Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Guns & the Fearful

Several years ago when I was in campus ministry at South Dakota State University, I got a late evening phone call from campus security. They asked if I would make my way to a student residence a couple blocks from campus. A young man who lived there had just committed suicide. He shot himself. Several friends and neighbors of his were gathering at the house, sharing their shock and grief. 

I went to try and offer some comfort, if not understanding. It was a night I won't forget. Talking with one of the students, she told me this was the third suicide of friends in the last year.

Then there was the young man who shot himself, a member of a congregation I served. It was not easy going to see the rest of the family when the call came. It was a complete shock to all. There were no warning signs that anyone could see. No noticeable depression. No broken relationships. And the gun made it quick and easy.

And then there was the sixth grader in another community. All of the clergy were called to the school the next day to spend time in different classes. We did our best to answer questions the young people had and strained to assign some rationality to the irrational. But it was tough, tougher yet for his friends and classmates.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people in the U.S., ages 15 to 24. One can never be sure how many other adolescent deaths, like automobile accidents, are the result of self destructive, if not suicidal, behavior. It's not an easy age in any culture.

Fortunately, the South Dakota Legislature had the good sense to reject the recent bill that would have allowed weapons on campus. Administrators didn't want it. Faculty and staff didn't want it. Students didn't want it. And if it had passed, I would have hoped many students would do what the one young woman from the University of South Dakota  threatened to do, go to school someplace else. If all the colleges in South Dakota lost even a tenth of their student population, the idea of guns on campus might be reviewed.

One wonders if those who are so intent on putting a gun in everyone's hand, especially young people who are known to have ups and downs and emotional swings, have ever been close to an adolescent suicide? Or I wonder if they've ever been in a fire fight, where they didn't know who was the "good guy" and who was the "bad guy", since all they saw and heard in a few seconds of response time was retreating bodies and noise? It seems these "would be white hats" have a movie set version of how they would protect themselves or another. Like the recent road rage case in another state, where the armed son goes out to protect his mother and she gets shot in the head and killed. What utter tragedy! Why in heavens name do we pay police (usually not enough) to protect and serve, and then not use their services but make their job more difficult?

But there has to be something deeper going on in the culture besides National Rifle Association lobbying, arms manufacturers making obscene profits and politicians pandering to the political right wing. Maybe the fear mania started before 9/11, but certainly since, we've been fed fear for breakfast, fear for lunch and fear for dinner. The government promotes it. The politicians run on it. The media sensationalizes it. Racism and nationalism thrive on  it. Religion will often capitalize on it with "end times" theology. The American culture has become so permeated by fear that everyone seems to think they need a gun, just in case they need to kill their neighbor (before their neighbor kills them). Maybe our nation's new policy of permanent and pervasive war, often against unseen enemies with lots of "collateral damage," is coming home to haunt us. Increasingly, maybe we're the collateral damage, not just in Yemen, or Afghanistan.

And somehow, many have taken to heart the idea that there are only two alternatives in a conflict, fight or flight. We either stand our ground with our gun and fight, or take the cowards route and flee. I prefer Gandhi's idea, a third option. How about standing one's ground and not fighting. Gandhi writes, "Nonviolence and cowardice go ill together. I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness." And again, "I see neither bravery or sacrifice in destroying life or property for offense or defense." 

In my mind, the real hero at the Sandy Hook massacre wasn't the guy with the gun. It was the principal who gave her life for her kids. Talk about guts!

There's an alternative to living in fear and arming ourselves to the teeth. It's that place in all of us that exercises love and compassion. It's a place in all of us that allows us to look danger in the face and sacrifice ourselves for another. It's that hard but true calling to love the neighbor, like the self, not threaten or kill them.

Carl Kline

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is God in Our Midst or Not?

As the week’s blizzard came to end, we went outside to begin to clear up. One of my favorite activities is running the snow blower, which is owned collectively among three households on the street. In part, that is what I love about it, delighting in the gift of its collective ownership. Every time it snows, we need to be in touch with each other, coordinating schedules and prioritizing needs. Mieke and I got the little machine that we call “Mighty Mouse” at our designated time. Adding to the excitement of running it, Mieke made a video of me driving the red machine down the driveway. The video was for two and a half year-old Leo, so he could see the snow flying and zayde (Yiddish for grandfather) hard at work, calling out to him and yelling “mush” to urge on the imaginary dogs. It was a great hit! We had our first real phone conversation with Leo after he saw the video. The first thing he said was, “I want one for my house.” At some point in all of the fun with the video, we suddenly all had an amazed realization; Leo had no idea what snow is! Living in Los Angeles, he had never seen snow, never experienced its cold or its gently falling flakes, neither its drifting depth nor its wind-swept bite.

