract concept. The ethical mandate is to extend the concept of mutuality beyond the family to include the broader community, recognizing that we live in through our relationships with others--including the earth. We live in a cosmic web of mutuality and interdependence. Mutuality is not a foreign concept, but rather a basic value that makes and keeps us human.
Reciprocity is a second key concept in the ethical framework that I am proposing. Narrowing defined, reciprocity means that there is a give and take, an exchange of things of relatively equal value between or among parties. More broadly, however, we may think of reciprocity and an anticipatory ethic. We act in ways that anticipate a response from others. Thus, our actions create a space for the action of others. The commandment, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is an example of the ethic of reciprocity. The concept of reciprocity empowers us to act in ways that are consistent with the kind of future we envision and want to create, and it creates a safe space for others to respond to our actions. The response may come in the form of a challenge, a refinement, or in some new and novel way we had not anticipated. Reciprocity is, thus, a dialogical model. We live each moment of our lives in dialogue with the earth, with others who are seen and unseen, and with future generations.
        The dominant ethics in Western culture have been the ethics of right and wrong, and the ethics of ends and means. The proposal introduced in the foregoing paragraphs leads away from the ethics of certainty, which is implied in the ethics of right vs. wrong and ends justifies the means, toward a more flexible framework. It is a relational model that asks us to begin with an awareness of our present situation. Know thyself. Aristotle said that self-knowledge is the beginning of the moral life. It still is. If we will simply have the courage to examine our present situation, our relationships with others, and our hopes for and obligations to future generations, I believe we can fashion a fitting ethical framework that will benefit both the present and our shared future.
David Hansen

Friday, September 27, 2019

Fearless Security

           Interestingly enough, deciding I wanted to write about security, I googled the root of the word. And when I tried to go to the chosen site, I got a notice that my site was not secure. If you want to make your fortune these days, develop a security business. It's all the rage! Apparently, even with our nuclear stockpiles, enormous military budget, more guns than any other country on earth, alarm systems in homes and security cameras on every street corner, we're still afraid. 

The latest? I guess I should forget about getting that small electric car. I need a truck! The bigger the better, so I can feel secure. At least that's the latest in tweets from the White House.

The President doesn't like California. He doesn't like all the homeless people out there "polluting the ocean". He doesn't like the fact that California (along with at least a dozen other states) has set emission standards on automobiles. So he's going to get rid of them. We're told that those standards make cars more expensive and bigger, higher polluting cars are "safer".

If you drive one of those big, higher polluting vehicles, you may feel more secure. But how about those driving smaller cars? Are they more secure? How about those cycling or walking? How about those living with asthma who die in greater numbers from air pollution every year than die from automobile accidents? How about those of us trying to pass each other on Brookings streets downtown with two big trucks parked diagonally on each side of the street? Don't SUV's roll over more easily and when two trucks collide, isn't there more mass to do damage? Can we think about the social good?

          On the same trip to California, the President went with his sharpie to put his name on the border wall. Money spent on "border security" has grown from $350 million in 1980 to $23.7 billion in 2018. We can now speak of the "border industrial complex," similar to the "military industrial complex" and with some of the same players, all collecting enormous, tax payer profits. The border industrial complex includes: Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, UNISYS, IBM, etc. If one wanted to know, you would find these industry and tech giants are also major contributors to those sitting on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

If that weren't enough, we also have costly border concentration camps to help keep us secure. For some reason, it costs as much per bed at many of the current immigration detention centers as it costs at a Trump Hotel.  Maybe we should ask Caliburn International , and the private equity firm that owns them, D.C. Capital Partners, why they were charging $600 a bed a day for a detention center in Florida that was empty. Since there were 1,200 beds, it was costing you and me, the taxpayers, $720,000. a day. Of course, since it was empty, Caliburn reduced the fee by $150. Normally, with residents, it was $750 a day. It makes you think the cost of maintaining a child was $150 and the rest was "overhead." Like I said, the security business is where the money is.

I'm not sure if I should feel more secure since ICE has detained two young men from India (they always seem to be people of color). Gurjant Singh and Ajay Kumar are on day 73 of a hunger strike. ICE has been force feeding them since August but apparently ignoring their asylum claim.

