Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Last night, I heard it again. I've lost track of all the people who have said it; the number of times I've heard it. The response came from the woman who heads the Tea Party movement as she appeared on the Dave Letterman show. She looked like a neighborly matron, maybe a retired fourth grade teacher. Her responses to Lettermans' questions were conservative, but reasonable. She seemed good humored, enjoying a laugh with the TV host on several occasions. And then she said it! In response to a question about how the Tea Party felt about the lives and treasure wasted in Iraq she said, "I'd rather fight them there than here." This from a woman who later claimed she was a pacifist.

I'm trying to understand the thinking of a person who claims to be a pacifist but is OK with her government destroying a country, killing hundreds of thousands of its people and making refugees out of many more, in order to keep the "war on terror" from coming home. I always wonder when I hear people say this stock response, "do they realize the moral dimensions of what they are saying?"

I heard earlier in the week about how the human being is wired for revenge and for forgiveness. Both!! And I wonder if many in the U.S. aren't still seeking the revenge for 9/11 that may never be satisfied. So many who suffer go to their graves seeking the deaths of those who made them suffer. One often sees it in the dynamics surrounding the death penalty and certainly in the larger Holy War struggle encompassing much of our planet. But the positive side of the revenge wire is it's about fairness, about justice. It's the motivation for concepts like eye for eye and tooth for tooth. It underlies blood feuds and Holy Wars. And the question then becomes, how many "other" lives must be taken to redeem 3,000 american lives.

Gandhi spoke about how forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. "One cannot forgive too much. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." And again, "Only the brave can be forgiving. The weak are unable to punish; therefore, in their case, the question of forgiveness does not arise."

If we begin to understand revenge and forgiveness as Gandhi did, we would begin to distinguish between our more beastly nature and the way of the true human. For him, we need not succumb to our beastly nature. Nor do we ignore injustice. Gandhi was convinced we could rise to our higher nature, to the level of self suffering in the cause of justice and nonviolence. In doing so, we illustrate the strength and courage it takes to be a satyagrahi.
Ask me about this wonderful film.

Carl Kline

Monday, March 22, 2010

Limping Toward the Dawn

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel - Louis Leloir

I feel hollow in my soul, like the weakness that comes when emptied of tears after a good cry; like the hollow in Jacob’s thigh where touched by the angel with whom he wrestled in the night.

The words would rather not come, born of feelings too familiar, wanting to cry enough, enough; yes, we thought we could, and now trying not to give play to melancholy and disappointment in the irony of old ways packaged as new; but how to ward off despair without speaking its name?

War is its name, the call to violence trapping us again and again in its ancient thrall. Where now the imagination and the hope that shined so bright, the courage manifest before with eloquence and purpose, now to the generals giving sway?

Vayishlach, and Jacob sent… scouts out ahead to gauge the nature of his brother’s coming; and Esau now approaching, twenty years of pent-up rage for the stolen birthright and its blessing, with four-hundred armed men the scouts said; and Jacob was very much afraid and was distressed; each word teaches something different, Jacob was afraid that he might be killed and was distressed that he might kill others. To kill others it appears he had resort to arms, and the hands to hold them if he would send his young to the slaughter; when we are as afraid to kill as to be killed – is that when we shall find a new way?

Jacob wrestled through the night where the Yabok river flows, with the angel meant to be his brother -- or himself, waiting to know the nature of his crossing over and toward what, as a man of peace or as a man of war; and the angel touched him on his thigh;

Wounded in the struggle and limping toward the dawn, only then did he become shalem/whole, crossing over to encounter the anger of his brother; not with battle, nor the din of steel to be heard, only the sound of two brothers upon each other’s shoulder crying.

For his wrestling Jacob came to be Yisra’el, one who wrestles with God and people and perseveres; so the name is handed to the generations that we too might wrestle through the night, until with break of day we find another way.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


As I sit at my desk and write this, Gandhi is looking over my shoulder. He watches the keyboard as I type this blog. Mark McGinnis, a South Dakota artist , has rendered the Mahatmas' profile in black and white. It hangs on my wall. Mark has done other work that lead an observer to reflect on peace and justice themes. During the madness of the nuclear arms race, he did an installation representing missile fields that was visually stunning and it forced one to recognize the utter insanity of the reality we had constructed.

When I was in Mexico last fall, I was introduced to the music of Lila Downs. Lila is Mexican/US American. Born in Mexico, she lived in California and Minnesota. She brings a multicultural perspective to her work and her music touches the heart and fires the spirit. She knows how to move her listeners toward liberty and justice.

Yesterday morning I was inspired by a sonnet of Shakespeare. it filled me up with the force of soul stuff. It made me recognize the infinite power of love, even in the face of all the friends and neighbors of death.