I thought about our efforts to explain snow to Leo as I went through the week. I began to notice lines of connection to similar questions about being and existence, naught and nothingness, people helping or not helping each other, manifestations of God’s presence or absence. How to explain, how to know, of that which we see and of that which we know only through manifestation of its essence in the world around us? I thought of such questions as I came to a line in the week’s Torah portion, B’shallach (Exodus 13:17-17:16). It is a line that I had never thought much about. The people of Israel have crossed the Sea, finally on the journey, “free at last, free at last, thank God all mighty, free at last.” They have seen amazing signs and wonders, some breath-taking and some horrifying, some one and the same, as in that very crossing of the sea, their redemption entwined with the destruction of the pursuing Egyptians. All so confusing, what to think, what to feel in the face of life’s contradictions churned up with the muck of the sea bottom? Fearful, needing water, they argue and complain, challenging Moses, testing God. And then they ask a powerfully profound and poignant question, timeless in its yearning to know, as real for us at times as for them, is God in our midst or not/ha’yesh Ha’shem b’kirbenu im-ayin

It is an amazing question, so real in its immediacy. Is God in our midst or not? How do we know? What does it mean to affirm the reality of an unseen presence? What if we have never felt God’s cool kiss upon our brow, or the warmth of God’s presence upon our heart? What about the swirling bite and blur of life when it seems impossible to see beyond what is? In a world of so much evil, what is the place and power of goodness and of God’s role and ours in its expression? How do we know then, when all seems blurred, if God is in our midst or not? 

Unlike snow in warm climates, God’s presence can be felt everywhere. Also unlike snow, experiencing God is not a matter of sight, or touch, or taste, but of something deeper. After all that the people have experienced of God’s miracles, the fearsome plagues, the sustaining gift of mannah, the parting of the sea, we realize with their question that knowing God is deeper than the impact of miracles occurring outside the order of nature. Awareness of God comes through the ordinary miracles of every day, that which is within nature, within and among our selves. It is knowledge acquired over time, found in our ability to see beauty in spite of all that would deny it. There are times when we are blessed to know God as a still small voice rising from within. In the weave of humanity, God is found in the interconnection of people become as God’s angels. God works through us.

Beyond signs and wonders meant to convince, but which really don’t, the deeper teaching that points to knowing God in the day to day and in the experience of life lived with people is hinted at in the very wording of the people’s question. The people ask if God is b’kirbenu/in our midst? Ultimately, it is only a question that they will be able to answer, only when they experience the manifestation of God’s gentle touch in the way of their relationships with each other, and so for us. B’kirbenu is from the root karov/near or close. The answer is in the way of our drawing near to each other, finding God’s presence within and among our selves. There are times when we know the sweetness of God’s presence in solitude, when our hearts are open to God’s longing, or in the gift of God’s response to our yearning. In the social context, it is in the manner and way of our being with each other that we find nearness with God, meaning and purpose in life. There is an equation and a choice framed in the first word and the last word of the people’s question. The first word is ha’yesh/is there? Taken by itself, yesh means there is! The last word, ayin, means naught or nothingness, there isn’t. That is the choice, whether we choose to draw near or not, whether we approach life with optimism and a sense of possibility, whether we live in the way of there is or there is not.

Ultimately, it is a choice that cannot be explained in the abstract. Understanding the consequence of each way of being, to live with hope and possibility or with a sense of naught and nothingness, determines our ability to sense God’s presence among us, and within our own selves. As hard as it is to explain snow to a child who has never seen snow, it is both harder and easier to explain God’s presence, especially to a child. In the caring and cooperation of people with each other in the common use of a snow blower, there is something much more than the exhilaration that comes with its use. In the nature of our relationship with each other, and in the stillness of falling snow, is an intimation of what is possible, of yesh/there is in the face of naught, of God’s presence among us.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Caught in the Questions

Once again the headlines are full of the news of the destruction of human life –this time through immolation.  I sit with the horror – and I sit and I sit and I sit.  How do I come to a nonviolent response to what has come to be a most visible scourge in the life of humankind in the present moment?  What do I do with the notion of the deliberate, planned, intentional and public destruction of a human being.  How do I relate to the humanity of the perpetrator?