Maybe I'm just stubborn, but I still resist "security" at the airport.  In some religious traditions, you take off your shoes when you enter sacred space. I understand that! For me, an airport waiting room is not sacred space and I still resent the idea of having to take off my shoes because of one deranged shoe bomber. Fortunately I'm old, and TSA regulations have moderated a bit, so I often get an "age" card that allows me to keep on my shoes.

            The other technology I resent is the body scanner. Whenever I'm asked to use it, I don't think security but I think about Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff in the Bush administration. He went from that position in government to start Chertoff Group to lobby for the full body scanner industry. So we get to stand sideways with our arms overhead and be exposed to what they say are insignificant amounts of radiation, that just gets added to all the radiation we're exposed to on the flight. I normally ask for a pat down, just because I'm stubborn and resent the government to lobby revolving door.

Eventually, I succeeded in finding a root to the word security. One root is "free of care" or carefree.

Forget, forego the apostles of fear! There is no way fear enables anyone to be carefree. If it isn't fear of the "other" it's fear for the self. Fear is self centered and a root cause of violence. Fearlessness is the building block of strong individuals and strong social fabric. If we want to be secure, free of care, we need to let fear, and appeals to fear, go.

For Christians, the first letter of John says it best; "There is no fear in love, for love casts out fear." And even more to the point, people can be fearless if they are rooted in the God who is love!

Carl Kline

Friday, September 20, 2019 be a blessing

Later this afternoon I will co-celebrate the marriage of a beautiful young couple. The groom, a United Methodist, the bride, a Jew.  Over the last year, my co-celebrant, a rabbi, and I have met numerous times and exchanged numerous emails with the couple as we have, together, crafted a ceremony that will give expression to who they are and what they intend for their marriage as an interfaith couple.  In a blend of traditional words and rituals from both Jewish and Christian traditions, the couple will make their promises to one another under a rustic wooden chuppah.

In the process my rabbi friend and I have come to love this couple dearly and, indeed, our own friendship has deepened as we have learned from each other.  Our understandings about what is significant in our traditions relative to the marriage covenant are not dissimilar, a delightful discovery in and of itself.  We have had the time to explore questions we have had about our individual traditions in an open and loving way.  As our friendship deepens, it nourishes the young couple with whom we are working.

Central to the couple’s ceremony will be their ketubah, their written marriage contract.  In it they express the desire for their marriage to be not only a witness to their love for each other, but also to be an instrument of healing in the world.

I have had good reason to reflect on this desire having recently celebrated 58 years of marriage myself and having, perhaps, an experiential understanding of what it means to conceive of one’s marriage as an instrument of repair and healing in the world.  Long before the term “open marriage” was coined back in the ‘80s, our marriage was just that - an open and welcoming place for family, friends, parishioners, new acquaintances, even strangers - - anyone who needed a safe place in which to feel cared for and respected, and, perhaps, in which to heal.  This was possible because of the deep and abiding friendship that exists between my husband and me.

Strong and generous friendships, like healthy marriages, become a gift to those around us who are lonely, without family near-by when crises happen - people who are widowed, estranged, suffering with chronic illness, in the middle of divorcing, struggling with kids who are substance abusers, experiencing the fear of aging.

In Genesis, God calls Abraham and Sarah  to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make  your name great, so that  you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

        Tradition says that Abraham’s tent was open on all four sides - an image of hospitality and welcome.   No one would have to search for the entrance or the way in.  This aging couple becomes a metaphor for welcome and hospitality. A beautiful story from a commentary called Bereshit Raba reflects on the Biblical text this way: When the Holy One said to Abraham "Leave your birthplace and your Father's house..." What did Abraham resemble?  A jar of perfume with a tightly fitting lid put away in a corner so that its fragrance could not go forth.  As soon as it was moved from that place and opened, its fragrance began to spread.  So the Holy One said to Abraham "Many good deeds are in you. Travel about from place to place so that the greatness of my name will go forth in the world."

Abraham and Sarah are blessed in order to be a blessing.  I have great hope for the future if it is the dwelling place of young couples who dedicate themselves to being a blessing in the world.  In the social and political climate in which we find ourselves at the moment, led by people who “lower the tent flaps” in order to keep others out, who deny the sacred task of caring for the planet, who prefer engendering fear and distrust to building strong functional alliances, we need more and more models of blessing, more of the fragrance of holiness spread abroad in the world. 

