Friday, June 23, 2017

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: The fight goes on

The courage displayed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their fight to protect their sacred land and water and the treaty rights of Native Peoples has given heart to people throughout the U.S. and around the world. The ramifications of the struggle are local, global, and ongoing. The issues are legal, economic, political, and theological. 
            On June 8, 2017, the Wallace Global Foundation awarded the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe the inaugural Henry A. Wallace award "for its brave resistance in defending sacred land and water against the Dakota Access Pipeline." The HAW award is given in recognition of "extraordinary examples of courage in standing up to abuse of corporate and government power." I highly recommend that you check out the website and the powerful video narrated by Bill Moyer. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, Dave Archambault II, accepted the $250,000 award. In addition to this award, the Foundation pledged up to one million dollars in investments to support renewable energy projects led by the Tribe. 
            On June 14, 2017 , Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., wrote a 91-page decision finding that the U. S. Corps of Army Engineers did not adequately consider the impact of oil spills on the environment and on people. The judge did not halt the flow of oil in the Dakota Access Pipeline, however. This decision awaits another hearing.
            The trend toward increasing the militarization of law enforcement is disturbing enough. When we add to that the criminalization of dissent and equating protest with terrorism it is imperative that we address questions of corporate wealth and power and the rights of dissent from a religious and theological perspective. When corporations are treated better than human beings, we need to claim higher moral ground. When profits matter more than people, we need to claim higher moral ground. On June 4, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about "The Power of Nonviolence" to an audience in Berkeley, California. In his address he spoke about the need to be "maladjusted." He said, "I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things. . . . As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth  who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man [sic].  God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilization."
 David Phillips Hansen

Friday, June 16, 2017

Witness, Presence, Unconditional Love

     Perhaps about 15 years ago, after the birth of our grandson, our second grandchild, I had the experience of feeling absolutely overwhelmed with the love I felt for the two beautiful young souls who were being entrusted to their parents and to us for as long as we would have time to be in their lives.  I hardly knew what to do with the feelings I had;  what to do with the awareness of what an incredible privilege and responsibility came with being a conscious grandparent.  So - I prayed for some guiding wisdom for how to go about the awesome task of loving these two precious beings and for how to be a strong and positive influence in their lives.   In the deep silence of prayer, I heard “You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.”  15 years later, I am still grappling with what these words mean, but I took this  wisdom as my marching orders for grand-parenting.  It turns out that they were marching orders for my life as well as they have continued to echo in my spirit over the years that I have been a grandmother.   You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.

        The words put me in mind of attributes of the Source of All Life, partially revealed in the story of Moses in his encounter with the Holy One of Being at the bush that burned but was not consumed (Exodus 3:1-15): 
 “I have observed the misery of my people...I have heard their cry . . . I know their suffering . . . I have come down to deliver them from slavery . . .  .I will bring them to a good land . . . "
     The Divine Voice further instructs Moses to tell the people that "...the God of your ancestors,the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you." 
       The beautiful story of the beginnings of humankind found in the Book of Genesis affirms that humankind is created in "the image and likeness" of the Creator.  While I am not a Biblical literalist, I take this to point to the notion that we all carry the attributes of the Holy One to some degree - we have the capacity for creativity, for curiosity, for profoundly loving relationships.  We also have the capacity to observe, and hear and know - - the capacity to Witness the lives of others.  We have the capacity to "come down" - to be a Presence in solidarity with those who suffer.  We have the capacity to BE the Unconditional Love alluded to in the affirmation that "I am the God of your ancestors" - the source of creative loving that has accompanied humankind through thick and thin since the beginning of creation.
These attributes lead us to a high calling in our life together as a community of human beings committed to living nonviolence in our personal lives and in the world beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones. The good news is that we are already familiar with these attributes.  Indeed, we practice them every day when we witness, we notice, we observe, we see.   We witness one another’s lives in the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and celebrations, the fears and concerns, the illnesses and the healing that we go through together in community.  We witness the effects of stress and joy, suffering and well-being, wholeness and brokenness on each other - and we learn empathy and compassion. This attribute of witnessing is what makes the center hold in our personal spheres of influence.  It is also what makes us more effective as we take our caring into the world.