As I write, I realize that these are questions that reside at the periphery of consciousness most of the time as I contemplate the tacit permission I give to military violence done in my name just by being a citizen who pays taxes.

This morning, my specific question as I entered meditation was “What is the meaning of this?”  - with particular reference to the recent beheadings and the latest news of the burning of a journalist.  Why is this behavior on the part of a small segment of the human population so visibly present and unavoidable at this moment in time.  This kind of violence happens, unseen, outside our awareness, over and over again as a result of war, of economic greed, of poverty , of human trafficking.  The sanctity of  human life is debased and devalued daily, over and over again.  So I ask again “What is the meaning of these visible, horrific deaths of human beings at the hands of other human beings?”

It is an ugly question to confront, I think.  One that I would rather avoid at all costs.  In the mists of meditation, I come to understand that something is coming to be revealed that I would rather not see – but that is absolutely necessary to understand if we are to have any hope for humankind’s wholeness.

In a very fragmentary, and perhaps over simplified way, I understand from the work of Carl Jung that there is such a thing as a collective consciousness and a collective unconscious – that just as humans have an individual consciousness particular to each one, the human species has a collective consciousness – one in which we all participate because we have evolved over eons and carry that evolutionary process within us together.  It follows that there is a collective unconscious in which we participate as well.   

From Jung’s further work, I also understand that there is what he referred to as “the shadow” – those aspects of the self that remain hidden – that I deem unacceptable for polite company – the parts of my psychological and spiritual and emotional self that cause me shame and embarrassment - - the parts I tend to bury out of sight.

The difficulty with “the shadow” is that it does not go away – it continues to shape my responses to life whether I acknowledge it or not.  Indeed, if it is unacknowledged, vigorously rejected and hidden enough, it has the capacity to become more powerful in its influence on my behavior, particularly under stress. (I immediately feel its influence in the form of a violent response when someone cuts me off at an intersection and causes  danger to my life.)

Over the years, I have been learning the discipline of recognizing and welcoming my own shadow, of drawing it into the light.  It is a life work and extremely unpleasant at times – but seems to be what is required in order to fulfill the great command to “love your neighbor as your self.”  If I cannot love and extend compassion to  what is unacceptable and disconnected within myself, I cannot possibly fully extend compassionate love to another.

I have been reflecting on this and wondering - - and it is a huge wondering.   I wonder if, in the very public beheadings and the incineration of humans beings, are we being forced to witness the shadow of the collective unconscious of humankind?  Are we being given a glimpse of what humanity is capable of in ways that we have not been able to entertain in consciousness in quite the same way before the immediacy of all the communication technology we now have available to us?  Do these very specific and particular acts of destruction of human life serve a purpose in forcing us to come to terms with the collective shadow in which we all participate simply by virtue of being human?

I recently listened to Krista Tippet (“On Being” – an offering on NPR) interviewing Brene Brown, author of  The Courage To Be Vulnerable.   Brown noted that humans have the capacity to act from courage and vulnerability or from fear.  When we act from fear, we do terrible things to one another.

Her comment rang a bell in my head.  As I see images on TV and in the newspapers of terrorists with their faces completely covered except for their eyes, heavily armed even at rest, the question that comes to mind is  “What are they afraid of?  What are they so afraid of that they must hide their human identity?  What are they so afraid of that ugly automatic weapons are their constant companions? What are they so afraid of that their fear causes them to do terrible things?”

When I can ask this question, I can begin to formulate a different response to what I witness.  They are me.  They are not “other”.  They are my shadow.  And perhaps they serve as a visible reminder of the shadow of our collective unconscious as well.   If this is possible,  and the master teaching is “love your neighbor as your self”,  do we not have a responsibility to find a way to love this terrified and terrifying shadow into the light?   Does this tiny fragment of humankind do us a service by revealing the depths to which we have buried our collective shadow?  Does it force us to wake up and come to terms with what we are afraid of?

