Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding My Way

For several weeks now, the thought of writing anything on nonviolence has hung heavy in my mind - - but no inspiration. Then came a letter this morning with the following poem by Jeanne Loehmann in Olympia, Washington attached:

Fasting The Heart

Complicit with misery, trapped by the

Weight of daily news, unable to refuse the

Dismal stories or put the paper down

Unread, cry Hold! Enough!

I’m overfilled with anger, grieving faces,

And still I let it in, this world

Of brutal facts I have no use for,

Cannot handle, do not need.

The grievous store of human woe

Leaves little room for human joy.

How to find a way to fast my heart for better use,

Make the muscle supple, lean? How to free my mind

From such compulsive need to know, relinquish

Pride so certain-sure that there’s always something I

Can do to change the sadness, meet every

Anguished hungry need.

I want time to stand in the sunset light and

Simply watch the glory come and go, learn to

be aware, not overwhelmed.

To give my widow’s mite

With no more thought

Than kindest blessing.

The words said it all to me this morning as I felt my great sorrow for the Norwegian tragedy - - for the hunger in Somalia - - for the playground bullying in the highest levels of government. A fast of the heart makes sense.

Within minutes another gift arrived from the teachings of the Buddha –the seventh of Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path: Be present. Be ardent. Focus on the Here and Now. Avoid dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Accept the bad with the good for they are part of who we are – Right Mindfulness.

Because I forget from time to time, these are welcome reminders that living nonviolence often begins with being mindful of how I permit the violence that pervades human life to enter my own being, to color my perceptions, to weaken my resolve, to steal my hope.

And so, for this moment at least, I feel a simple gratitude filling the ravaged places in my heart - - gratitude for the worldwide web of nonviolent compassion that catches me up unexpectedly when I most need to be caught. For today, it is enough.

Vicky Hanjian

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ramadan: A Gift of Faith

I was recently talking with a friend about the beginning of Ramadan, the Moslem holy month. She told me that she has been preparing for Ramadan, which begins 1 August 2011, by fasting for a week. I told her that I thought her preparation was commendable. She continued, “Ramadan only comes once a year. It is eleven months between one Ramadan and the next. Eleven months is a long time. I am anticipating the start of this holy month.” I asked her if she were preparing in other ways. She told me that all year long she fasts every Monday and Thursday and when there is a full moon. “Fasting,” she said, “is a gift my faith gives to me. I enjoy it. I take Ramadan with me throughout the year. I am a Moslem woman.”

Fasting for some is a sacrifice and for others a discipline. She described fasting as a gift her faith gives to her. I started thinking about the gifts of faith. I was not drawn to think about the spiritual gifts, such as patience, kindness, and so forth, but about the gift of faith itself. My friend’s remark helped me think again about how deeply personal and intimate our faith is for each of us. Faith is a decision about how we choose to live our life; how I choose to live my life and you choose to live yours. It is about knowing our self. My friend was telling me, “This is who I am. I am a woman who fasts every Monday and Thursday and every full moon.” And, she was very clear about why she was making this choice. She is a Moslem woman.

I thought of another friend who is Buddhist. She has a chime in her house that rings every half hour calling her to consciousness, reminding her that she is a Buddhist. The chime is a gift her faith gives to her. I see a lot of religious symbols made into jewelry and sometimes wonder if people are wearing this as a fashion statement or as a gift their faith gives to them. Whether we are Moslem or not, the start of Ramadan is a good time to think about the gift our faith gives to us and the choices we are making as we receive and honor the gift that has been given to us.

My friend’s comment also reminded me that in addition to being deeply personal, faith is also about being connected to a larger community. She smiled when she told me, “I am a Moslem woman.” Faith is personal, but it is not private. Faith draws us out of our self into a larger community. This is a statement that is in radical contrast with the rugged, autonomous, free to choose, self-made individualism of the modern era. A second gift of faith is that it keeps us grounded in relationships that are bigger than we are. We all have to make choices about the kind of community we want to help create and how we want to make our contribution to that community, and how we receive the gift that community gives to us.

Finally, my friend’s comment reminded me that Ramadan connects Moslems with others who are outside the community of faith. Sharing is a central theme of Ramadan. People gather in the evening to break that fast and to share the experience with each other and to give each other encouragement. People also share their wealth with those who have less during the month of Ramadan. It is a gift to cross the lines of economic class and create a more inclusive community.