When we are present to one another, we become the holy attribute of Presence. Some times we are called upon to take action - to make a phone call in behalf of an important cause, to check in with each other when the news is stressful, or when an action is in need of support,  to attend to one another when one of us is suffering.  Sometimes we are called upon to  be present to one another in profound grief when there are simply no words to be said.  We each have the capacity to be a Presence in each other’s lives - whether through actual physical hands on  help or through prayer, through words of encouragement and comfort.  Being a Presence means saying “Hineini” - - here I am - - my spirit and my energy are available to you - - I am part of your life.  Being a Presence means being a little bit of God available to the life of another person. 
     And then there is the attribute of Unconditional Love. We know from the long saga of God’s journey with Israel that God does not give up when the going gets tough - - and the texts are full of reasons why God could have just thrown up the proverbial divine hands and walked away in frustration and disgust.  But that did not happen.  The love of the Holy One for all of creation does not depend upon how faithful humans are,  or how good or cooperative or thoughtful or sensitive or caring or patient with each other we happen to be.  Unconditional Love is just that - it unaffected by the conditions of our lives.  Being created in the Divine Image, we have the capacity to love one another through thick and thin - - even when we aren’t sure we like each other very much - even when we disagree about how things ought to be done, even when we hurt one another’s feelings - even when things go terribly wrong.  Being Unconditional Love means being in our holy center where we do not get shaken by the dramas and ups and downs of our daily interactions, by political differences, by our knee-jerk reactions to the most recent inflammation in the news - it means being Love even when we don’t feel particularly loving.
     To embrace the command, if you will, to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love, is, perhaps, a partial answer to the questions "How do we access soul force?"and "Where do we find the strength to live nonviolently in our world?"  Accessing "soul force" and strength for living nonviolently in the world begins with the practice of living out the Holy Attributes in community: practicing witnessing the lives of those around us; practicing being a Presence in the midst of joy and celebration and suffering and sorrow; practicing being Unconditional love that does not waver when the going gets tough.  With practice, we may yet become the influence that will transform the world.

Vicky Hanjian


Friday, June 9, 2017

Reason for Hope?

       In the midst senate hearings in Washington DC and parliamentary elections in England and reports of numerous terrorist attacks against a variety of homely sites like ice cream parlors, it would seem as though confusion and chaos, dishonesty and violence, subterfuge and obstructionism are the values that rule the day.  It becomes a spiritual discipline to begin each day with a re-connection with what is good and true and hopeful even when awaking into the ongoing nightmare.  Even our small town island politics reflect the larger milieu as a local CEO is fired without adequate public explanation and a popular school teacher leaves the system leaving many questions unanswered.
         It is tempting to wonder if something akin to Lyme Disease is affecting the entire neuro-muscular system of our culture, both national and local.  Lyme is a pesky, often chronic, and occasionally lethal infection - a gift of the deer tick, which seems invincible - a gift that keeps on giving.  It causes all kinds of symptoms from chronic headaches and muscle pain to fever to neurological disturbances and more, all in varying degrees of severity.   The medical establishment's struggle to recognize, diagnose and treat Lyme is ongoing and not yet fully dependable and accurate.  There are days when, for many folks, fear of the deer tick rules the day.
         And so it seems with our human ability to  come to terms with the far reaching effects of dishonesty and violence and subterfuge and obstructionism - along with the confusion and chaos they generate. 
         BUT!  and it is a huge BUT!  Along with the onset of the most active tick season in the month of June also comes the month of celebration of another generation of young people preparing to make the long walk to the podium to receive their diplomas.  All around the world the possibility of an antidote to the infections that stalk humanity is donning its robes and "mortar-boards", or, as is also the case on our island, throwing off their shoes and donning flower garlands on their heads, preparing to step out and make a difference.
         A high school guidance counselor describes the Class of 2017 this way: “Since their freshman year, they have volunteered for every event we’ve asked them to volunteer for, helping with the eighth grade transition, the Race-Culture Retreat." She highlighted the Stand With Everyone Against Rape (SWEAR), for this volunteering spirit, particularly among the young men of the senior class.
“We collaborated and created a training program for boys. They talk about how sexual assault is not just a women’s issue but a men’s issue as well, and how it’s time for men to step up and accept their privilege.”   Seventeen and eighteen year old kids did final research projects on innovative treatments for debilitating diseases and on the effects of gender bias on education in the classroom.  Once again, members of the graduating class, along with a few thousand other kids from around the world, attended a Model UN Conference in New York City for a simulated learning experience that helped them to train their minds to think critically and do problem solving in collaboration with people from other cultures.
     So as the tick season hits its stride and when high profile hearings seem to uncover ever more of the presence of a long suspected disease, it is a reasonable comfort to sit in the crowd as "Pomp and Circumstance" begins and another generation of young adults, far more savvy than the previous generation was at the same age, prepares to make its influence felt. 
     They send a strong message of hope and resilience to the rest of us who feel outrage, sadness, weariness, and often, fatigue, with the enormity of the dis-ease that confronts us on a daily basis, that the "research and development" for an antidote is well underway. 
Vicky Hanjian