Jungian theory suggests that the only way to “disarm” the shadow is by relating to it and with it.  The great spiritual traditions teach that “loving your enemy” is a possible, if untried, path.  Are these most recent acts of terror an unwelcome invitation from the depths of the collective unconscious to awaken to another way?

Vicky Hanjian

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


There's been an interesting development in science over the last couple of decades that never seems to make the headlines. There are more and more scientific studies being done on the dynamics of forgiveness. That's right, forgiveness! 

For instance, a couple of researchers discovered 58 scientific studies of forgiveness in 1998. By the year 2005, that number had grown to 950. One of the researchers is a well known professor, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. He plays a major role in the film "The Power of Forgiveness" and is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University.

He and others are looking at forgiveness scientifically. In the process, they are discovering that the religious admonitions to forgive may well make sense for all those involved.

One of the tools used in the studies is biofeedback. Participants, after initially being in a state of rest, are invited to revisit an event and time when they were in the presence of someone they haven't forgiven and to describe that situation to the researcher. In the meantime, they are measured for blood pressure, heart rate, breathing patterns and sweat. 

What the studies have shown is that the intensity of the anger and dislike of that unforgiven person determines the stress level one sees in all the measurements. Some people who are holding onto hate sweat profusely and their blood pressure goes off the charts. On the other hand, the forgiving person has little change in heart rate or the other indicators.

When one recognizes that research has also established a connection between hostility and a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, one begins to get the picture that holding onto grudges and bitterness toward others is not healthy for the hostile one. Some researchers believe the unforgiving person may compromise the immune system, throwing off the production of important hormones or disrupting the fight against infections.

Research has also shown that especially in older age groups, forgiving persons cited greater satisfaction with life and were less likely to report distressing symptoms like nervousness, sadness and restlessness.

Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, says one who has committed an offense against another needs to ask that person for forgiveness three times. If after the third time, forgiveness is still refused, the moral burden falls on the other and they are the one that needs to be forgiven in the larger scheme of things.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, "It is much more agreeable to offend and later ask forgiveness than to be offended and grant forgiveness." Probably many would agree with him. Offering forgiveness is difficult. Different people have different requirements.

Some expect the offender to grovel. If they crawl on their hands and knees, begging, perhaps they can be forgiven. Others require at least an apology, an admission of wrongdoing, some degree of repentance, a promise not to offend again. Still others need an appropriate level of punishment for the sin, even to the point of the death penalty.

Forgiveness is not forgetting or even excusing or pardoning an offense. The idea of forgiveness is to help us move past the negative emotions of anger, hostility, resentment, bitterness and hatred, toward the positive. Otherwise, how can one be truly healthy, loving and compassionate, when those old hurts lie just below the surface, just waiting on a memory or a similar circumstance?

That's not to say there may be some horrific circumstances where it is almost impossible for someone to forgive. They need not be identified as we can all think of examples. But in the end, the one who ends up hurting the most is the one who harbors the hate or anger. 

And no one can coerce forgiveness from another or chart out an appropriate time line. If its truly forgiveness, it happens in its own way and good time.

Ultimately, the most challenging act of forgiveness is to forgive ourselves. It can be the road block to forgiving others. If we can't get past our own complicity in an act done or undone, it's doubly difficult to forgive some one else.

It's no wonder Jesus suggested we pray regularly, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Sometimes, prayer may be our only hope of transformation.

Carl Kline

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Circle of Listening

In May of 2014, Juan Pablo Garcia of Monterrey, Mexico, had an exchange of ideas with the Civil Force State Police, because of a complaint that had been made to the Government of the State of Nuevo Leon, that nothing was being done for the boys in gangs. A Government official called Juan Pablo to ask about this public statement and set in motion a "Circle of Listening."

Juan Pablo had the idea to organize something between the police and gangs, but didn't know what to do. So he began to consult with me, and we both began to wonder what we could do with the gangs and the State police? After some days thinking about it and not reaching a satisfactory conclusion, I called a friend and colleague in the U.S.A.   

My friend said, "let me think about it and please call me back in three days." So on the third day, I called and the response was, put the gang members and police face to face, let them hear from each other in "Circles of Listening."  

