Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I entered the sanctuary for worship about twenty minutes before the service was scheduled to start. The cool, subdued light was a welcome relief from the already sticky, humid warmth of this late spring morning. I settled myself in the pew for a few minutes of quiet reflection before the beginning of the worship hour, anticipating the organ prelude. As the music began, my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Doesn’t that sound like ‘Yankee Doodle’ ?” In the minutes that followed we heard a medley including The Caisson Song, Dixie, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and a number of other secular tunes with military themes, all played with great spirit. Of course! It is Memorial Day weekend!

I perused the worship bulletin and found the order of service permeated with military themes, including the singing of the national anthem and the playing of taps at the end of the service. As my discomfort increased, I realized that I needed to make a discreet exit in order to deal with the inner conflict that was rumbling inside. One question kept rising to the surface. How do I find a sense of balance between recognizing and feeling gratitude for persons who have served in the military over the generations on the one hand, and the near glorification of military service and tradition on the other? As I walked the steamy streets of town, now crowded with vacationing families taking advantage of the long holiday weekend, I couldn’t help wondering if our little church hadn’t gone a bit overboard. The central theme of worship seemed to be the veneration of the military, any consciousness of a God of justice and peace having been pushed into the further corners of the sanctuary along with outdated and long disused and dusty old hymnals – kept around, just in case….

With two deadly wars running concurrently, with the fairly regular appearance of news articles about post traumatic stress disorder in returning military personnel, with the devastating stories of disrupted lives and family suffering all impinging on my consciousness, I struggle with feelings of anger, disappointment, disbelief and chagrin at the way even the worship of God is so easily supplanted by our quasi- religious elevation of military themes. I struggle to find a sense of equanimity. Surely I can find grounding in a sense of gratitude for lives given, for service rendered, for freedoms preserved. Surely I can find a nonviolent inner response to this strange imbalance between the reality of war and the surreality of this Memorial Day service of worship.

But it does not come easily.

My walking took me to the water’s edge, a small wooden bench on the shore of Farm Pond. The soft sound of ducks and geese ruffling the calm surface, a family kayaking in the distance, the scent of rosa rugosa wafting on the breeze - - and in the silence the answer to my question began to take form in fragments of a tradition as old as war itself: seek peace and pursue it… justice… mercy……walk humbly with God. So for today, this is my focus and my challenge - - to find my way to a just, merciful and nonviolent inner response to this morning’s betrayal - - to find that level of equanimity that will permit a care-full response to my worshipping community’s less than balanced observation of Memorial Day. Until I grapple with the discord within, I risk an unskilled response that merely adds to the sum of violence in the world. This particular work seems never-ending.

Vicki Hanjian

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Of Birds and Barter

We live in a home built in 1890. It is well built, but it's easy to tell it's an old home. It has settled. Nothing is square. Marbles run across the floor to the wall. Doors are not tight. Floors creak. It's drafty in the winter ... and fuel is expensive. Years ago, we invested in a wood burning fireplace. We thought it would be a supplemental source of heat, besides, wood was cheap. A friend and I would scour his rural countryside looking for downed trees farmers wanted cleared. Then we split the result of our labors. He heated his whole home with wood, in two free standing stoves.

Our stove is cast iron. It's free standing in our family room. The stove pipe goes through a second floor alcove, through the roof and because of overhanging tree branches, goes another fifteen feet into the air where it is capped by a rain hat. When it was first installed, the rain hat had a screen in it that kept birds or other creatures from getting into the pipe. But alas, over time, it was perhaps pecked and pushed out of place and birds in the stove pipe became a common occurrence.

Because the pipe went so far above the roof line, it was impossible to approach the problem with a ladder. And the chimney was not strong enough to support a leaning body anyway. So we sought out chimney cleaners with a cherry picker (the trucks with hydraulic lifts and buckets to hold a worker). Only one was available, some fifty miles away, and after a look from the street, this operator ignored my follow up calls.