Friday, June 2, 2017

To what shall I compare the kingdom....

            This morning’s news is disheartening.  The headlines shout that the USA will withdraw from the Paris Climate agreements.  Follow-up articles tell the story of  conflicting opinions about what this will mean economically and politically for the country.  Concern, outrage, resistance, and resolve are words that appear again and again as business people and politicians seek to find a solid place to stand - either in solidarity with the administration or in opposition.   The international community shakes its collective head as the leadership in efforts to offset or contain the effects of climate change shifts away from the USA and other nations strengthen their commitment.  Once again, high drama makes the headlines.
            Meanwhile, back on my beloved island, my morning email contains a note from a church member asking for time in morning worship to make an announcement.  She writes from Haiti where she is on a brief trip to assess the state of health of PeaceQuilts, an island non-profit initiative to support women’s art and creativity by helping them to form small businesses to market their craft in the form of beautiful, colorful  quilts of all shapes and sizes. PeaceQuilts provides an opportunity for Haitian women to build their own businesses and earn a living wage.
            The announcement will provide information to the local church about several other island non-profit groups that are partnering to kick-off a summer of events that promote global aid initiatives focused on women’s empowerment and economic development. Representing work in Haiti, Zambia, Tanzania, and India, they hope to raise awareness about their organizations and the work they are doing as well as to showcase the resulting art and bring the crafts of the people they work with around the world to our island community.
            The African Artists’ Community Development Project, is a non-profit organization based on the island. Raising money for disabled children, orphans and women’s groups in Zambia by selling crafts here in the U.S., AACDP’s mission is expressed in the motto, “Buying African Crafts, Strengthening African Families.”  This group continues to explore empowerment commerce and has started a doll-making project with the mothers and grandmothers of the children at the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home for Disabled Children.
            Maasai Partners, also based on the island, promotes health, educationwelfare, and economic development focusing on the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of northern Tanzania to combat the extreme poverty in the region.  Maasai Partners (working under NCN), believes the most successful development programs rely on the villagers themselves to determine what is most necessary for their own success. Collaborating with the villagers, identifying the resources needed to further community development and help alleviate poverty, Maasai Partners networks and collaborates with area nonprofits to establish effective programs within the villages, while also providing independent support. 
            Also participating as a local non-profit, will be a “The Invisible World”, a collaboration between a local plankton ecologist and Her Future Coalition. Her Future Coalition is a human trafficking rescue, recovery and prevention organization based in India. Plankton are not seen, but play a crucial role in the ecology of our planet, supplying 50% of the oxygen we breathe. Human trafficking goes on every day but is overlooked. The Invisible World reminds us to look at what is not seen on the surface, to change our way of thinking and how we see the world. 
            The email is a timely message of hope that antidotes my sinking feelings of incredulity and frustration.  The headlines seem always to carry the worst of the news of the state of the world, while, like plankton, the life blood of human resourcefulness and kindness and generosity and creativity go largely unnoticed.
            So - without a doubt, time will be given in morning worship for a woman to speak and for the congregation to hear the word of grace that will come - - the word that echoes the words of Jesus: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Luke 13:20,21).  Yeast is a homely metaphor - but it works.  I bake bread.  I am not a truly patient person by nature.  I am constantly checking the dough to see whether the yeast is doing its work.  It really does seem to have a mind of its own and does its best work in secret - invisibly.   It seems as though it waits for me to turn my back for a moment and then - VOILA! - the dough is ready to be baked.  
            So on this glorious day, with so much sunlight after so much gray rainy weather, I anticipate the word of grace - - that there is much “yeast” at work in the world - - that it is in the nature of yeast to grow and spread throughout the dough; -- that, indeed, while our attention may be focused on the dreary headlines, there are other forces at work - - and eventually we may enjoy the unspeakable delight of the aroma of fresh baked bread.

