Saturday, January 21, 2017

Singing Across a Chasm in Time

Someone I have known for many years came up to me after a recent Black Lives Matter vigil, song still lingering in the cold air from our closing, and with hand extended wished me a “happy new year.” I am ashamed to say that my response in kind was not immediate. As has become a reflection of the times, even simple greetings of hope and joy seem to become fraught. Struggling to find words, as in “a happy new year in spite of it all…,” my response was more of gloom than of a simple returning of good wishes. I hadn’t really intended it that way, but that’s how it came out, how a simple and good human interaction became twisted by the larger context of fear and despair, indeed, of gloom. 

My friend stammered, as though feeling he had erred in seeking simply to wish me well. Feeling his distress as my own, discomfort flowing into the space around us, I realized the truth I had forgotten, that the nature of our day-to-day interactions affects the quality of our efforts to foster justice and peace in the world. Whether words bring approach or reproach, whether they join from heart to heart or collide in the air between is the challenge in the first word and name of that week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayigash (Gen. 44:18-47:27). The same root can form lageshet/to approach, or it can form l’hitnagesh/to collide. The choice is ours, daily renewed.

Allowing the simple and the good, the human way of approaching each other to be shunted aside, to become victim to our own despair, is not good. To respond reflexively from out of gloom is not the way that we will meet and overcome the challenges that beset us. When we are worried and in despair, we need to reach out and to sing out, raising our voices in deep soul song to help guide us across the chasm and give light to the path. I think of a beautiful agada/a telling that emerges from Parashat Vayigash. It is a telling that emerges from one word, from one name in the portion, as an entire song rising from one note, as a flower from a seed. In a genealogy of Jacob’s sons and grandsons, there is mention of two women. Jacob’s daughter Dina is mentioned. And with the sons of Asher the Torah tells of their sister Serach. Appearing directly two times in the Torah, we only know that Serach is the daughter of Asher, learning here, as well, who her brothers are. From this tantalizing seed, this first note, hints drawn by the rabbis from elsewhere in the Bible (2 Samuel, 20:16), a great song flowers, a song that sings the wisdom of this wondrous woman. Legend tells that she lived from the time of Jacob through the four hundred years of enslavement, who on the verge of the Exodus and freedom told Moses where to find the coffin of Joseph, whose descendants were bidden to carry his bones from Egypt to Canaan. 

The link in all of this is one of song and the wisdom needed for song to rise and guide us across the divide, from one place of being to another. As Joseph’s brothers returned from Egypt to their elderly father Jacob, they suddenly wondered how they would ever tell him that his beloved son Joseph was still alive and was the viceroy of Egypt. As they approached home, they saw their niece, Serach, and then they knew how they would avoid overwhelming their father with the shocking news. Known as a singer of songs and player of the harp, Serach would sing the news to her grandfather Jacob. As the telling goes, she sat down before Jacob and sang, “Joseph, my uncle, lives, he rules over the whole of Egypt, he is not dead!” She sang the words many times until her beloved elder became calm and began to smile and sway. We are then told in the telling, “His joy awakened the holy spirit in him, and he knew that she spoke the truth. The spirit of prophecy never visits a seer when in a state of despair or in a state of grief; it comes only together with joy.” 

That is the “torah,” the teaching of Serach that we need to hear. We are going to need the spirit of prophecy in the days and years ahead, the spirit that makes clear the way and helps us to see each other along the path. In the way of Serach’s song, I think as well of a song I loved as a kid, perhaps needing its wisdom in times of struggling to find my own way. From the singing of Pete Seeger, it is a song to keep singing, the “Worried ‘Man’ Blues:” “It takes a worried ‘man’ to sing a worried song. It takes a worried ‘man’ to sing a worried song. It takes a worried ‘man’ to sing a worried song. I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long.”