I'm reminded today of how important artists were to the movement to stop the war in Vietnam. Musicians seemed to lead the way. They gave sustenance to people who were groping for some kind of spiritual uplift in a dark and dangerous time. They provided the soul force necessary to stare down political failures and return to the struggle, again and again and again.

Today, for the third week in a row, some of us went and returned from the office of our congressperson, fifty miles south of our homes. We've been going to take our message, "healthcare not warfare." After our first visit, our representative declared she would not vote for health care reform. Last week, after our second visit, she voted against bringing the troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2010. We expect her to vote this week against health care reform and are quite certain she will vote for another war supplemental, this time for $33 billion. Add that to the $711 billion she's already allocated for the war effort and you have more than enough to begin a quality federal health care system for all. It's frustrating. It's tedious. It's time and energy consuming. It's sad and depressing.

I remember listening to an Indian poet, his name long forgotten, speak about how the Spirit comes to all of us. We just need to have our pipes clean and our channels open so it can move us ... and move through us. Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest, who has given us the Center for Creation Centered Spirituality, believes much the same thing. The creative Spirit is the Eternal Spirit. It is the force that gives poets inspiration, artists visions, musicians compositions, potters form. And these gifted persons in turn are able to give the prophets and seekers after peace and justice the sustenance they need to keep at the task, trying to build the beloved community in the midst of a world at war.

A simple song can silence a crowd. A national anthem can invite a tear. A hymn for humanity can birth a movement. Move us artists. Move us!

Carl Kline

Friday, March 12, 2010

And God Smiled

Its meaning refracted through the lens of personal encounter, I am drawn to a particular verse at the beginning of the Book of Exodus. In the midst of a packed narrative, it might not seem to be a verse that would stand out. Jacob and Joseph have died, a new king has arisen over Egypt, the enslavement has begun. Moses has fled to Midian after killing a taskmaster who was beating a Jewish slave. Having married Tzipporah, daughter of Yitro, Moses is tending his father-in-law’s sheep. One day while following the flock, God calls to Moshe from out of the fire of a bush that burned but was not consumed. Moses turns toward this amazing sight, but is then stopped in his approach. God tells him, Do not step here! Take your shoes off your feet, for the place upon which you are standing is holy ground/admat kodesh hu.

The image of shoes removed before approaching God is rich and vivid in my mind this week. Beneath the great vaulted arches of Muslim prayer space, shoes removed before approaching, the place of prayer becoming holy ground, worshippers prostrate, shoulder to shoulder upon the carpeted ground. Recently, nearly fifty rabbis, imams and Muslim community leaders gathered at the new mosque at Roxbury Crossing as part of a program called “Building Bridges through Learning.” It was the third such gathering that we have had, engaging with each other to study sacred texts from both traditions, to learn about each other as people, to pray and to eat together.

In each other’s presence, working as partners, the goal is to create a new reality in which it is commonplace for Jews and Muslims to learn together and to share with each other the essence of who we are. Building bridges through learning, the goal is to create common ground, truly holy ground, upon which we can come to know each other. With the hospitality of Abraham, the rabbis were welcomed to the mosque as cousins. As we came together, sharing personal stories in small groups, we remembered that there is a natural bridge between Jews and Muslims that is too often forgotten today. Both peoples are a people of the book, ah’l al kitab/am ha’sefer. Through the book, Quran and Torah, there comes to be a covenant that joins people and God and people and people. That was the focus of our text study, “Covenant in Islam and Judaism.” Learning about the meaning of covenant in each tradition, we sought opportunity to create a covenant of understanding among ourselves. The learning in which we engaged is meant to transcend the texts that lay before us. With covenant comes responsibility. Our learning is hardly meant to be academic, but to nurture a sense of covenantal responsibility to building bridges between our communities through openness, respect, and dialogue.

While on a tour of the magnificent building, we had the opportunity to visit a first grade classroom, the beginning of what will be a Muslim day school. Thrilled to have visitors, the children giggled and pointed. They wanted to know about the little “hats” many of us wore. Before we could answer, their teacher, who wore a headscarf, told her students that it is called a yarmulke, her use of the Yiddish word bringing such warmth to the moment. As various answers came from the rabbis, I told the children that we wear a yarmulke when we are in a very special place and with very special people.