Vicky Hanjian


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Chimera of Multiculturalism
          The United States has moved from the notion of being a “melting pot” to becoming a multicultural society. While some people are holding a rear-guard action to protect the values and virtues of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture that shaped and perhaps even defined the US culture since the founding of the Jamestown colony in 1607, the rising tide favors the advocates of multiculturalism as the US becomes an increasingly diverse society. But is multiculturalism the road to the future, or is it a chimera? Webster’s Dictionary variously defines “chimera” as “a monster vomiting flames,” and “an illusion or fabrication of the mind.” I will let the reader decide.
     Multiculturalism emerged as an umbrella term in the 1980s and 1990s, indicative of our changing demographics. Multiculturalism is clearly to be preferred to either a system of apartheid or forced assimilation. And the concept enjoys broad public support. However, there is no standard definition of multiculturalism. A thin definition of the term equates multiculturalism with tolerance of diversity. A somewhat richer understanding of multiculturalism proffers that a multicultural society accepts and incorporates the values, beliefs, and ideas of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. An even denser and thicker definition of multiculturalism suggests that the concept embodies the celebration of diverse cultures and empowers diverse cultural groups to claim a greater measure of equality with others in the public square.
     Because multiculturalism is an umbrella concept the breadth of groups and concerns that cluster under its shelter is breathtaking. Multiculturalism includes all groups protected by the American Disabilities Act, demands respect for all holidays, offers protection against discrimination in employment, encourages the development of educational curriculum that respects racial and ethnic diversity, and much more. For some advocates, multiculturalism is a rights-based concept that applies both to individuals and groups. Accordingly, everyone has equal rights, and society has a moral and legal obligation to respect and protect the rights of each person and group.  
     The concept of multiculturalism has broad appeal in a liberal democratic society—within limits. The rights associated with multiculturalism are civil rights. When the norms of multiculturalism begin to impinge on political and economic rights we often witness increasing tension among diverse groups and popular support for multiculturalism softens. A desire on the part of the majority to maintain the status quo and the appearance of social unity outweighs the urgency of change for the sake of greater inclusion. Multiculturalism has its place, and it must be kept in its place. Enduring poverty in the midst of abundance and recent battles over voting rights witness to a retreat from multiculturalism in these areas of public life.
     The retreat from multiculturalism is due neither to a lack of awareness of the need for change, nor a want of desire on the part of well-meaning citizens to “do good.” Like the myth of the “melting pot,” the impetus for multiculturalism comes from a strong desire to remain true to the creed of E Pluribus Unum. What is missing in this effort to preserve unity is an adequate understanding of our historical context. It is this failure that turns an otherwise noble intent into a chimera.
     Many Native American scholars and historians like David Chang and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz are helping us understand that everything in US history—nation, race, and class—is about the land. Who controls the land and determines how the land is used is a—perhaps the—central theme in US history.
Native Americans, faith communities that have repudiated what Steve Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, correctly calls the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination, and others who are calling upon the United States to honor the 370 treaties between the US and Indian nations, are changing our national narrative and shifting our moral compass in recognition of the importance of land to our national narrative.
      Non-Indian people are beginning to understand that the real history of the United States is defined by settler-indigenous relations. Indigenous Peoples owned the land, the settlers wanted and needed the land, and with the blessing of the church they took the land. Setters invoked the quasi-religious doctrines of Terra Nullius (empty land) and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination to justify Indian genocide. The philosopher John Locke provided the necessary justification for taking the land. He argued that the settlers were defending the superior European civilization and religion (Christianity) against the “pagans” and “wild beasts.” Because the settlers were obligated to defend their superior way of life against the threat posed by the Indians, the Indians were obligated to pay for the cost of the war waged upon them. Taking the land was, in Locke’s view, just compensation paid to the settlers by the indigenous pagans.
       I am not ready to give up on E Pluribus Unum. But if we want to turn this chimera into a viable vision we have to begin with the historical reality of indigenous genocide, exploitation and subjugation. Repudiating the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination opens the way for honoring treaties and giving Indigenous Peoples control of their own land and political and economic future with cultural integrity. Of equal importance, acknowledging our real history is a truth that sets white citizens free from the shackles of historical distortions so that together we can find our way to a future beyond multiculturalism; a future in which interracial justice is normative.