In his notes to the song, in a worn old song book that Pete signed so many years ago, he says the song probably “goes way back in slavery days,” and he points out that the tune is a relative of “This Little Light of Mine.” So we sing, that song might become light, soul tune and soul light guiding the way, lifting us from despair to do the work that needs a-doing, as Pete might have said it, that we find the strength, as he did say, to “keep on keeping on.”

In the openhearted way of Serach, singing across a chasm in time, if we would get there and re-embrace each other, as in the way of Jacob and Joseph reunited, we need words to help us approach and not collide. And we surely need the ability to offer and receive the simple blessings of another’s greeting, as in the sincere good wishes for a “happy new year.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Monday, January 9, 2017

We Have Forgotten

Sitting and watching the first real snow of the season, my mind drifts back a number of years to a sunny prison courtyard at a State Prison in South Dakota.  I recall my anxiety about approaching the prison grounds, wondering what it would be like on the “inside.”  The group I was with was focused on “Learning Nonviolence with the Lakotas.”  We were visiting the prison to hear from a couple of inmates about their experience of trying to live nonviolence in the prison milieu.

Needless to say, we were only given access to the outermost areas of the prison campus. We entered the courtyard and two young men arranged some picnic tables so that our group could sit more or less in a circle for conversation with them. 

We listened as they told their stories .  Both had been tried and sentenced for crimes that would have received much lesser sentences and perhaps probation if they had been white.  But they were not.  They were Native American.  They told stories about how long the process had been to be able to have a Sweat Lodge and a Medicine Man available to them in prison so they could practice their spiritual lives and begin to heal the deep wounds of racism.

This all happened a lot of years ago.  Many of the details of their stories are lost  to me now, but one story vividly remains in my memory.

One of the young men told the story of  being a young boy and asking his grandfather “Why are white people the way they are?” referring to his experience of white prejudice and racism and indignity at the hands of white citizens and local bureaucrats in his brief life span.

His grandfather answered: “They have lost their drum, they have forgotten the dance, and they do not know where the bones of their ancestors are buried.”

Those words and the truth and wisdom they convey have stayed with me.  As I continued on my own spiritual path, I kept searching for what the metaphors might mean and gradually they became clear.

We white folk have lost our drum.  We have become disconnected in so many ways from the rhythm of the heartbeat of Mother Earth.  This disconnection is what allows us to act in rapacious ways against the earth, to mine and drill and frack and deforest, and over-fish and pollute without regard to how deeply wounding this is to the fragile integrity of this planet.

We have forgotten how to dance - - how to move about in shared space with grace, taking each other into account, respecting  one another’s dance style, cooperating to create beauty.  We have forgotten that moving together in  dance teaches us how to move together in life - - how to cooperate  for the common good - - how to live in response to  the deep music of life.  Instead we move in isolation and non-cooperation.  We disregard the beauty of another’s dance moves and avoid learning new steps and rhythms.  Indeed we work very hard at eliminating the diverse beauty of the dance of life when the steps are  unfamiliar. 

We don’t know where the bones of our ancestors are buried.  So many of us of us can’t go back more than 2 generations, 3 at the most, when we try to tell our kids their family history.  Without the deep connection to “the bones of our ancestors” we become uprooted and ungrounded.  We lose a strong and healthy sense of who we are.  We are a nation of immigrants.  Our forbears, at some point in our history, came from elsewhere.  When we don’t know where the bones of our ancestors are buried we lose our own history, our own sense belonging to a great stream of life.  As ungrounded and rootless people without a firm grasp on our own stories, we find threat to our fragile sense of ourselves where none exists.  Everyone becomes “the other.”  

My mind often goes back to the lesson learned in that prison courtyard.  Those two young men were strong and free in ways that we as white folk may never understand.  They owned their drum, cherished its meaning, and cared for it with deep respect.  They danced with respect to heal themselves and the planet.  They honored their ancestors and could sing and recite their family history going back 7 generations.  They knew who they were. 