This listening process was used in South Dakota, USA, to give Lakota people, indigenous to the region, a voice when they were seldom  heard by the dominant society. Lakota people formed an inner circle and European American participants sat in an outer circle and just listened, No interruptions, no justifications, no talk! Just silence for the listeners. For some, it recalled earlier indigenous processes where all were seated in a circle, one spoke at a time and all listened. 

So when I hung up, I began to search and read about the subject on the internet, finding enough literature to understand that it was a method of understanding, so two rivals, police and gang members, could communicate.

Juan Pablo and I talked and he came to the conclusion this process could be the first truce of peace between the two sides.

We had three meetings between soul, his wife, Luis Antonio Vázquez, Verónica Oseguera, Marcela Granados, David Hernandez, Abel Burciaga and Paula Palomo in different places where everyone contributed ideas to make this succeed.

JP then called in September on the Board of our organization with the specific purpose of making this reality. For four weeks between July and September I respected the design methodology of the event which was called "Circle Listening Forces United for Peace" and presented it at the two sessions we had. In these sessions we adopted the method in general and defined variables in how to carry it out as follows:
   - The number of members: 12 police and 12 gang members.
   - Moderator: Lety Benavides of Channel 7 TV Azteca
   - Place: Universidad Autónoma, school of psychology or research center.
   - Order: First talk to gang members and then police.
   - Truce: Signed the next day, after the circle of listening.
   - Place: Signed on the street in the neighborhood of the Rappers.             
   - Training: We decided to have a prior approach with gang members and police officers a week prior to the assignment of "Listening Circles"

On January 15 at 10 AM we started the program, gang members settled in the inner circle and the police officers outside. For 3 hours and 2 minutes, there was total order and no one spoke out of turn nor interrupted another. That was incredible! 

24 humans, thought to be enemies, listening to each other and what each had to say, to the questions and points that were raised. 

Lety Benavides, the moderator, masterfully led each of them in what they brought to the session, asking them questions that increased the internalized understanding of the gang members and police officers. And it all happened with fluency and freedom in language we all understand.

Marcela and I listened attentively. And she sent her ideas for questions to Lety, and she chose and was inspired by new issues that needed to be presented to 24 participants.

I think that Lety was choosing who would be the next of the exponents to speak, and I suspect that never using an order already preset but  random and uncertain was conducive to a positive group dynamic.

Juan Pablo, observers of NPT, Nancy and Luis Bonales (taking pictures), the civilian force commander Jorge Rivera and Elisa, all were very attentive without intervening following the event.

There was a recess of 15 minutes and following the break the policemen talked and gang members listened. Gang members sat in the outer circle and were silent. All listened to what every police member wanted to share from the previously asked questions and Lety continued removing from them more ideas and more feelings.

In general, the members of two gangs, Rappers and Palmeros told us the story of their lives, their vices, the absurdity of wasting time and not seeing the future, the desire to change and the complaint of the ill treatment received from the police.

The police generally heard different stories because they are police officers. The majority said that they were gang members and some few consumed drugs. Some few abused young people. But in general, most said they acted correctly and with the exception of two, who stated they had been violent because of frustration with the Clikas and wanted these gang members to change the course of their lives of crime and drugs.

After those three hours of listening, we retired to a private gathering; three members of NPT, three police, Marcela, Lety and I, to formulate the agreement between the parties. It took us about an hour and a half to discern and draft the truce.

We returned to the site of the circle of listening and Juan Pablo gave a reading of the agreements. They were approved.

The next day, in the afternoon, on the streets of the territory of the Rappers, the truce was signed between the police and the Clikas authorities and the corresponding Rappers and Palmeros. Having media present attested to the agreement.

For me the most important thing of this truce is not an end but the road that led us to it and most important, the following:
   • Willingness of participants.
   • Desire of the Clikas and their choice to change.
   • The use of a method of listening and not dialogue. The use of compassion through feelings.
   • Desire of the Civil Police Force to improve and change.
   • The long six-month leadership of the Clikas school.
   • The long seven months of preparation of the circle of listeners and the 7 days in advance preparation for the participants.
   • Having chosen correctly the moderator, Lety Benavides.
   • The humanist vision developing during the process of listening and understanding ourselves.
   • 24 wonderful beings that were opened to a constructive truth.
   • An NGO, NPT that wants to change the circumstances and enhance the status of young people and therefore of society.