This last point helped me remember a visit I made some years ago to the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India. I was invited by the Bishop to attend a conference on the environment. It was a wonderful event. At the end of the conference one of the other guests asked the Bishop if he had a simple message for us to take home. The Bishop thought for a moment, then he said, “Since you asked me, I would ask you to ask your friends to eat less.” I translated that to mean, “Live more simply so that others can simply live.” That is a gift my faith gives to me. I receive the gift anew every time I go into the kitchen to prepare a meal. My wife and I do eat less. We feel better and healthier for it. Learning to live more simply, and more economically, is a gift of faith.

David P. Hansen

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Booking a flight on the internet can be exasperating. Especially if you're trying to book it for someone else. I'm sure it would help if I had all the ingredients in hand and arranged ahead of time: airline address; frequent flyer number; pin; all possible destinations, dates, times, seat assignments; credit card number; credit card pin. But I'm not that thoughtful and never totally prepared.

And when I'm in one room upstairs trying to make the arrangements and the person I'm making the arrangements for is in another room downstairs, and we're yelling back and forth to each other, well, you get the picture.

Actually, those dynamics are manageable. I've done it. The new dynamic that grabbed me on this most recent occasion was "time." The options kept changing whenever I had to start over. If I changed the day, and then tried to retrieve my first choice, for the first choice price, it was gone. Slowly I became aware that there were a host of others on their computers and phones, also seeking those last few seats at a bargain price, and unless I hurried and booked, the seats would be gone. I became irritable. The pressure of "time" does that to us.

Our car has a transmission problem. It shifts hard into 3rd. and 5th. gears. I already spent 900 dollars to have it fixed with no satisfaction. We're considering spending another 200 dollars to get a diagnosis; is it fixable or do we need a new transmission. We're trying to be careful when we use the car and accelerate slowly.

Other drivers don't know this, so we're getting the "old people" treatment. Those behind us hug our back bumper and when they can pass, do so with mufflers roaring. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of their irritation as they throw me a cursory glance. I wonder what time pressure drives their frustration.

Gandhi claimed that "haste" was violence. When challenged about how he encouraged quickness in spinning, he made a distinction between haste and speed. Haste has an emotional component. We're being driven by forces beyond our control. What modern culture asks of us is "haste." We live in a time frame of the immediate. We hasten into the future. Do it now! Buy it now! Go now! Book it now!

As an alternative, we might seek the "timeless." I get a sense of it in meditation; in the geology of the Yellowstone caldera; in the wisdom traditions of the human family; and in the resilience of a way of nonviolence, still persisting in the midst of the haste and destructiveness of the modern world.

Carl Kline

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Our Way of Seeing Becomes Our Way of Being

The way that we view the world says much about our way of being in the world. Whether we see people as inherently good or inherently evil inevitably determines our way of response to people. In our ordinary interactions, do we respond out of trust or suspicion, compassion or bitterness, do we give people the benefit of the doubt or assume the worst? Seeing beauty in the world, for all that would deny it, we come to see the Source of all that is, and in the faces of those we encounter along the day to day of life, we come to recognize God’s image.

A thread of seeing runs through the Torah portion Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9). From the very first word, vayar Balak/and Balak saw, ways of perceiving the world and others becomes a powerfully subtle teaching, an unstated undercurrent waiting to be seen. I have counted twenty-eight references in the portion to eyes or seeing, seeing/not seeing, eyes open/eyes closed. Balak, the Moabite king, looks out and sees the multitudes of Israel along the way of their desert journey. Afraid for their number, Balak sends emissaries to the Midianite seer, Bilaam, that he come and curse Israel for him. Each time that Bilaam goes up to the high places and looks down upon Israel to curse the people, only words of blessing coming from his mouth.

How we see others and how we see ourselves comes to be the tension in the portion. In a strange midrash on the way of Balak’s perceiving Israel, the rabbis say, it would be better if the wicked were blind, for their eyes bring evil to the world/she’eineyhem m’vi’in ra’ah la’olam. The point is made, in the hopes that we understand the obverse of the teaching, that the nature of our seeing has an impact on the world around us, and on the earth itself. The intimate interplay between eyes and earth is expressed through a beautiful phrase by which the Torah conveys the scope of Israel’s numbers, so great that the earth is entirely covered beneath their feet, hinei chisah et ayn ha’aretz/for it has covered the eye of the earth. Through a beautiful interpretation of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, we realize that it is not about the earth being covered, but about the covering of our own eyes and whether or not we are able to see the earth we walk upon and those with whom we walk. Playing on the double meaning of the word ayin, which means both eye and wellspring or source, Hirsch teaches, “It is through the eye that the world flows into a person. The eye of a person is therefore literally ayn ha’aretz/the source of the world.”