David Hansen

Friday, May 19, 2017

We Need a Little Revelation, Right This Very Moment!
Vicky Hanjian   

      A quick glance at the calendar reminds me that Shavuot and Pentecost are a mere week and a half away.  Having my feet firmly planted in both Jewish and Christian practice makes for a very rich compote for me as these two observances cycle around again, always in close proximity to one another.
      In post Biblical writings Shavuot has come to be known and celebrated as the day Torah was given to Israel.  Through the Kabbalists, a tradition of staying up to study through the night on the eve of Shavuot has been handed down as a way of preparing to receive the revelation of Torah in the morning on the day of Shavuot.
      In the Christian calendar year, the Day of Pentecost follows close on to Shavuot.  It is a day when the life giving energy of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early church in a rush of wind and fire - a day when the Holy demonstrated its power to infiltrate and shape the life of the community.  Both Shavuot and Pentecost are remembered and observed as days of revelation.  

At Mt. Sinai  the revelation came with a quaking mountain, thunder and lightning and thick clouds of terrifying mystery.  The potent drama of creation was the venue for the revelation of the law that would shape Israel’s life as a holy people, wisdom for life in harmony and justice and peace.  Basic wisdom about not setting up false gods and worshipping them; about honoring our elders; about not murdering or stealing; about not envying what our neighbor owns; about not bearing false witness against another.

   In a parallel tradition the Day of Pentecost came with rushing wind and fire and the revelation of the gift of the Holy Spirit - the revelation spoken in such a way that all could hear it in their own language regardless of where they came from.
      Christian tradition holds that the Spirit came bringing gifts of holiness for those who could use them.  Gifts like wisdom and knowledge, of faith and the ability to heal, of discernment and the ability to interpret spiritual truths.
      Taken together the two traditions of revelation form a firm foundation for the human community to live in harmony and wholeness - in holiness.  Both traditions have the power to pull us back to center in a time when the wild centrifugal forces of national and global politics send us spiraling away from the most fundamental truths.  Truths like being honest and not lying to or about our neighbors - - ordinances about not murdering -either literally or verbally - - like not stealing or envying what belongs to another.  The revelation on Sinai seems so fundamental - - and yet is so easily ignored and trampled upon at the highest levels of political machination where adequate health care or a sense of safety can be stolen from the most vulnerable at the stroke of a pen. 
       Revelation of wisdom for living is at the heart center of Jewish and Christian tradition.  The thunder, the smoke and the quaking mountain, the rushing wind and the tongues of fire, all caught the attention of our ancient ancestors.
    Our attention has wandered - but we still have the stories and the ritual days that have the power to draw us back to center and to remind us again of the most basic principles for harmonious living.   No fireworks, no exploding mountains, no mysterious smoke and clouds, no rushing wind and flames - - just a silent, ageless whisper of intent: “You shall be holy!!” Now -  get with the program!!

