Thursday, January 28, 2010

What's More Valuable—Gold or Clean Water?

One time long ago, probably in the late 70's, I read a statement that good drinking water will someday be more valuable then gold. Yah, right, said I. Running out of water in dry years concerned me more then the water quality. I had my own well, out in the middle of green, peaceful farmland, good drainage; I was set.

Then I had my water tested. To make a long story short, along with a good amount of hard water minerals, the nitrate level was very high. When I related that to a doctor, he told me to buy my drinking water, by doing so I might save my life. I did so for 20 years, and now I have a reverse osmosis system.

Our lack of safe water all over the United States, as well as the world, is becoming critical. It is well on its way to be more valuable then gold. Let’s face it, we must be aware how bad the problem is now and work together to protect this invaluable resource.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs stricter laws, and to enforce the ones they have. They do not regulate many of the toxic chemicals. However, due to public outcry, the EPA is finally making faster progress. “For the first time, the agency is considering drinking-water standards for 13 pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics and sex hormones, and its surveying water treatment plants for 200 chemical and microbial contaminants. Also for the first time, the EPA is developing a "Chemicals of Concern" list that may lead to strong regulations for stuff like perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA used in nonstick cookware and others in that group. Industrial wastes are finally under scrutiny, such as mercury and other emissions from cement plants, and millions of tons of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal for energy is leaching arsenic, lead and sulfates into groundwater, rivers and streams.” These are only several examples of industrial pollution.

Some other sources of toxic water: Coal mines, concentrated livestock facilities, agriculture chemicals, even our own bathrooms and kitchens.

Nasty’s found in drinking water include e-coli, parasites, bacteria, chemicals from industrial wastes, personal cleaning supplies, drugs/medications dumped in the sewer, lead, nitrites, feces/sewage, arsenic, mercury—the list goes on, but these should be enough to concern almost everyone.

You can start the process of finding out what is in your water. In the U.S. the law requires municipal water reports to be accessible to the citizens. Test the water that comes from your tap. Kits are available—one is called Water Safe kit to do your own test, or a water sample may be sent in to the State Public Health Laboratory—mail-in kits are available from your local extension office.

To protect your household, install a water filter for your drinking/cooking water. A basic water pitcher with filter or under the sink model will help, but for maximum protection, a whole house system should be considered. If you know you have dangerous chemicals in your water, use precautions such as showering (not bathing in the tub) and using a carbon filter on the showerhead. Don’t use a strong mister and very hot water from the showerhead as that forces water containing toxins into the skin.

The whole human community needs to clean up water sources. Until then, we have to start on our own homes. Also, ask your legislators to sign on to any bills that will support clean and safe water, and that will put teeth into the laws we already have. What will you pay for safe water? What will you have to pay if it’s gone?

LA Andersen

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Home of Nonviolence

It's been my custom when traveling to India to take some small gifts along, for old friends and new. In the early years, I was asked to bring pens, as the Indian variety wasn't very reliable. Sometimes, I took books, although packing light and simply didn't allow for many. One year I took tapes of Martin Luther King, Jr. A King tape was an immediate hit.

This particular year our joint U.S./India program group was staying at a teacher training institute named for Gandhi's wife, Kasturba. I gave a King tape to an old friend and within minutes someone had produced a cassette player and all of the Indian participants were huddled around, listening intently. There was total silence and no movement till King finished speaking and even then, it was clear, the Indian participants wanted some time to reflect on and digest what they had heard.

It was surprising to me at the time that King was seemingly more revered in India than he was in his own country. You could go to a home of the poorest of the poor and they would have a picture of King on their family altar, along with Gandhi and Ganesha. At one point I thought this reverence was because King had traveled to India, wanting to understand better the country of Gandhi. But now I think differently.

Prophets aren't usually welcome in their own country. The Bible has it right. After all, King was first stabbed and later assassinated at home. Gandhi didn't die of natural causes. He too was killed, in India. The principalities and powers in a nation state are hard pressed to respond to fundamental challenges with civility. Those who are blinded by ideology, or greed, or the fruits of power seldom surrender. And those of us who reside in societies where prophets are abroad, don't always appreciate their persistent and critical voice,

Our friend Ramachandran Potti would often say, in appreciation of our joint East/West program, exploring the ideas and ideals of Gandhi, "Gandhi will come to India by way of the West." His experience was that younger people were more likely to take Gandhi seriously if Westerners were traveling to India to learn about him.

