Thursday, March 31, 2011

Going Nuclear

I wrote the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission the other day. I read an article where they had re-licensed for twenty more years a forty year old nuclear reactor (Vermont Yankee) like the ones we're worried about in Japan. I received back a form letter where I was assured they "understood my concern." They didn't understand it at all!

(I don't know why I thought my comments would make a difference. The NRC didn't listen to the people of the state, the Vermont Congressional delegation, the Governor, or the state legislature. The state Senate voted 26 to 4 against re-licensing when the current contract with Entergy, the operator, expires in 2012).

One thing the NRC didn't understand was I have a strong personal investment in this issue. I'm suspicious that my father's ill health and eventual death began with an "accidental," and hidden from the public, release of radioactive material from a nuclear site in Ohio. Secondly, my daughter and her family live near the Entergy run nuclear plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This plant, with a similar design to the one at Fukushima, is storing four times as many spent fuel rods as the design allows. And, with the catastrophe in Japan, it's become quite clear that nuclear power is a good avenue for poisoning our (my) whole planet.

The apologists try to make us think the world is so big and dispersion so extensive, that any increase in radiation will not affect human health. Their death toll from Chernobyl stands at around 4,000. The critics contend it's closer to a million. Wherever the truth lies, there is no "safe" dose of radiation, especially for unborn children, infants and the elderly. So people wonder, about the air we breathe, the rainwater we drink, the food we eat. We wonder if the "exclusion zone" around Chernobyl will ever be filled again with pine trees, with birds and deer and human homes. And how big will the exclusion zone be around the Fukushima plant? Where will the human environmental refugees go? And what about the fish and fowl in that part of the sea; where will they go?

I keep thinking the Hebrew scriptures have it right. There is a basic human problem. Christians often call it original sin, where humans reach for the apple that makes them like God. I call it pride, self righteousness, arrogance. We see it all around us as people tell us they "understand our concern." They don't, in my humble opinion!

Carl Kline

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Inter Faith Dialogue

We had this month's gathering last evening of our Inter Faith dialogue. We met at the local Islamic Center. Our format is to gather for food prepared by our hosts for the month, followed by an informal conversation. We go around the room asking each person to introduce her/him self and then the floor is open for questions and comments. Last evening the conversation was shaped by areas of theological and ethical agreement, especially as it related to Christians, Muslims and Hindus. We were missing our usual representation from Baha'i and Buddhism. But the presence of two new agnostics led to searching questions that the traditions present sought to address. It was a stimulating and enlightening conversation. It was doubly useful because of the presence of a dozen university students from a World Religions class.

I left the meeting feeling encouraged about how dialogue can undermine the conflict mentality underlying the public perception of religion. It was obvious how easy it was for people of different faiths to talk with each other; it wasn't necessary to kill each other.

My students seem to "get it." Two weeks ago, after already addressing some difficult material in church history, I asked them if they were ready to talk about the crusades. To a person, they said "no." So we moved on to different material. This past week, intent to include the reality of holy war as part of Christian reality, I presented some of the pronouncements of church leaders of the time. After talking about St. Bernard and the order of warriors he founded, one of my students asked, "why is he a saint? Why didn't they take his sainthood away from him?"

One of the student participants last night had on a sweatshirt that said LOVE. It was in large, colorful letters. It was clear from the conversation that those present saw a core teaching in all the traditions represented by that word. It isn't so hard.

So imagine my disappointment when I discovered this noon that a former defense department official is coming to South Dakota next week to spread fear of a "stealth" terrorist network in the United States. He will be joined by a state senator concerned about possible sharia law. The gathering is being sponsored by a Catholic organization called Mary's Project. Honestly, I wonder where these people live their lives. Did they ever hear that "love casts out fear?" Have they had any serious dialogue with followers of Islam?