For human beings to commit their marriages and their deep friendships to the well-being and healing and repair of the world is not a bad place to start. When this happens between marriage partners  and friends of different faiths it is a witness to the possibilities for the wholeness so missing in the world today.

       So, with the traditional breaking of the glass at the end of the ceremony we will remember that while  under the chuppah all is perfection and abundant love is flowing through and in and around the young couple and their guests, that in the world beyond this sacred space there is also brokenness, violence and injustice.  We will let the broken glass be for us a reminder that "many good deeds are in us."  We will become more mindful of the sacred responsibility to bring the power of love into the world, to repair the world so that it, too, reflects the love and joy and beauty that exist under the open sided chuppah - -  and we will shout Mazel tov! And we will bless the couple, who by their commitment to one another and the world, already blesses us with strength and hope for the future.  May we each become a trace of the fragrance of Holiness in the repair of the world.   Amen and Amen

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, September 13, 2019

On the Heels of Our Hearing - Footsteps of the Messiah

        There is something delicious in following hints from one holy text to another, like breadcrumbs along the way until coming to a long sought source, a spring of living waters. The search itself is sustaining, entering the gates of holy books as a wanderer in their courtyards, journeying from one to another, intimations of joy in the anticipation of ultimate arrival. It is the way of justice and peace unfolding, each accomplishment a blossom of hope toward the next.

There is much Chassidic teaching on the first two words of the weekly Torah portion called Ekev (Deut. 7:12). I have loved the Chassidic teachings, drawing sustenance from them year after year, but always feeling that they in turn are drawing sustenance from earlier rabbinic sources that I hadn’t seen. Each year I have meant to go out on the trail and search until I came to the source. This year I did, searching well into the wee hours of night become morning, following the light of Torah, picking up hints from those I met along the trail.

The two words, and adding the third, with which the portion of Ekev opens are v’haya|ekev tish’m’un/it will come to pass | on the heals of your hearing. The small vertical line, one of the ta’amim or trop signs is very important, called a p’sik, serving the function of a rest in music. Placed immediately after the first word, v’haya, we pause and consider, what will come to pass? The Chassidic teachers emphasize that the word v’haya indicates simcha/joy. Holding that for a moment, we take another step along the trail. Ekev means “heel,” and suggests something that comes as a consequence or result of an action, thus whatever shall come to pass will come on the “heels of our hearing.” From the same root comes ikvot/footsteps. The Chassidic teachers speak of ikvot m’shichah/footsteps of the messiah.

The portion Ekev brings us through some rough terrain, bringing us face to face with several harsh passages. I have found through the years a sense of hope and support from the teachings that emerge from the opening of the portion, as though giving us provisions of spirit for the journey. Somehow, if we can bravely engage with all the harshness to come we shall yet find joy in hearing the footsteps of Mashiach/Messiah along the way. Seeking the way of joy in spite of all, I found my way back to a midrash (B’reishit Rabba, 42:2) on the portion of Lech L’cha (Gen. 12:1-17:27), the quintessential portion of journeys, about seeking our way come what may, Avram and Sarai’s journey into the unknown become our own. There in the dark become light, I found the source that the Chassidic teachers draw on. A simple word of grammar, a word of being in time, v’haya/it will come to pass is indeed taken as a portent of joy.  Of the examples given to make the point, several look toward Messianic time, of swords turned to plowshares, as from Isaiah (7:21), v’haya ba’yom ha’hu yetz’u mayyim chayyim mi’y’rushalayim/and in that day living waters shall go forth from Jerusalem.

        My soul’s thirst quenched by the living waters I imagined drinking in that day, I continued on the way, seeking the footsteps of Mashiach. As the Chassidic teachers draw on the word ekev as messianic allusion, so I found the rabbinic source I had been seeking. It is in the Mishna, starting point of the vast sea of Talmud, at the end of Mishna Sotah (9:15) in a disturbing passage of some length. I made my way, treading through the brush and brambles, wishing for light and living waters. In the midst of so much pain, descriptions of a world filled with brokenness, I came to the source from which the Chassidic teachers draw. “On whom shall we lean,” the rabbis ask over and over again, continuing to remind themselves and us, “on God who is in heaven….” As they know and we know, though, that is not enough. As they make their way in a world that seems so familiar for its brokenness, it is there and then, as for us here and now, that they tell of the approaching footsteps of Mashiach/ b’ikvot m’shicha. It is an allusion drawn from Psalms (89:52), human yearning for wholeness, for an end to violence, joining generations through time, each one listening for the echo of footsteps.