In the same way, when Nonviolent Alternatives developed a program with Lakota/Dakota people to learn more about an indigenous world view, the interest and participation of folks from India and Europe stimulated others from the U.S. to learn more about people they had been ignoring.

If nonviolent action and prophetic voices seem lost in the noise and violence of our own society, we need not give up. If things seem bleak in our own backyard, we need not despair. We can take heart and be grateful that acts of nonviolence and nonviolent apostles cannot be silenced, or isolated, or even romanticized into oblivion. They break out of national boundaries. Active, prophetic nonviolence can be heard around the world. It inspires people of every time and place. The home of nonviolence, of Gandhi and King, is not India or the U.S. The home of nonviolence is the human heart.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joined Together, Pouring Forth Love

Mishpacha means family in Hebrew. A family is defined by relationship, but how broad, how narrow? As we define our most intimate relationships with those we are closest to, our closest loved ones, our people, do we still remember the more expansive family of all people? At the very beginning of the Jewish journey God tells Avram, I will bless through you all the families of the earth/kol mishpachot ha’adamah. Hearing these words addressed to our selves, as the young Avram/Abraham, do we understand them narrowly, chauvinistically, or expansively, as a challenge to each one of us to be a blessing in the world, each of us part of the great family of earth. Hebrew words are formed from roots. The root letters of mishpacha/family, can mean to “join together,” or to “pour out.” There is a tension, the same tension as in our understanding of family, only narrowly, or narrowly and expansively at the same time? Do we join together to exclude or to include? Do we pour love or hate out into the world? That all humanity begins from the same two people, Adam/mortal, of the earth/Adamah, and Eve/Chavah, from chayah/to live, mother of all life, is to remind us that all violence is domestic violence.

The tension is found in the Passover Haggadah, the book of the Telling, pour out your wrath upon the nations…. Pain born of oppression and persecution blinds us to the expansive bond of family. In a medieval Haggadah, alongside the words of pain become hatred, there is also written, pour out your love upon the nations. Pain, and the hate it spawns, is transformed, family is acknowledged.

This is the tension that fills the Torah portion called Vayera, Genesis 18-22. Dramatic and wrenching, at times uplifting and inspiring, the tensions swirl -- love or hate, narrow or expansive, ways of violence or of nonviolence, noble of word and deed or depraved and ignoble in both? It is about life, both raw and refined, and the nature of family, both inclusive and exclusive. It is about us. Sarah says of Hagar and Ishmael, Cast out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit together with my son Isaac. Hagar raised her voice and wept. God comforts and says of her child, I will make him a great nation. Hagar’s cry is a universal cry that is also Sarah’s. Two mothers who cry for their children. Two mothers who are sisters, as their two children are brothers.

In one of the most stirring scenes in the Torah, Abraham rises to challenge God’s thought to destroy the violent cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Within his own family, Abraham fails the test and offers not a word of protest to the call he thinks he hears to sacrifice his own son. Sarah cries silently, away from the text, said to have died from shock upon realizing what Abraham has gone to do. The faithful has turned fanatic. It is about us.

The tensions swirl. Not much has changed. Can we feel the pain of others as well as our own, one not discounting, but including the other? I have trembled upon reading the word “traitor” recently, used to disinherit Jews who love Israel in the way of family, a relationship both caring and critical. What to make of a letter that tore me apart with horror? The suggestion was to bomb Iran into the twelfth century, “which would only take them back about 100 years.” The writer suggested that it is “cheaper to use the nuclear sites of Iran as the dumping grounds for our old bombs.” I was overcome by disbelief, sickened and shaken by the pouring forth of such hate, by the glib disregard for so many innocent human lives. I was soothed by a memory from only the day before the letter, sitting at a meeting in a mosque, Jews and Muslims verbalizing the experience of greater trust as it grows over time, part of an “Abrahamic Family Reunion,” an organization and a concept. Hagar and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael striving to be family.