     And hopefully this follows, later. I witnessed that we can change, and we have to continue working to see all of us more as human as problems occur, and that the only solution is the use of non-violence and the methods already proven, as love and compassion.

Fernando Ferrara
Monterrey, Mexico. January 15, 2015
Guest Blogger

Saturday, January 24, 2015

An Intimation of Human Connection

We begin with the horror, the sickening sense of despair for the lives lost, for the brutality and depravity that snatched them from among the living. Why, how to fathom what some would do in the name of God? We cry with those in France, with those in Nigeria, all who have seen the current horrors up so close, so many more in Nigeria, so much less outcry, its own question, why? We cry for the Jews of France, trembling with uncertainty. Joined with all, we struggle with questions of identity and identification, with and within ourselves, and with others, and not with others, or in part with others.

A Muslim colleague writing to his community in the aftermath of the tragedy in France expressed the horror, the sickness and despair as it plays out for him, as given focus through the lens of his identity: 

As-salamu Alaykum, 
I know that all of us here in Boston are deeply grieving the loss of life by fanatics in Paris and Nigeria. These extremists disgrace Islam, and Muslims worldwide have denounced their senseless violence…. I also know that many of us are simultaneously deeply frustrated that the acts of this tiny handful of extremists once again have raised doubts about the Mercy of God and this central tenant at the core of our faith. I feel this frustration myself. Yet, as opposed to remaining frustrated, it appears to me the Prophetic response to such tragedies is to channel that frustration into re-committing ourselves to being a Mercy to mankind….

As a reflection of God’s presence on earth, it is hard to be human. In the necessary comingling of identities, it is the larger reality that for Jews is expressed in the Yiddish lament, which, said with a sigh, is yet its own affirmation: shver tzu zein a Yid/it is hard to be a Jew. It is hard to be a Jew, to truly be a Jew, a mentch, a fine human being, to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim/compassionate children of compassionate ancestors. It is indeed, therefore, our way of striving to be a “Mercy to (hu)mankind.” In the comingling of identities and ways of striving, the universal and the particular, no accident that mentch, as the highest goal of our striving as Jews, simply means a human-being. And in the ancient sigh with which the words are said, let us be honest, there also is in their essence the ever-renewed lament, why is it so hard sometime, so confusing, so dangerous to be a Jew in this world? But that is what we try to be and become as our way of being human in this world of striving.

At the outset of the weekly Torah portion following the attacks in France, the portion called Va’era (Ex. 6:2-9:35), God offers Moses further insight into God’s essence. God tells Moses, Ani/I am, sharing then the most holy name, formed of the Hebrew letters yud hey vav hey/I am HaShem. In common talk, Jews speak affectionately of HaShem/the Name, rather than speak, much less to write the holy letters of the Name. It is the “ineffable” name, the Shem Ha’M’forash, the unspoken, inexpressible name. It is also called most fully according to the essence of its meaning, the Shem Havaya/the Name of Being. The letters of God’s most holy name are simply the letters of the verb “to be,” but they are not the verb to be, and they are not a noun or a pronoun, neither male nor female, simply being, as in God’s image we all strive to be, to be able to say, I am….

It is no small thing to say, “I am.” It is an affirmation of our presence. It is about our essence, about what we stand for on this earth, how we stand and how we go through life in relation to God and people. For all of the right that I support and affirm of people to say and express themselves as they wish, I cannot say “je suis Charlie.” I can express another’s right with whom I disagree to speak their truth however unpleasant to me, and I understand that as underlying the slogan of support that has arisen in the face of horror, but I am not Charlie. I do not stand for the nastiness and the demeaning nature, however equitable in its disbursement, for which Charlie prides itself. I cannot identify with a masthead slogan that boasts, “Journal Irresponsable.” As a Jew, also demeaned on Charlie’s pages, I understand and appreciate the slogan of French Muslims, “I am not Charlie. But I am a Muslim against killing.” So too, I am not Charlie. But I am a Jew for free speech. And I struggle in seeking to be and become, with how to balance competing values. What about when speech becomes its own violence in shaping opinion to hate, as in the brutal Nazi cartoons in Der Sturmer, in another time and place? The right to express doesn’t necessarily make it right, or responsible, to express.