There was consensus last evening that there are people who misunderstand the traditions of others. There was a consensus that there are those in all traditions who are bent on violence. And we definitely need to confront the violent, the terrorist, wherever they are. Since many of them use religion as an ideology to prop up their actions, we can confront them by collapsing their props. We'll do that with dialogue and mutual support; not with spreading fear and conducting witch-hunts.

Carl Kline

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Big and Small Energy

Navadarshanam (New Vision), among other things, is an experiment in using sustainable energy sources. Located 50 km from Bangalore in India, all of the needs on the 115 acre campus are met by wind, sun and Gobar gas (from cow dung).

Most of their building materials come from their trust land. They make their own mud bricks. The homes are cool when the climate is hot and warm when the climate is cold, with breezes replacing the need for fans. There's no need for clothes dryers, or washers either, as you wash by hand and dry on bushes in the sun. They don't need an electric stove as charcoal made on the grounds is used for cooking. They call themselves an alternative to the western model of development, bent on consumerism, militarism, and industrialization. They believe in local economy, not globalization.

On their website they write: The founders came to "the conviction that the urban-industrial way of life was leading to alienation of the individual from self, nature and the Creative Power, resulting in ecological destruction, increasing poverty, unemployment and unmanageable levels of social disintegration and violence. To get away from this vicious cycle, they felt the need to explore alternatives to the modern way of living and thinking. In particular, they felt the need to explore the possibility of a new kind of science and technology: a science that would recognize the realities of the spiritual dimensions, and concomitant technologies that would enhance rather than destroy ecology. Central to this way of thinking is the recognition that there exist forces which are invisible to our physical senses, but are nevertheless the centres of power in shaping our universe and in taking care of its ecological balance."

On my last visit to Navadarshanam, I learned how difficult it was for residents to find a windmill adequate to their needs. Most windmills being built today are huge. The blades go by our home daily on the interstate highway, as all around us new wind farms are being built. Big blades for big windmills are being constructed by big capital for big corporations who anticipate big profits and with big contributions to big politicians will make big promises in the face of big ecological challenges.

As bigness goes viral in Japan these days, why not experiment with a Navadarshanam model? Why not have small windmills in many backyards? It wasn't so long ago windmills dotted these northern plains, one for each farmer or rancher who needed to draw water. Or let's make those windmill farms cooperatives, people owned. So at least the common person has some say in their construction and maintenance.

As E.F. Schumacher taught us years ago, big is not better. Small is beautiful, because people do matter! And no living thing will be unaffected by another nuclear catastrophe. Water and air don't respect national boundaries. They belong to all beings. So why must we continue to allow some to exploit our earth elements for their big plans and big egos?

Carl Kline

Pictures from Navadarshanam: Solar Heater for Home and Windmill

Friday, March 11, 2011


When I was a child living in a lake front community in Ohio, we would have an annual Christmas parade. There would be a few floats, a band or two, and the first appearance in our town of Santa Claus. Always, as he passed in the parade, Santa would throw candy out for the children lining the streets. I was quick at that age. I also knew from experience when to dash out for as many pieces of candy as possible. This particular Christmas I got more than usual, certainly more than I needed to satisfy my sweet tooth. As I returned to my place on the sidewalk I became aware of a small child crying. He was too slow. He didn't get any. He made me sad and I impulsively gave him several of the pieces I had just grabbed.

It was my first experience with greed and giving. In that moment, I knew how both greed and giving felt. And the fear and violence that accompanied my childhood experience of greed didn't feel half as good as the satisfaction that accompanied the giving.

If we examine it closely, fear drives greed, and violence is its companion. Gandhi says as much in his writing. "If you search enough, you will find that greed is a variety of fear." Harijan: Dec. 8, 1946. "Greed and deceit are often the off springs, as they are equally often the parents, of violence." Young India: Feb. 6, 1930.

I'm thinking about greed this morning in relationship to so many things. I learned of the earthquake in Japan on the internet after waking today. Then as I went for my morning coffee, a news broadcaster on the radio was asking a reporter in Japan how it was affecting the economy, eight hours later. Economy was his primary concern in the face of an immense human and ecological disaster.