As I made my way through some of the sorrows the Mishna describes as preceding the coming of the Messiah, struggling through thickets of pain, I gasped as I encountered one that was for the rabbis an indication of this utter brokenness: and the people of the border shall wander from town to town and none will show them compassion/v’anshei ha’g’vul y’so’v’vu me’ir l’ir v’lo y’chonanu. These unfortunate ones were people who lived in remote border communities where they were easy prey for marauding bandits. And so they wandered, seeking shelter and safety. I thought of people fleeing their homes today for fear of violence, fleeing drug lords and gangs, social systems so broken that they leave everything behind for the sake of their lives, and, most of all, the lives of their children. In the tread of these children is the echo of the footsteps, the Messiah waiting. God forbid and protect us that none will show them compassion.

And so we make our way, then and now, along trails of tears and time. In that place of pause where the ancient scribes placed a p’sik, a place of rest in which to consider a simple word, v’haya/it shall be, and then to ask “what shall be?” What is it that shall follow on the “heels of our hearing?” Is it the cry of the people of the border, those who wander from town to town, that we are to hear? And following on our hearing, truly hearing, then to respond with compassion, is that what will bring the footsteps of the Messiah?
           Further on in this portion whose opening echoes with the footsteps of the Messiah, of connections made and remembered, we are told of the way, and you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt/va’ahavtem et ha’ger ki gerim he’yitem b’eretz mitz’rayim (Deut. 10:19). In the way of our response is the possibility of hope. And perhaps that is the joy to which that simple word points, the joy that we can indeed bring the footsteps of Mashiach. On the heels of our hearing, footsteps of a night journey, so may we come to the source together and greet the light of a new dawn.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, September 6, 2019

Labor Day Thoughts While Reading Howard Zinn

             I have been re-reading Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States, in which he recounts “fugitive moments of compassion” that give us hope and remind us that the future need not be defined by history’s “solid centuries of warfare.” The admittedly checkered history of organized labor has played a vital role in shaping these “fugitive moments” and continues to do so. Organized labor helped our nation enact child labor laws, establish the eight hour work day, strengthen workplace safety and bring about other changes that have improved the lives of all of us. It is important that we remember this history.
In Chapter Ten, Zinn shares stories of those years in the nineteenth century when trade unions were forming. Tellingly this chapter is entitled: “The Other Civil War.” Here we learn that in 1835 there were fifty different trade unions in Philadelphia. These unions formed a solid front and successfully fought for a ten hour day. But, Zinn reports, by 1844 antagonisms developed between Irish Catholic weavers and native-born Protestant skilled workers over issues of religion. Nativist, anti-immigrant rioters destroyed the weavers’ neighborhoods. Unions divided and soon party politics and religion replaced class conflict, “creating the illusion of a society lacking in class conflict.” “In reality,” Zinn writes, “the class conflicts of nineteenth century America were as fierce as any known to the industrial world.”
Class consciousness was displaced in part by religious conflict and then overwhelmed by the Civil War. But, Zinn points out, there were strikes “all over the country during the war.” He contends that in response to this situation, federal, state and local governments enacted laws and regulations that benefited commerce, businesses and landlords. Then, in the 1870s, an economic crisis devastated the nation. Workers and the unemployed took to the streets. In the centennial year of 1876, the Workingmen’s Party in Illinois wrote a new Declaration of Independence. The following year, in the depths of the Depression, the Great Railroad Strike began. It was, in Zinn’s words, a strike that “shook the nation as no labor conflict in its history had done.” Zinn ends his account of this strike on a somber note: “Blacks learned they did not have enough strength to make real the promise of equality . . . working people learned they were not united enough, not powerful enough, to defeat the combination of private capital and government power.” Ending on a more hopeful note he adds: “But there was more to come.”
Zinn’s book is worth re-reading, or reading for the first time if you have not read it, because it teaches us that while going into the voting booth is important, we must not forget or under estimate “the enormous capacity of apparently helpless people to resist . . .  to demand change.” Each of us can do our part.
           Individually and together we create new expressions of what is possible in the places where we live and work. Joining demonstrations, marches, and boycotts are ways of strengthening our democracy. Writing letters, visiting the offices of our elected representatives, and demanding action on issues like banning the sale of assault weapons are important actions. We can work with our neighbors to transform our communities, make our schools safer, and protect our environment. The lesson to be learned from A People's History, is that each and every one of us can help create our own “fugitive moments of grace” by acting on our values in concert with others. Taking such action is both validating and satisfying. And, importantly, it is our way of showing future generations that we share a commitment to leave for them a culture of sharing and respect for human dignity and for the dignity of the earth.
 Rev. David Hansen