Friday, May 12, 2017


A friend and I were talking the other day about what has become known as "fake news" and "alternative facts." We agreed it was harder than ever to know what to believe. Exaggeration has gone viral. Outright lies have become prolific. The determined attempt to misinform, mislead and distract is ever more present. And even the old stand by of image creation and political spin casts us deeper into doubt and mistrust than ever before. We have to depend on things like "fact checker" to try and ascertain the truth. And for those who really care, you have to spend a lot of time checking sources and determining credibility.

This sense of doubt and mistrust has become so pervasive that it threatens the very foundations of our democracy and perhaps even, of future life on earth.
In one of my religion classes I share a picture of Pope Francis in his tall ceremonial mitre, long a part of papal ceremonial dress. In the story with the picture, Pope Francis is thinking about getting rid of this "pointy hat." He expects to catch hell for it but he would rather try something else, like maybe a baseball cap.    I ask my students if they think this story is true. Knowing something of Pope Francis, some are inclined to think it may be true. There is usually a mixed response. When we examine how they might find out the truth, the key lies in the author, a known satirist, who regularly writes almost
believable, and often hilarious material, about well known public figures. The text is from the Borowitz Report, satirical commentator at the New York Times.

In an age of doubt and mistrust of the hard news, many young people get their news from late night comediennes, if at all. At least you know they are joking.

And with a President who calls the media the "enemy of the American people," and only uses sources that are favorable to his point of view (sometimes mistakenly informing his point of view), trust of the fourth estate in this country has descended to a new low. That's a serious danger to democracy. An educated and trusting citizenry is essential to our country's well being. And if only the comediennes, partisan politicians and their corporate interests are "educating" us, we are in grave danger.

But there's a second danger to democracy that has reared it's ugly head. Doubt has been cast on the security and reliability of the ballot. It started some years ago with partisan activity. You gerrymander a district to your advantage. Or you "clean up" the voting rolls to leave off some people of a certain color in a certain neighborhood. Or you require identification some people won't have. Or you limit the polling places so lines stretch on for blocks and people can't take off the time from work. Or as just happened in Montana, you outlaw voting by mail because the other political party might gain an advantage.

Now there are new threats. Can we trust voting machines won't be hacked? Have they been?

The President sows doubt about the ballot by saying millions voted illegally in the recent election, keeping him from winning the popular vote. And we have the accusation that bus loads of Massachusetts voters invaded New Hampshire to change the electoral outcome in that state. In one interview with N.H. residents making this claim, when they were pressed by the interviewer, they admitted they didn't actually see "buses," but one of them did see several people get out of a car with MA plates. 

Should we mention Russia? Perhaps the most serious threat to the ballot in our history as a country and we still don't have the answers. How exactly did a foreign government meddle in the election and was there collusion? The very foundation of democracy is at stake in this question and the investigation seems to be disappearing into the woodwork as threats of war and peace take center stage.

Finally, an even deeper threat to our country as well as the future of our children and grandchildren is the doubt being cast about climate change. For those who are able to see the film "Merchants of Doubt," you know how hard some people work to belittle and disparage scientific evidence. With a party in power that has traditionally denied the scientific evidence of a changing and warming climate, and an administration that is solidly in the hands of the fossil fuel industry, our planetary future is seriously at risk.

As the evidence mounts, day by day by day, of serious challenges to democracy and the planet, one can only hope an energized citizenry will dump doubt, and insist on wiser leaders who talk straight and engender trust, in them and our democratic institutions.

Carl Kline