All the time, birds are coming down the pipe. Till today, I'd estimate the count at 50 to 60. We developed a routine. As soon as we heard one in the stove pipe, we'd open the flue. Then we had to wait till it would drop down into the fireplace. Sometimes this took hours, even days, even though we might try to draw it down with light or food or water. Once the bird was down, we could close all the blinds, close all the interior doors but open the outside door, turn on the lights going to the open door, open the fireplace doors, and hope the bird would fly toward the light and freedom. Most of the time it worked.

Sometimes the bird was confused and would crawl up behind a window blind, or fly into another of the attached and open rooms. Sometimes it wanted to sit on the overhead fan for a while. Sometimes it never flew out, because it was too afraid, or because it was dead. Twice, when we were away on vacation, we came home to tragedy. One bird found a way out of the fireplace to its death under our bed. Another produced blue bottle flies in the fireplace that kept us busy for days till we discovered the corpse.

The routine got old. Some days we would have two, even three birds, one after the other. It was like they were telling each other about this dangerous but exhilarating adventure every bird must try once in a lifetime. I was reaching the point where I found it difficult to value bird life, at least the ones in our chimney.

A few days ago I noticed a neighbor across the street in a cherry picker doing some repair on his roof line. Talking with his wife, I discovered he had purchased an old truck from the city so they could paint and repair their home, higher and larger than ours. After he came down in the bucket, he came across the street with me to assess positioning the lift so we could fix our rain cap. Last night we fixed it. Birds should be safe sitting on our chimney and we should be able to forget the routine. Reading this morning about the extinction of one more bird species, the Alaotra Grebe, I vowed to renew my commitment to all feathered friends.

I've been reading Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power by Alastair McIntosh. He writes of life growing up in the Hebrides. It was a time of neighbor helping neighbor. If you had eggs but no fish, you traded with a neighbor who had fish; and if you didn't have either, people knew it and cared, and you got both eggs and fish. It used to be like that here, too. Now, everything has a money price and corporations are people, too.

As we finished the job, I said to my neighbor, "I owe you one." He smiled and said, "we did good." He knows I owe him. He'll collect, when the time is ripe and he needs help. Or, the rhubarb is ripe and the pies are sweet!

Carl Kline

Friday, May 21, 2010

Earth Wisdom

My wife and I just returned from a trip West. We only had a vague plan and time frame. We ended up doing a loop through North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota. In the loop, besides the Black Hills, we encountered the ND badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the wonders of Yellowstone Park, and the Absaroka and Big Horn Mountains.

We were impressed with all of the park lands and grateful for the wisdom that keeps them public lands and available to all. But it was the geology and origins of Yellowstone that took my breath away. Here's a spot in the planet where the ground one walks on is only a few short miles from the hot molten material of the earths core. The yellowstone area is the result of three volcanic eruptions of 2 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago. The last was likely 2,000 times more powerful than the 1980 Mount Saint Helens explosion. It resulted in some of the most awesome formations I have ever seen. There were spots along the canyon of the Shoshone River where I thought I was looking back into a very dim pre-history. The stone formations, made of volcanic rock, ash and clay, and weathered by years of water and wind, were absolutely the most ancient earth elements imaginable. At one point, standing by the river and listening to its urgent flow, I thought I heard the elemental sound of the ages, visually absorbing the most elemental sight I had ever seen.

I'm thinking about time today; about earth time. My wife took a picture of one sign pointing out rock that was reported to be millions of years old. And I'm thinking about time today; about human time. I'm thinking about that pipe spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil, after all, is an ancient substance that took millions of years to form. And we humans pump it and use it to help us hurry up during our short span here on earth. It's what allows us to go around that loop in seven days and be awed by earth wonders.

Gandhi said haste was violence. Someone questioned him about this, challenged him actually, since Gandhi encouraged people to learn to spin quickly. Gandhi responded by distinguishing between "haste" and "speed." Haste has that element of being driven by time and being out of control. With haste there is too much focus on the future and too little on the present. With haste there is a willingness to risk relationship to others and to the earth (witness BP shortcuts on safety to get the oil profits flowing).