Friday, August 30, 2019

Holding Firmly to Truth

In early August I was in the Black Hills for an eight day training program in the nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi. Twenty of us gathered for the fifth training in the U.S. of the Satyagraha Institute. Gandhi coined the word Satyagraha as his term to describe an alternative to violence. He had earlier considered love as the alternative but discarded it as it had so many variations of meaning. Loosely translated from the Sanskrit, Satyagraha means "holding firmly to Truth," with a capital T. 

Although it's a difficult word to pronounce, I prefer Satyagraha to the English translation of "nonviolence." For me, that's a double negative. You take the word violence and give it a negative prefix. Linguistically, there needs to be a positive alternative.

For most Americans, we have been culturally conditioned to believe there is no alternative to violence. Dialogue is sacrificed on the altar of partisanship. Difference is resolved at the point of a gun. Violence has become an easy alternative in our language, our speech, our games, our interactions with others and the world around us. Everyone votes for larger and larger war budgets, to fight our perpetual and pervasive enemies around the globe. 

Those who are discerning should realize, we are quickly approaching that time in human history when we must make the choice, first suggested by Martin Luther King, Jr., between nonviolence and nonexistence.
After all, violence is learned behavior. So is the alternative. For the purposes of this column, I'm suggesting "harmony" as an alternative term for nonviolence.

One of the hallmarks of this fifth Black Hills gathering was the sense of camaraderie and harmony that developed over the eight days. Although people came from different backgrounds, countries, races and cultures, with time and effort misunderstandings were clarified and relationships forged. We were able to not only learn conflict resolution skills but practice them; not only hear about speaking truth in love but actually do it.

There will never be another basketball team like the 1990's Chicago Bulls. Watching them play as a team was magical. Sometimes one sees the same magic in a college team. You can see it occasionally at SDSU. You understand what I mean! It's that perfect pass at the perfect time that leads to an amazing basket. It's as if the team members are connected to each other by this invisible thread.  I'm certain those moments of harmony don't happen in a vacuum. It takes practice. It takes knowing the habits and tendencies of the other. It takes meditation practice before a game with the likes of a coach like Phil Jackson. It takes a deeper knowing, like when a husband and wife of fifty years start to say the same thing at the same time.

I had my first experience of the Rick Holm choir some weeks ago. What a disparate group of volunteers and what wonderful harmony. I'm sure they practice their music. But active and busy folks that they are, there was obviously something else that united them in song; a sense of purpose and service. What they brought to our gathering helped unite us all. There's something magic, something healing, something beautiful in the offering of harmony in music.

My parents had an agreement that they would never argue or fight in front of us children. As best I can remember, they kept that agreement. It made for a certain degree of harmony in the home. It didn't mean we were never in difficulty for our childish mistakes but our parents modeled a relationship of harmony that had an important effect on our family life. 

In the same way we can identify with harmony or disharmony in the classroom or the workplace. So many seem to tolerate months, even years of unhappiness, in the place where they spend most of their time. On the other hand, where people have learned to mesh their talents and liabilities for the good of the whole, work can be a joyful endeavor. 

           What I'm suggesting is that harmony is not just possible in human relationships but it is the way of the universe. Harmony is the music of the spheres. Harmony is the inheritance of creation and the Creator. Harmony is our inner intention and identity. Satyagraha is being in relationship with this capital T truth. 

Violence is an aberration, a special problem of our species that with time and effort, with practice and a sense of purpose, we can eradicate. Let's get to it!

Carl Kline