That the way of our seeing and being in the world are one is expressed ultimately in the realm of human relationships. Also speaking to the jaundiced nature of Balak’s seeing, the Gerer Rebbe draws on a mishna that teaches, “whoever has these three things is of the students of Avraham Avinu/Abraham our father; ayin tovah, ru’ach n’mucha, nefesh sh’fayla/a good eye, a modest spirit, a humble disposition. When Bilam looks out upon Israel for the third time, he sees the flowering of Israel’s ideal, seeing us as we would like to see ourselves if we are indeed the children and students of Abraham. Unable to curse, “his eye unveiled,” Bilaam speaks the classic words that describe and ascribe wholeness in all of our relationships, personal and collective, in home and synagogue, mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mish’k’notecha Yisra’el/how good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!

The words of Bilaam, the Midianite prophet, offer an ideal vision. Seeing ourselves through the unveiled eyes of another, the way toward our own becoming is set forth as a precious life path in the corresponding reading from the prophet Micah, higid l’cha adam, mah tov u’mah Hashem doresh mimcha…/It has been told to you, O mortal, what is good and what God seeks of you, only to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. What begins within a particular frame of reference becomes universal teaching. Seeing what is good in the world and in our selves, may our way of seeing become our way of being, walking humbly with God and each other.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Market Needs & Human Needs

It all started with tomatoes, my favorite fruit. My childhood summers were often spent pulling weeds in the family garden. The one in Randolph, New York was huge, at least to my child's eyes. We had lots of tomato plants and my mother and grandmother put up quarts and quarts every fall. The working in the garden was tolerable if I could have a tomato sandwich afterward; bread, butter, mayonnaise with just a touch of salt and pepper on those big juicy tomato slices.

When I had my own home and family we continued the practice of a family garden. Tomatoes were always a must and I canned and froze tomatoes for everything from chili to home made tomato soup. We learned quickly the alternative was gross. Store bought tomatoes were the result of so called technological progress, where tomatoes were bred for machines to pick them easily. They were hard and dry and picked before they were ripe and they traveled half way across the country to get to the grocery shelf.

Then we had to stop planting at the community garden, as we were always gone when it most needed us. We started going to the Farmer's Market instead. To my delight, we got real tomatoes grown for taste and nutrition, for customers, not for consumers. The distinction between consumers and customers I learned from my love of tomatoes. A second distinction I learned was that these local growers were working to satisfy human needs, not just the needs of the market.

I'm thinking today of the distinction between meeting market needs for consumers as compared to meeting human needs for customers. A recent event caused me to reflect on these distinctions.

I called the doctor's office. I got a recording. "We appreciate your patience. Someone will be with you shortly." As I sat with the phone to my ear, getting more and more impatient, this message was repeated eight times. But it wasn't the only message. The other was, "You are a valued customer. Please hold for the next available receptionist." I must say, as I heard it again and again, I didn't feel valued. Just the opposite. That message was repeated seven times. And of course, there was the usual garbled musak in between. I waited on the phone for fifteen minutes. Fortunately, I wasn't calling about high blood pressure.

In my experience, the so called communication industry is the worst. They can give you so many recorded options (none of which seem to apply) that you give up in utter frustration having never spoken with a live human being.

This is what I call meeting market needs (we don't want to have to pay employees to sit idly by waiting for calls). It's what I call treating me as a "consumer" (since I'm a buyer of a product, it's a lot less personal). I'm not sure there would be an unemployment problem if we would get back to meeting human needs for paying customers.

That brings me to one of the opportunities of living in a place like Brookings, S.D. We have a Farmer's Market where we know how our tomatoes were raised and who raised them. They are red (usually, although I've adjusted to eating yellow ones from one local garden), fresh picked and juicy. We are treated like customers. We have an accessible medical clinic where we're treated like human beings. We have merchants who will often talk with you about mutual interests and community happenings because you're a customer, not just a consumer. So it always worries me when people are always talking about growing, about bringing in larger and larger businesses and how "big" is always better. I don't call it better, nor even "development", when market needs take precedence over human needs, when we become just a number on a balance sheet and are treated that way. For me, small is still beautiful.