We have begun a new program in my synagogue, the “Mishpacha/Family Hebrew School,” parents and children learning together, modeling family, intimate and expansive, particular and universal, all together. May all of our children be vessels of hope, not sent away from each other, but joined together, untouched by hate, pouring forth love upon the human family.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Places for Play

Two things reminded me this week of the importance of places for play.

One event was the interview of Greg Mortenson on the Bill Moyers show. Greg is the author of Three Cups of Tea, the inspiring story of how one person can make a difference in violence torn areas of Central Asia. He does it by turning Stones into Schools, the title of his latest book.

At one point in the interview, Moyers asked Greg to tell people about the "men in black." You knew something special was coming since Moyers had a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye. Mortenson then told the story of some village leaders from a particularly troubled region of southern Afghanistan, expressing interest in seeing one of the schools built by his organization, the Central Asia Institute

Mortenson invited them to a school. He was apprehensive about the meeting, especially as they came dressed in black with their long beards and solemn faces. The first thing they saw was the playground, They started swinging on the swings. They got caught up in trying out the playground equipment and Greg had to eventually remind them they had some serious matters to discuss. The "men in black" agreed to have a school built in their village, but the first thing to be constructed had to be a playground.

We were also reminded in the interview that the U.S. will spend one million dollars per year per soldier in Afghanistan. For one million dollars, Mortenson said they could construct thirty to forty schools. I wonder how many playgrounds? Anyone who has read Three Cups of Tea can see in the starkest terms, the simple alternative, far less costly, to bombs and bullets and military might in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We can promote peace with books not bombs, with playgrounds not drones.

The other thing that reminded me of playing took place at our local library. I was sharing a pot of Indian chai with friends when the owner reminded me it was Uttarayan, Kite Day, in India. It comes every January 14 and signals the end of winter. Once, in Ahmeddabad, I watched hundreds of kites flying from the rooftops of homes all over the city. It was a beautiful and awesome site. And even better, there was someone playing with the wind through a string in their hands.

I was inspired. Returning home, we organized a kite day on campus. A soccer field became our playground. For several years we made kites (the best one I ever made was a simple affair, made with dowels and a garbage bag). One Easter morning, we celebrated spring and the promise of new life next to a near by lake, turning a hillside into a sunrise playground.

It's not a new idea, playgrounds for peace. And surely the children of the world (big and small) deserve better than they are getting; violence, trauma and despair.

Carl Kline

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gandhi's Constructive Program

(The picture comes from High Mowing Organic Seeds in Hardwick, VT. Visit them at

A friend forwarded an inspiring video to me yesterday. The video is about the local food economy in Hardwick, Vermont. Hardwick has some people who are creating a new society in the shell of the old, a food infrastructure that's an alternative to the corporate model offered by Wal Mart. It made me think of the two legs formula of Gandhi. He believed we needed two legs to walk into a nonviolent future. One leg was satyagraha, the use of truth force to resist and challenge the violence and injustice of the present. The other leg was constructive program, creating the alternative institutions that model the new society we are working to create.

I'm convinced larger numbers of people are discovering every day that if they care about the common good they need to create new and decentralized organisms. Orion Magazine offers stories for a sustainable future in a part of the magazine called "Making Other Arrangements." Two experiments in the latest issue deserve attention. In Nelson, British Colombia, fifty some people unload a fleet of four sailboats. The boats have brought five thousand pounds of grain to members of the Kootenay Grain CSA (community supported agriculture). Some 450 families receive spelt, oats, wheat, lentils, and perhaps in the future, quinoa and chickpeas. The growers are local, a sailboat journey up the lake. The transportation is fossil fuel free. The labor is cooperative. The communal spirit is celebratory.

And in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska, the Cold Climate Housing Research Center is designing and building homes that reduce heating fuel consumption from about a thousand gallons a year to around one hundred twenty. The houses have sod roofs, a return to earlier construction ideas.

Gandhi believed people needed to exercise self control, self discipline and as much as possible, self sufficiency. In a culture where absentee decision makers want to control, discipline and supply us with whatever makes them the most profit, regardless of how it affects our health and well being, Gandhi's ideas make more and more sense. There are so many things we can do for ourselves, on a local level, that will make us healthier and wealthier. And did I mention, wiser?