As we move into the fear-filled uncertainty of 2017, may we spend time searching for the drum we have lost.  May we honor the rhythms and the heart beat of the earth and cease wounding her.  May we begin to learn how to dance with grace again.  May we search for and find “the bones of our ancestors” - - fleshing out our own stories so we can see how they blend with the stories of  the rest of humankind.

A prison courtyard  seems like the last place to look to find hope, but there it is in the story of a young boy and his grandfather’s wisdom: find the drum - - learn the dance - - re-collect the bones of our ancestors - - and learn to live in the world in greater peace.

Vicky Hanjian

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

People of Place

My wife was busy cleaning out the cubby hole. That's what we call the space under the eaves in our 1890 Brookings home. Over the years it has become the place of last resort for all manner of "stuff." My stuff takes up half the space, mostly my important papers and resources I may need once more in another lifetime. But besides my stuff, the other things my wife pulled out of that space after 37+ years were amazing.

One that caused a certain degree of nostalgia was a poster. It's large, framed, in black and white. It shows two people walking down a hill in the winter, bare trees on both sides. I purchased it years ago when we lived in Worcester, MA. It reminded me of the hill we lived on and the dirt road going down the hill. You didn't drive it in winter. It was hardly passable in other seasons: rutted, rooted and just plain rough.

I started thinking about that place we called home: the way we laughed when we signed the mortgage papers, unable to envision living anyplace 15 years and paying $14,000; the beautiful gardens in the side yard, left by the previous elderly owner; the rounded wall in the upstairs bathroom, making it large enough for our yearly Christmas tree; the vegetable garden on top of the garage, where we "planted" the kids dead guinea pigs; the old time street lamp, sitting by the fireplug in front of the house; the 12 days of Christmas open house we held for friends and neighbors, coming and going as they were able.

Annie Dillard has a beautiful essay in her book For the Time Being where she reflects on dust. You know, the layer of who knows what on the bedroom dresser. She names the "what," as flakes of dried skin and all manner of other matter that eventually covers whole cities and our homes. Still, after 37+ years, digging in the dust and dirt of our back yard we will recover glass shards from the original owner of this property, Dr. Hyde. And who knows what memories live deeper, buried under concrete.

We're a mobile population in this country. Always going someplace. Always in a hurry. Never in one place long enough to get to know it. And then when we are present for a while, there are those who want to change it, grow it, develop it, bulldoze it for something better.

I still remember with some grief those years during the "farm crisis," listening to SDSU students relate losing the family farm after three or four generations. And I look with awe at the home a west river rancher built, the inside walls constructed as outside walls by his forebears, as squatters and settlers generations ago.

There's something about "place" that's essential to the human condition. We are people of place, whether we know it, or acknowledge it, or not. For Christians, it may go back to the Genesis story  where we are created from the "dust" of the earth, where Adam means "dust creature." Place connects us to earth. We may think we are winged creatures, flying from one place to another, but our final destination as dust creatures is a place in the earth. We should get to know it!

All of this makes me wonder why it's so hard for us to understand the respect Indian people have for a field in North Dakota, recently bulldozed for a pipeline.

In his book World Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions, Houston Smith writes about how first peoples are people of place. They are the bluff, the pine tree, the bison, the stones, the water of their surroundings. There is no spiritual separation. And when a young woman at the Sacred Stone Camp says she is there to protect the water because we are water, it's not just a spiritual statement but a scientific reality. Science gradually catches up to ancient knowledge.

I'll always remember that picture of laying the first keystone pipeline. The label said no sacred sites here. The picture showed the pipe being buried a foot from a human skeleton.

I'm becoming averse to bulldozers, even the name. I keep seeing them destroying Palestinian homes and running over and killing Rachel Corrie. Now I watch them deliberately tearing up sacred sites in North Dakota. Even the one leveling the earth by the meeting of the Interstates near Sioux Falls is troublesome. Bulldozers have no respect for the earth, for the dust of generations, for our place on it. 