Ramchandra Gandhi writes a wonderful little essay in his book I and Thou called "Speed Is Not the End of Life." He writes about the Mahatma who walked. He walks "up the steps of the Viceroy's palace and extracts from Churchill the 'half-naked fakir' sneer - motorised, over clothed, overfed, one-track, delinquint modern civilization's deep fear and hatred of the all-directioned-ness of meandering, looking, loving, challenging, be-ing."

My be-ing was renewed by just looking at and loving the timelessness of those mountains and rivers. In them was wisdom our indigenous brothers and sisters have known for centuries. Only in recent times has that wisdom been erased from our consciousness. But a way of nonviolence, a way of walking and looking and respecting and considering and loving and caring and meandering, like water, will out. Such values are as timeless as the earth elements that teach them.

Carl Kline

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reaching Out

It always seems like we first and foremost hear and see (especially via TV) the “bad guys” in our world, the ones who—in their minds— want unaccountable revenge, to destroy supposed enemies by explosive force, or have been brainwashed to believe these actions will bring acceptance or power, or minds that are horribly twisted by drink and/or drugs.

What about the “good guys?” There are many, and mostly unknown. Some wear white hats, but most visually do not. The common and uncommon people whose good and decent ways quietly make a difference to one person, a small group, a whole community, or to encompass the whole world. Several major TV stations have begun to air stories about a few of these hometown heroes. Some stories bring tears to my eyes, and I’m thankful for their unselfish deeds.

For all the benevolent actions that take place, most are not on TV. They occur every minute of every day everywhere. When a power outage occurred last winter because of ice, wind and snow and a South Dakota Indian Reservation was without electricity, water and heat for up to three weeks; several friends, women who are movers and shakers, raised nearly $2200 from their friends, relatives and their own pocketbooks, and bought copper and PEX pipe, hundreds of fittings, and plumbing tools. They personally loaded up the supplies, and twice drove 600 miles round trip in the middle of winter to those people whose water pipes had frozen and who had no money for supplies and labor to repair broken pipes. Heroes, they are.

Most good acts do not require a lot of courage, time, or money. Strangers smile at me, and I at them. Maybe I just look funny, but whatever the reason, bringing a smile to faces is a feel-good moment. Once at a long awaited class reunion, I said “Hi” to one of my former classmates, calling her by name. She confessed later that she was so relieved that somebody still recognized and acknowledged her. This statement from one of most popular girls in my class! You never know where the simplest act will make a difference. I still dream about making a contribution for world good, but a smile is a step in the right direction. Where do your feet lead you?

LA Andersen

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The End of Capitalism

We can be grateful that there is a Papers Project, collecting all of the written materials from the life Of Martin Luther King Jr. There are some wonderful papers in the first volume the Project published, including several papers King wrote while attending Crozer Theological Seminary. One on Jeremiah seems especially prescient to me. King recognizes that the Hebrew prophets were not very popular. (Those who speak truth to power seldom are.) King concludes his remarks in The Significant Contributions of Jeremiah to Religious Thought with: "Religion, in a sense, through men like Jeremiah, provides for its own advancement, and carries within it the promise of progress and renewed power. But what is societies reaction to such men? It has reacted, and always will re-act, in the only way open to it. It destroys such men. Jeremiah died a martyr."

It's perhaps instructive that King was killed as he was supporting the strike of garbage collectors in Memphis, TN. And he was preparing with the rest of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the Poor Peoples Campaign, where hundreds and thousands of the poor across the country would come to the nation's capitol to camp, till there was some visible progress moving toward the Great Society. In other words, shortly before his assassination, King was helping to bring together three distinct but inter-related movements in American society that were pitted against what he called the three great evils. The civil rights movement was fighting racism. The peace movement was struggling against militarism and the Vietnam War. And the poor peoples campaign was taking aim at poverty and economic exploitation. It was probably the latter evil in the trinity that got King killed.