Carl Kline

Friday, January 8, 2010

Making Peace Where We Dwell

In a world in which violence is so ubiquitous, one of the most radically hopeful things we can do is to be a wellspring of nonviolence from which ripples flow out into the spheres of our lives and into the great world beyond. Against a backdrop of violence, whether it is the violence of war, of poverty, of greed, of hurting the earth and people in so many ways, the way that each of us lives our own lives is the way of response that is most in our control. The Torah is a framework within which we wrestle with life and our responses to all that life presents. I speak of “a Torah of nonviolence,” not as something separate, but as a way of reading the Torah to see more clearly her paths of peace. On the surface there is often violence and strife, as in life. Sometimes on the surface itself, shimmering as a crystal fount, and sometimes beneath the surface, there is a river of peace that runs through Torah into whose flow we enter by engaging and wrestling with what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel calls the “harsh passages.”

In the Torah portion Vayeshev (Gen. 37-40) we encounter family violence and strife. The extreme dynamics of the text opens a window into the more ordinary dynamics that give rise to inadvertent strife. Unlike places where we encounter violence among peoples and nations, here we encounter violence that is closer to home. Jealousy, anger, misunderstanding, hurt are all inevitable realities of life lived with people. Tragically, strife is too often spawned by a lack of awareness of how one’s actions will affect others.

The first word of the Torah portion, from which its name comes, sets the stage. Vayeshev, meaning “and he dwelled,” referring to Jacob, in another verbal form becomes va’y’yashev, meaning “and he made peace.” We can simply dwell, or, aware of our actions and their consequences, we can dwell more deeply, making peace in the place where we dwell. Showing favoritism to Joseph, Jacob sowed seeds of jealousy and discord between Joseph and his brothers. Simmering over time, unholy sparks of jealousy were fanned into flames of hatred and violence. Thrown into a pit and reported to his father as dead, Joseph is eventually sold into slavery and comes down into Egypt in chains.

In a fascinating commentary in a volume of ethical teaching called Chochmat HaMatzpun/The Wisdom of Conscience, we are guided to look honestly at the lives of our ancestors and to learn from negative example as well as positive. Of the brothers’ behavior we are told, “it is a matter both ancient and new.” It is about our world, as well as theirs. Condemning their deed as “horrible, such a sin, such cruelty,” the writer then condemns Jacob for fostering such insensitivity in his sons through the favoritism of one. Helping us to see “the Torah of nonviolence,” the commentator bids us look beneath the surface and see a guide for living in the world beyond the text: A Torah of truth that does not whitewash the deeds of the great and beloved ones…, the Torah of life teaches us that we are to learn from our holy ancestors – even from their perversions and shortcomings. Engaging Torah as a guide for life lived with people, may we learn to make peace in all of the places where we dwell.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Sunday, January 3, 2010

War in Grains of Sand

May, 2009. Kseniya Simonova, a woman in her mid-twenties, takes the stage of "Ukraine's Got Talent." She doesn't start singing or dancing or doing stand-up comedy. No, she silently lights a candle. Then, without saying a word, she begins to tell a story, using only her fingertips, sand on a giant lightboard, and background music.

The story she tells is of the Nazi invasion and occupation of the Ukraine during World War II, which resulted in more than a quarter of the Ukrainian population being killed. Before the audience's eyes, she creates idyllic scenes in the sand (for example, a couple holding hands while sitting on a bench under a starry sky), only to morph those scenes into war-ravaged, chaotic landscapes, filled with fleeing civilians, the young turning old, survivors grieving at a monument to an Unknown Soldier.... The final image portrays a mother and child looking out their window, where stands a man, hands pressed against the glass, saying goodbye.

Watching the story unfold, the Ukrainian judges and many members of the audience are brought to tears by Simonova's mesmerizing artistry and her powerful statement about the devastation of war. When her story ends, Simonova blows out the candle....

In June, someone uploaded the clip of Simonova's stunning (and winning) performance to YouTube. It has since been viewed millions of times by people around the world.

This powerful video is around 8 minutes long. Please watch it (either in the viewer below or by clicking here) when you have the time to devote your full attention to its viewing.

Phyllis Cole Dai