Let them dig the Dakota Access pipeline with hand tools, like the archaeologist. Maybe by the time they finished that process, we would be sufficiently recharged with renewable energy, and the earth and our water and Gods good creation would be treated with the respect it deserves. 

Carl Kline

Thursday, December 15, 2016

God of the Field

There are some young friends in India who have been working for years among the rural poor. They are development workers at heart. But they are committed to the kind of development that makes sense in that cultural context and coincides with the interests and wishes of the population. 

Going into that rural area for the first time they didn't have an agenda to advance. They didn't have a product to push. They didn't have a PhD in development studies, although they are certainly bright enough to earn one. They simply made a commitment to live with the people and see what it meant to be good neighbors.

The young man comes from a family that chose to live in the largest, most densely populated slum in Mumbai. He grew up believing that it was one's duty to share in the lot of the poor, till no one was poor. His wife grew up in a family that valued an ethic of "enough." They deliberately sought to make their ecological footprint as small as possible, out of respect and concern for those who had even less space or resources. 

The young woman was in South Dakota, before her marriage, for an intercultural education program. The program group was taking an evening off at a cabin on a near-by lake. Many of the group were taking rides on a pontoon, but she declined. When asked why she wouldn't enjoy a ride with the others, she replied she couldn't participate in an activity using fuel for pleasure. She had likely seen too many rickshaw drivers in India measuring gas for their tanks, at truly exorbitant prices, with a plastic measuring cup. She knew the price of gasoline for the world's poor.

For many months I got a modest report from this couple about their work. One experience they shared has stayed with me ever since. They were describing the way the local farmers plowed their fields. Initially, they couldn't understand what  was happening.

Tractors were out of the question in that area. The bullock pulled the plow. Believe it or not, working as if attached at the heart, farmer and bullock can make furrows as straight and true as any John Deere, with lots less compaction of the soil and no fossil fuels. And in this instance, they watched as the farmer finished the rows. Then, to their amazement, the farmer made a furrow stretching from one corner of the field, obliquely, to the other corner. When asked why he did this, the farmer replied, "that's the God of the field."

On further examination, the couple discovered there was also the "God of the house." In building a home, the same oblique line always ran in a contrary direction, plainly visible, one of a kind, lonely in the midst of the other house lines, visually dominant.

Symbols can be significant. There was a time when I was one of the lap swimmers in the South Dakota State University pool. If you've been there and keep your eyes open as you swim, you'll notice that you're following the way of the cross. I'm sure not everyone sees it that way. But for someone who does and finds meaning in that symbol, it can change the very nature of your swim.

In the same way, if you wake each morning to the "God of the house" and work with the "God of the field," you likely begin to recognize the divine in the world around you and it changes your perspective and your behavior. It becomes a symbol, an invitation to the divine to inhabit the place and your consciousness.

Would we had more of the same in our culture; intentional and conscious ways of inviting the divine to reside with and work with us. Perhaps then we would be more like these young people in their service to their neighbors. 

The downright hatred of the poor in some quarters of U.S. society; the branding of the homeless and jobless; the hostility toward any kind of social safety net beyond private charity; the irony of Senatorial millionaires voting down a living wage;  the callousness of withholding medicaid funds out of political spite; the utter selfishness of some who have far more than they need; and the racial and economic discrimination still alive and well; all cry for the generous and caring people we have been and are meant to be.

Are we our brothers and sisters keepers? In another age there was no question! The Biblical injunction and the natural inclination was to help and serve the neighbor. It's a solid and enduring value, one we can perhaps better express in communities like ours, not too big and not too small, where we might actually know our neighbor. 

We all need symbols and value reminders. It's why we go to church, or take time daily for meditation, or visit the sick. So maybe I'll plow a "God in my garden" this summer,  just to remind me who makes it grow and who to offer the harvest.

Carl Kline

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