As we left the classroom, the call to prayer filled the building and we made our way to the great prayer hall. The time of the Muslim noon prayer, called Thohr, came at the same time as the earliest time for our own afternoon prayer, mincha. We removed our shoes and entered the sacred space of shared prayer. First the Muslims prayed, the presence of Jews among them as amen to their prayers. And then we prayed, the presence of Muslims among us as amen to our prayers. Arabic and Hebrew floated upward together, echoing in the domed ceiling high above us, rising higher yet. And God smiled.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Monday, March 8, 2010

To Resist or to Surrender

Years ago I read a small book by the Swiss physician Paul Tournier called, To Resist or to Surrender? I've been thinking about that question this morning as I face some decisions about health care choices.

Philosophically, I'm a believer in naturopathy. I've had enough experience of it, in India and the U.S., to recognize the wisdom it brings to questions of human health. Wisely, naturopathy encourages us to change our lifestyle to incorporate more of the healing qualities of a friendly universe. Naturopathy believes the natural world is prepared to sustain us and enrich our existence if only we are self conscious, knowledgeable and disciplined enough to choose wisely.

But I was also born into a culture that has a military mentality about human health. From this point of view, the universe is not a friendly place. There are lots of things out there trying to hurt, even kill us. So one needs to be prepared to fight the enemies of human health, even if there is some accidental collateral damage. New and more effective technological weapons are created and developed all the time and a technological imperative requires that if they are available, they should be used. The medical system is organized around killing (germs, bacteria, viruses, cancer cells) or removal. There is little attention given to causes and prevention.

I also live in a culture that has pretty much destroyed any remnant of a "natural world." There's not much water or air or soil remaining that hasn't been poisoned in some way. I'm constantly reminded of a gathering of socialists in the 1950's that proclaimed the time would come when corporations would make us pay for dirt, water and air; earth elements that had always been the rightful heritage of the human family. It's especially disconcerting when corporations responsible for poisoning the planet and creating human health problems become the saviors developing the pharmaceutical or technological innovations to relieve the human illness their poison caused.

Although it is probably apparent that I have a jaundiced view of western medical practice, it has impacted me and conditioned much of my thinking. So, choosing between one or another medical world view is not always a simple choice.

Tournier reminds us that how we answer the choice of resistance or surrender depends on what it is we are resisting, or what we are surrendering to. Since Tournier is a person of faith, God is part of his equation. Tournier surrenders to what he discerns to be the will of God. For Gandhi, I expect it would be Truth.

For me, both these teachers offer a good reminder of how to resolve the tension. Whether we are faced with decisions about health care or so many others, making our decision to resist or surrender within this larger framework, can enlighten us and give us direction.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"To Shake People Out of Their Indifference"

The days, the weeks rush by, fast turning into months. Haiti's devastating earthquake, once at the forefront of our minds, now lies at some distance. We who are safe stand removed from all that Caribbean rubble and confusion and torment—and from the ugly struggle for Haiti's soul, now ramping up (as it has so many times before). Contending in that struggle, on the one hand, are the people of that country and those who understand and love them best; on the other, great corporate and political players, once again plotting how best to profit from calamity. This contest is waged where it can't be recorded by cameras. Nothing new is happening, it seems, so Haiti quickly disappears from our TV screens and newspapers; from our consciousness. The American public moves on, leaving Haiti behind. History, now. Other, now. Again.

Yet, for some of us Haiti remains....

This morning, sitting at my desk here in South Dakota, I received an email from a friend in Ohio, encouraging me to watch a video just sent to her by a friend in New York—a medic who had volunteered in Haiti for two weeks, shortly after the earthquake struck. The 23-minute video documents the work of her group—NYC Medics Team 1. Founded in the wake of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistani Kashmir, NYC Medics rapidly deploys emergency health professionals in response to disasters worldwide. The nonprofit group has deployed five teams to Haiti since the January quake.

Charles Berkowitz (pictured left) is a founding member of NYC Medics. He is also a filmmaker. He shot and edited this "personal documentary" of the group's work in Haiti. In my view, it's a fine example of what award-winning photographer James Nachtwey (1948- ) calls "witness photography." Nachtwey has devoted most of his career to documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues. As he says of his work on his website, "I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated."

Berkowitz concludes his "personal documentary" about his team's stint in Haiti with this quote from Nachtwey: "Everyone cannot be there, and that is why [we] go there ... to create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media and shake people out of their indifference."

This film is 23 minutes long. Take what time you need to load it; then, to watch it. Don't rush. Be a witness. Allow another's pain to enter you without pushing it away. Allow hard questions to rise up without dismissing them. Allow your tears to grow hot without wiping them away. Allow a smile to spread without suppressing it. Yes, a smile—there is, indeed, a time for everything under heaven.

Note: If you're unable to see the viewer below, please click on this link to watch the film:
NYC Medics Haiti Emergency Medical Relief.

Phyllis Cole-Dai