Friday, February 17, 2017
I'm thinking about fathers. I just finished a short story by a writer who was disappointed by his father. His father was abusive and died young from too much alcohol. Years later, the son was contacted by one of his father's war time buddies wanting to know about his father's life. They began a correspondence. Soon a picture arrived of the four Navy buddies at a bar with the son's dad smiling boyishly in the middle of the pack. Eventually the correspondence led to a meeting with the three remaining war time buddies; three seniors around a kitchen table with the one middle aged son. In the reunion picture shared with the story, the son took the father's place in the line-up. The story ends, "And I am in my father's place."
Are we sometimes destined to do that as sons? Do we take our father's place?
I've considered myself fortunate as I've had several father figures in my life, male mentors that were there at the time I needed them. They weren't a replacement for my father, but they modeled a different way of being male in the world that could be integrated with early family experiences and personal genes.
There was Randy and Ken, who both taught me how to find the words I needed and to speak with confidence. There was Ed, who helped me learn how to respect rather than conquer a mountain top and Richard who showed me what patient and untroubled crisis management looked like. There was Bob, who modeled how to balance joy with pain, laughter with suffering and be a truly welcoming neighbor. There was Harivalah, who instructed me in what justice and service looked like and Ramachandran who showed me the color of wisdom. There was a second Bob, who always had my back, even when I probably didn't deserve it. And there was Narayan, who made me recognize the dignity and integrity of Truth.
They were all my elders, like my father. They were all instrumental in shaping who I would become. When I think about it, I really have taken their place in a world that needs what my father and each of the others had to offer. I've tried to integrate a piece of them into my own space in life. Most of them are gone now, so someone has to take their place, don't they?
How fortunate for me! How privileged to have so many male models when many young men have none. It makes me wish that all men could be elders and mentors, as well as parents, to younger men. Whether it's volunteering as a big brother, coaching a sports team or working with a church youth group; young men need male role models, beyond the primary one at home. And they need the kind of father figures who can share the best of what it means to be male with them.
Another wish I have for men is that they could be more involved in the birth process. It is so intimate for mothers and usually so distant for fathers. It makes one wonder if that's why the male parenting role is often the distant, authoritarian one ("Just wait till your father gets home."); with the mother alone for nurturing and comforting the children.
And it makes me wonder if the absent birth father from the creation of life, might also be a reason for the seeming male ease with the taking of life. Men simply don't know, intimately and physically, what it takes to create life. Usually the male role is finished quickly. Maybe it takes nine seconds, not nine months.
My major research paper in Seminary was on "Human and Divine Fathers." It was a study of Jonathan Edwards and William Adams Brown. My interest was to see if there was a fatherly resemblance. Does one's human father influence one's conception of God, the divine father? There weren't any clear conclusions from the paper, although Edwards was fertile ground for further exploration. Consider his well known work, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
Without certain evidence, I'd still make a generalization. Most authoritarian human fathers help create authoritarian conceptions of God. You need especially loving and nurturing mothers or lots of father figures to balance the scales and give God a bit of grace, a bit of forgiveness, some humor and love. And authoritarian males like not only sons who obey and Gods who have strict codes of discipline, but also rulers who carry a big stick. Compassion is not their forte and punishment is understood as justice.
Unfortunately for sons and nations, confined to authoritarian father conceptions of divinity, they don't know that God is so much larger and glorious than those limited realities. All our Godly metaphors pale in comparison to: "When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars set in their place by thee, what is man that thou shouldst remember him, mortal man that thou shouldst care for him?" Or, as 1 John says so well and simply, "God is Love."
Posted by Vicky at 9:36 AM
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
So apparently the U.S. is going to build a $12 to $15 billion dollar wall on the southern border. Our newly elected President insists that it will stem the flow of illegal immigration, keep us safer and be part of the economic plan to make America great again. Along with the executive order to build the wall came further directions to stop any refugees coming into the country from several nations, where we have actively or surreptitiously supported the wars that made them refugees. Oh, and Muslims are not welcome.
Apparently it is a secret in some circles that war creates refugees; that war gives rise to extremism; that arming other nations means they often use those arms against the innocent; that interventionist and economic policies on the part of the U.S. give rise to people fleeing their homelands, like from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. And besides, it must be a secret to some that walls don't work!
The Great Wall of China is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built to keep those barbarians from the north at bay. It had its ups and downs over the centuries but eventually, in multiple instances, the unwanted hordes found ways to break or bridge the wall.
On the other hand, the wall has often said more about the rulers of China than the potential invaders. Historically, the wall has come to symbolize the resistance of China to outside influence and the efforts of leaders to control the Chinese people. It's interesting that now, where guards looked out from their towers, tourists scan the horizon in both directions.
Building a wall to keep others out often works against the wall builders and keeps them walled in. There's an interesting example I came across reading about the origins of the Thanksgiving hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God." The hymn was written by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in a small village in Saxony during the time of the Thirty Years War. Floods of refugees took shelter within the walled city of Eilenberg where Rinkart lived. The Swedish army laid siege to the city and plague, famine and fear followed. In time, Rinkart was the only pastor left, conducting as many as fifty funerals a day. Eventually, he was the one who left the safety of the city walls to negotiate with the enemy and bring the siege to an end.