God’s name of being and becoming reflects God’s identity within our selves. Arranged vertically, the letters resemble the human form. We are created in God’s image, and in the image of God’s most holy name. For Jews, not a representation of God, not of Moses, that would most offend, but the desecration of the letters of God’s holiest name written in Hebrew, as given to Moses in the Torah. These holy letters carried on the streets and trod underfoot on the pages of a newspaper, God forbid, that is what would hurt so deeply. Pages containing these holy letters are to be cared for, not to be discarded or cast down, in the end only to be buried, like human beings in the end of their days, each one a reflection of God’s name and of the letters that tell of God’s being in the world, yud hey vav hey. To desecrate these letters is to desecrate both God and humanity.

God’s name is an intimation of human connection. Concern for the holy letters of God’s name is to be a reminder of concern for people, each one created in God’s image, each one a representation of God’s name. More than letters upon parchment or paper, it is God’s name and image in every human being that we are not to desecrate or hurt in any way, not to trample upon or disregard, not a single one, only to care for and to revere. That is the rest of my Muslim colleague’s message to his community, to affirm humanity and so to affirm God. Reaching beyond his despair, he then wrote:

At an individual level, let us re-commit ourselves to doing those little acts of kindness that make a big difference in the lives of people: feed the homeless, help a stranger cross the street, or help your neighbor shovel the snow…. At an institutional and community level, let us re-commit to becoming a benefit to our communities…; to address the homeless crisis, to help improve our public schools, and work with the city to provide more affordable housing….  May God help us move in this direction and keep us on the straight path.

Amen/Ameen, so may it be for all of us. Responding to the real needs of people is an antidote to despair, an affirmation of human identity, a reminder that each one is created in the image of God and of God’s name, not to be desecrated, each one precious.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Monday, January 19, 2015

Satyagraha Institute

A new opportunity is developing for those who might be interested in deepening their knowledge and skills in nonviolence, as well as accessing deeper spiritual resources and a network of others to carry it out. 

The Satyagraha Institute is planned for August 2-22 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, USA. Applications for the program are now being accepted. There are spots for twenty participants. It will be an international and intercultural gathering. Interested persons are encouraged to go to the web site for information about faculty, how to apply, and how to support the program in other ways.
The mission statement follows.
Our world suffers for lack of leaders rooted in the traditions of nonviolence. When conflicts arise, many leaders teach us to wield threats, coercion, and harm. When unfamiliar perspectives disturb, many leaders rally us to certainty and defensiveness. When decisions must be made, many leaders encourage us to value self-interest, immediacy, and possession. As we follow these guides, the fabric of our community weakens, and life becomes more difficult for ourselves and others. Satyagraha Institute works to create a different future by training leaders in the traditions of nonviolence.
Mohandas Gandhi, who famously experimented with the possibilities of nonviolence, coined the Sanskrit term satyagraha to identify a method of social change. Gandhi proposed that satya (truth) combined with agraha (firmness) creates a useful social power that does not rely on harming others. Gandhi often referred to this power as “truth-force.”
Satyagraha is an adherence to truth as it unfolds. Since many perspectives are necessary in order to see what is true, satyagraha offers a way to create change that recognizes both our incomplete understanding of any given situation and the wisdom that others have to share. It is a way of directly engaging with others to work out the difficult aspects of life without resorting to coercion, harm, or ill intention. Satyagraha is the social power which arises when we act with kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and service.
Key components of satyagraha include:
• Changing ourselves as a means of changing the world
• Touching our adversary’s heart as a means of changing the world
• Maintaining kind intentions without exception
• Attempting to refrain from harming others
• Offering selfless service
• Employing means consistent with the ends we desire
• Nurturing systems that value nondiscrimination and respect
• Dismantling harmful institutions, while simultaneously building supportive institutions to take their place
Satyagraha Institute promotes the understanding and practice of satyagraha as a method for social change. Our goals are:
• To explore the variety of spiritual and cultural traditions of nonviolence, and to highlight the wisdom that these traditions bring to the practice of satyagraha.
• To train people how to create social change using the principles and tools of satyagraha.
• To strengthen the community of practitioners, teachers, and future leaders who are committed to experimenting with satyagraha in their work.
If this mission resonates with your interests and commitments, we encourage you to contact us.
Carl Kline, Program Coordinator