Now that this prophet has been given an appropriate pedestal and is no longer alive, some of his most important (and threatening) writings have been forgotten or buried. The Papers Project helps keep them alive. I was taken by some notes King wrote on American capitalism while at Crozer, probably in early 1951. "Karl Marx, the German philosopher and economist, stated that capitalism carries the seed of its own destruction. There is an obvious fallacy in that statement. The fallacy is that it is limited to capitalism leaving the impression that other social movements do not carry the seed of their own destruction. The actual fact is that every social institution carries the seed of its own destruction; its survival depends on the way the seed is nourished. Now after admitting there is a fallacy in Marx' statement, do we find any truth therein? It is my opinion that there is. I am convinced that capitalism has seen its best days in America, and not only in America, but in the entire world. It is a well known fact that no social institution can survive when it has outlived its usefulness. This, capitalism has done. It has failed to meet the needs of the masses." ... "Capitalism finds herself like a losing football team in the last quarter trying all types of tactics to survive."

How can a society build a foundation on individualism and the profit motive, and at the same time expect people to care about the common good and the welfare of the neighbor? How can one discourage trust and encourage secrecy in business and economics, and then seek trust and openness in the rest of society? How can a societal value of more, more, more, and bigger, bigger, bigger, be sustainable?

Perhaps capitalism does carry within it the seeds of its own destruction. Perhaps King was prescient about this in his notes of 1951. Perhaps we are beginning to see the signs of the final score, in the final quarter, up close and personal, some sixty years later.

We're clearly sixty years behind King in other ways, as well.

Carl Kline

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Recognizing the Stranger as Our Own

I once heard a parent say to a child following a playground altercation, “don’t get mad, get even.” I was horrified. Whether it comes from shame or fear, the words and the sentiment they carry are the fuel that drives a never-ending cycle of violence. It is the same attitude that among nations perpetuates the arms race and makes disarmament impossible. In the interpersonal realm, however sophisticated, it is the same attitude that simmers the bitter stew of anger and hurt that feeds gossip and backbiting, adult ways of getting even.

The challenge of interpersonal nonviolence is to sweeten the stew, if you will, to turn the anger and the hurt into feelings of loss and desire, loss of connection to the other and the desire to return. When we are able to feel a sense of accomplishment and quiet pride through the transformation of baser feelings, not ignored, but constructively channeled, we will have ended at least one cycle of violence in the world. In our response to the one who caused us hurt, we can create unexpected opportunity for reflection and return on the part of the other.

There is a fine line between recognizing the other as our own or as a stranger, one to whom we are drawn close or from whom we are alienated. In the Torah (Gen. chapter 42), in the Joseph story, a fascinating linguistic root reveals the fineness of the line. Thrown into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph’s trials find him imprisoned in Egypt. The master of dreams, he is called from prison to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh that portend the coming of famine. On the same day that he is released from prison, Joseph comes to be viceroy of all Egypt, appointed to oversee preparation for the famine. From all the surrounding lands, people stream to Egypt to buy food, and among them are Joseph’s brothers. Standing before the second most powerful man in Egypt, they do not recognize their brother, but he recognizes them. All the dramatic tension of that moment is contained in two Hebrew words formed of the same root, vayaki’reym vayitnaker/he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them. Two words of the same root, but of opposite meaning, “to recognize” and “to be a stranger,” a fine line between them.

How Joseph’s thoughts must have swirled in that moment, what to do, what to say? The Torah says that Joseph “spoke roughly” to his brothers. How reasonable to be filled with bitterness for all the suffering their cruelty brought him. This was Joseph’s chance to “get even,” to reveal himself in all his power. Some commentary suggests that Joseph’s first impulse was in fact to speak words of kindness, but a voice rising from inner tension and torment stopped him. Though not evident at first, there is kindness in the elaborate plan Joseph sets forth to test his brothers, to see if they have changed, offering them the opportunity to do t’shuva/repentant turning, that they might turn toward the wholeness they had never known.

Transforming what must have been his own deeply human feelings, Joseph allows for a greater transformation. In that moment of recognition and alienation, the nature of his own response would determine the way of his brothers’ response. The nineteenth century Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yizchok of Berditchev, offers a beautiful teaching, that by making himself strange in that first encounter Joseph allowed for fuller recognition later. Of his recognizing them, but making himself a stranger to them, Rebbe Levi Yitzchok teaches, he did not want to cause his brothers pain in the moment of their bowing down to him…; therefore Joseph made himself strange to his brothers in this moment so they would not feel their lowered state and see themselves as vanquished.