But the wall I'm most familiar with, because it's a symbol from my generation, is the Berlin wall. Here we had a wall separating a country, and separating citizens and families from each other.
Before the wall was constructed in 1961, over 3 million East Germans ignored emigration restrictions and fled from the Soviet Union to West Germany and then to other Western countries. After the wall was constructed, from 1961 to 1989 when it fell, 139 people were killed or died at the wall. They ranged in age from a 1 year old child to a woman of 80. The wall didn't work. People risked life and limb to be with loved ones and escape oppressive state government and the wall was eventually torn down with great jubilation.
When our oldest grandson was small, he would watch Veggie Tales on our television set. One of the tales we had was about the way the Hebrew people were able to bring down the walls of Jericho. The walls came down because Joshua and the others followed God's instructions to the letter. It took seven days with seven priests with seven trumpets leading the Ark of the Covenant. And on the seventh day they circled the walls seven times and the whole people gave a great shout … and the walls came down.
Each time our grandson watched that video, I always had to reverse the tape several times so he could examine that sequence and the falling walls. It was as if he was memorizing the process, fascinated by the magic of it. The walls of Jericho failed in the face of God's covenantal people.
I read a wonderful story the other day about 50 women who met on the bridge connecting Mexico and the U.S. They were from both countries and as a symbol of their relationship and connection with each other they braided their hair together or tied their scarves together. Maybe if we provided our U.S. young with goals and life meaning beyond money and drugs, the demand for drugs crossing any border would disappear. And if we treated countries like Mexico with respect, instead of exploiting them with extractive industries that pillage the land and endanger their water; and if we had physically willing and able workers to tend our fields and farms and factories, roof our homes and landscape our lawns, there would be little work and incentive for the "undocumented."
Maybe with the life affirming wisdom of the women on the bridge and the courage of people of faith called to follow the commandments of God, not governments, we will find a way to break down the walls that some would use to further divide us from our neighbors.
Friday, January 27, 2017
Love Conquers Fear
It now seems evident that Dylann had even larger intentions. There is some evidence he had several other black churches in his sights and wanted to be the spark to set off a race war. There is also testimony that in his later years, (there is no record he attended school after the ninth grade), he spent lots of time alone in his room and on the internet. You don't have to look long or hard to find racially divisive and hateful internet sites. Some are not bashful about advocating murder.
In a time when hate crimes in the U.S. seem to be on the rise, it's appropriate to ask the question why? What's happening in the society, or even around the globe, that is fueling divisiveness and hate? Thinking about that question led the publisher of the journal "The Christian Century," Peter W. Marty, to address it in an editorial in the January 4 issue.
As Marty says, there has always been divisiveness and hate in the human community. But if we are seeing more of it these days, Marty attributes the rise to the skillful use of the internet by hate-filled individuals and organizations, fomenting fear and violence. Think not just of Dylann Roof and the racist web sites available to him, but think also of the cyberspace sophistication of an ISIS. Intelligence experts agree the internet is the most successful and most used recruiter for terrorism outfits.
The impact of technology on human beings and their interaction with each other is a major concern in the recent encyclical from Pope Francis, Laudato Si', "On Care for Our Common Home." We have allowed technology to shape our lives in a way that the world becomes one dimensional. We are in control of almost anything and everything through our phone, our watch, our computer. The object of our control is increasingly faceless, lifeless, certainly soul-less. When the object is not controlled, our fears abound.
Marty tells us "more than 300,000 members are now registered at the largest white supremacist forum, 'Stormfront.'" Check out the KKK or the White Knights or Alt. Right on the internet, even on YouTube. Hate is a click away in all forms of electronic media, including video games like "Ethnic Cleansing."
Whatever the source, according to Marty, hate and divisiveness are fueled by fear. As our fears escalate, so does our suspicion and disillusionment about the humanity of the "other."
Another source of hate and divisiveness is likely the worsening sickness of creation. As creatures of the Creator, we depend on the land and the seas and the myriad creatures. But instead of water that brings health and wellness, our faucets too often flow with lead, with toxic fracking wastes, with high levels of nitrates from agricultural runoff and all manner of substances that make us sick, or fearful or angry.
Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, said it so well after 9/11. A sick Mother produces sick children. And our Mother Earth is ill and getting worse. We fail to recognize how the poisons we put into our soil and our water eventually poison us. They also poison us in our relationships to each other and to all of our relations, whether human, creaturely or in the form of other life forms that sustain us. We fear for the future and the survival of a livable planet. It's hard not to detest, even hate those, who knowingly and willingly further the earth's destruction in the name of profit or political expediency. A fear for the creation's sustainability breeds hatred.
More than ever before in my lifetime, I believe we need fearless individuals. We need those who are willing to speak truth to power. We need those who are willing to stand with the "others" who are products of people's fears. We need people of conscience who choose to be whistleblowers. We need people who will risk out of obedience to a loving God. We need proponents of unity not division. We need lovers instead of haters.
The first letter of John says it well. "There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear." The antidote to hate fueled by fear is love; love that's fueled by a passion for the Creator and the good creation we have received.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
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 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
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.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
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!
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.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
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."
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.
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.