And I'm thinking about all of the attempts to balance budgets in the U.S., on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable. In my home town, some 300+ people turned out on a snowy Saturday morning to challenge state legislators about proposed cuts to education. Many asked them to consider balancing the budget with new revenue streams (in a state with no corporate or individual income tax) rather than simply cutting programs. The situation in Wisconsin is well known, though fewer are aware that busting unions was the second gift to corporate business interests. The first gift was millions of dollars in tax breaks, enough to cover the state deficit.

After decades of conditioning in "survival of the fittest," "me first," and "getting ahead;" after decades of educating young people for their place in the job market rather than their place in the universe (the original purpose of a university); after decades of people gambling on "making a killing" rather than "making a living;" after decades of advertising in consumerism and materialism; we're seeing the results.

We're seeing the results in the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. According to a 2008 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 25% of the biggest corporations pay no federal income taxes. Bank of America, the recipient of $45 billion in U.S. bailout funds, shuttles its would be tax dollars into 115 off shore tax havens. The money in my wallet (which isn't much, maybe $15) is more than Bank of America, GE and Exxon Mobil, together, paid in federal income taxes last year. With greed, the commons, filled with crying children, is ignored, and the common good is disregarded.

The good news is, giving is satisfying. And love casts out fear. Gandhi says: "If my life were regulated by violence in the last resort, I would refuse to give an inch lest an ell (the length of a man's arm) might be asked for. I would be a fool if I did otherwise. But if my life is regulated by nonviolence, I should be prepared to and actually give an ell when an inch is asked for. By so doing, I produce on the usurper a strange and even pleasurable sensation. He would also be confounded and would not know what to do with me." Harijan: Nov. 10, 1940.

One by one, we need to reclaim our people and countries for a culture of nonviolence, where giving for the common good replaces the fear and violence of greed. It's much healthier for us as human beings and it's a lot more fun.

Carl Kline

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"What I Will": Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad is an award-winning Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist. She was born in 1973 in Amman, Jordan, to Palestinian refugee parents and immigrated with her family to Brooklyn, New York, when she was five years old. Her creative work
is a unique blend of the stories and sounds of her Palestinian-American heritage and the vibrant language of Brooklyn, especially hip-hop.

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye has called Hammad's work "a brave flag over the dispossessed." Hammad writes from flesh and bone to flesh and bone. She is fueled not only by her own remarkable experiences as a writer and a woman and an immigrant and a Muslim, but also by stories her parents and grandparents told her about life in their hometown of Lydda (now Lod, Israel) before the Palestinian exodus in 1948, and then about the suffering they endured first as displaced persons in the Gaza Strip and then as refugees in Jordan. From all of these influences emerges Hammad's poetry and other writings--bold, defiant, passionately committed to the dignity and worth of all human beings and to the use of nonviolent means in standing against, and ultimately transforming, those Powers that negate and destroy.

In the video below Hammad performs "What I Will," a feisty statement to the Powers about what she will not do for them. The text of her poem has been provided for your convenience.

I will not dance to your war drum.
I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drum.
I will not dance to that beating.
I know that beat.
It is lifeless.
I know intimately that skin you are hitting.
It was alive once, hunted, stolen, stretched.
I will not dance to your drummed up war.
I will not pop, spin, break for you.
I will not hate for you or even hate you.
I will not kill for you.
Especially I will not die for you.
I will not mourn the dead with murder nor suicide.
I will not side with you or dance to bombs because everyone is dancing.
Everyone can be wrong.
Life is a right, not collateral or casual.
I will not forget where I come from.
I will craft my own drum.
Gather my beloved near, and our chanting will be dancing.
Our humming will be drumming.
I will not be played.
I will not lend my name nor my rhythm to your beat.
I will dance and resist and dance and persist and dance.
This heartbeat is louder than death.
Your war drum ain't louder than this breath.

Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer above, click here to watch the video on YouTube.