Eschewing the opportunity to “get even,” his power not withstanding, Joseph offers an alternative to perpetuating a cycle of violence between him and his brothers. Teaching the dynamics of interpersonal nonviolence, it is a model that all of us can follow. All of a common root, we come to recognize the other as sister and brother.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"We Can Make a Difference in This World"

"I was told as a child, 'You're blind; you can't do this,'" guitarist and singer Raul Midon once told an interviewer. "I was told when I moved to New York, 'You can't do that, you're not going to make it.'"

How grateful the world can be that Midon didn't listen to the doubters.

Now 40 years old, Midon combines amazing versatility on the guitar, passionate vocalizing, and visionary songwriting to create compelling music. He even throws a little "vocal trumpet" into the mix.

I first became acquainted with Midon's music on TED is a small nonprofit devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading." Its annual conferences in Long Beach, California, and Oxford, England, bring together some of the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk or performance of their lives--in less than 18 minutes. More than 500 of these presentations have been made available to the public so far, for free, and more of them are added to every week.

In the film clip below (around 9 minutes long) Raul Midon performs two original pieces, "Everybody" and "Peace on Earth." The second song, Midon acknowledges, is much darker in mood than the first, but in the end "peace on earth" still "lurks in the hallway" with the "ghost of war". Which will we choose? Which do we really want?

For your convenience, I've provided a transcript of both of Midon's songs (found beneath the video player). If you appreciate his music, you might check out his albums, the latest being Synthesis, released just this month.

Midon has certainly found a way to "make a difference in the world." He encourages us all to do the same, each in our own way. Individually and together, we can change the world.

(Note: If for some reason you can't see the video player below, click here to watch this film at Ted. com.


Picture yourself in a world where there's no-one else
nobody anywhere
A moment ago there were voices and faces to look upon
you can't see them anywhere
Nothing more to say
and no-one left to say it to anyway.

Oh, listen to what I say

Everybody can be somebody
and everybody is free to make a difference
Everybody can be somebody
Everybody is free to make a difference in this world.

Now picture a world where the people all feel their worth
Children are everywhere
Now there is a reason for everyone's time on Earth
Wondering why you should care, yeah
Nothing more to say
And only love can see us through, anyway

Oh, listen what I say, yeah

Everybody can be somebody
And everybody is free to make a difference
Everybody can be somebody
Everybody is free to make a difference

You don't have to be a big celebrity
To feel the power, the power in your soul, no
You don't have to be a big star on MTV
To realize that in your eyes is a view that only you can see

Everybody can be somebody
Everybody is free to make a difference in this world
You can make a little difference in this world
I can make a little difference in this world
She can make a little difference in this world
He can make a little difference in this world
You can, I can, he can, she can
We can make a little bit of difference in this world....


There is no hope
There is no future
No faith in God to save the day
There is no reason, no understanding
No sacred place to hide away
There is no earnest conversation
No words of wisdom from the wise
There is no reconciliation
And no collective compromise

Peace on Earth
That's what we want
Peace on Earth
That's what we all say
Peace on Earth
Yet, there in the hallway
lurks the ghost of war
He wants more and more and more and more
and more and more and more and more

There is no darkness, no sunshine
There is no great society
There is no freedom of conviction
There is no freedom to be free
There is no heaven, no fire and brimstone
There is no brotherhood of man
There is no country, no one religion
There is no universal plan.

Peace on Earth
That's we want
Peace on Earth
That's what we all say
Peace on Earth
Yet, there in the hallway
lurks the ghost of war
He wants more and more and more and more
and more and more and more and more

The answer is
mutual assured destruction
A balance of power
A weapon for everyone
Mutual assured destruction
bringing peace to everyone.

Peace on Earth
That's what we want
Peace on Earth
That's what we all say
Peace on Earth
There in the hallway
Peace on Earth....