Carl Kline

Monday, July 4, 2011

U.S. Domestic Terrorism & Non-Violence

On the evening May 31, 2011, I attended a panel discussion held in the sanctuary of a church in our community. What made the setting significant was the topic of discussion: the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Tiller was one of the few physicians in the United States willing to perform late term abortions. On Sunday morning, May 31, 2009, Dr. Tiller was killed in the narthex of his church during the morning worship service. He had been wounded in a previous shooting. He lived under constant threat and traveled to and from his office in an armored car. He had taken steps to protect his office and home. On Sunday morning, Scott Roeder drove from his home in Kansas City to the city of Wichita to kill Dr. Tiller. The panel discussion that I attended was both a tribute to Dr. Tiller and a way to inform people about the reality of domestic terrorism.

According to official domestic terrorism data collected and reported either by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the National Abortion Federation, in the United States and Canada since 1977 there have been 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings or arsons, 619 bomb treats, and 655 bio-terrorist threats against women’s health facilities. There have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault and battery, and 3 kidnappings of health care providers. The following individuals have been killed in acts of domestic terrorism against women’s health care clinics in the United States: Dr. David Gunn (1993); Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort (1994); Sharon Levi and Lee Ann Nichols, receptionists (1994); Robert Sanderson, an off-duty policeman working as a security guard (1998); Dr. Barnett Slepian (1998); and Dr. George Tiller (2009).

Although Scott Roeder acted on his own, it is believed that he was influenced by Bill O’Reilly who made a habit of regularly describing Dr. Tiller as “Tiller, the baby killer” on his television show. Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups have disavowed any connection with Mr. Roeder and stated publicly that they had no knowledge of him prior to the murder of Dr. Tiller. The U.S. Department of Justice has convened a grand jury to investigate who financed Scott Roeder and his connections. This is the first time a grand jury has been convened to investigate anti-choice domestic violence.

I arrived at the church about fifteen minutes after the program began. The anti-choice demonstrators had left but there were still about ten uniformed officers in the parking lot and inside the church. About 150 to 200 people attended the panel discussion. The panel members were Stephen Singular, author of The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion; attorney Lee Thompson, who had represented Dr. Tiller; Kari Ann Rinker, the Coordinator for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization of Women; and Dr. Mila Means, who plans to open a new women’s health care center in Wichita. Dr. Mean’s has already received death threats, has anti-choice demonstrators outside her home, and must deal with organized resistance as she looks for office space. Mr. Thompson told the audience that he is a church going Republican and there are many others like him. It was a helpful statement reminding us not to let our biases cloud our vision. Women’s health care is not a single party issue. During the question and answer period, a woman in the audience stood and said that she was a devout Roman Catholic and she is not pro-abortion but she is pro-choice and the distinction is important. During the course of the evening both Singular and Thompson made the point that Roeder and others who have been convicted of hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism believe that they are agents of God, obeying God’s law and therefore not bound by civil or criminal law. In so far as this statement is accurate, those who commit acts of domestic terrorism have confused the myth of violence with principled acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. There is a place for the latter, but not the former.

Overt acts of domestic terrorism in the U.S. are not isolated acts; they happen in the context of a larger web of violence. Television personalities like Bill O’Reilly contribute to the legitimating of violence by use of extreme language designed to inflame, and some elected officials contribute to the sense of entitlement that those who commit acts of domestic terrorism have. For example, while he was the Attorney General of Kansas, Phil Kline disregarded and violated explicit court orders limiting his campaign to demonize Planned Parenthood. When the highest law enforcement officer in the state openly disobeys a court order, it’s something to think about. Recently, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and members of the State Legislature enacted legislation designed to close women’s health care centers. One of the bills the governor signed into law places highly restrictive architectural requirements on women’s health care centers. After signing the bill, the governor announced that the centers would have two days to comply before state inspectors would be visiting the centers to enforce the new measures. Another proposed bill will make it illegal for private insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion services in Kansas, regardless of who pays the premium. Some states are trying to defund family planning programs and services. These measures clearly violate the intent of Row v. Wade. Unable to win at the federal level, anti-choice groups are circumventing federal law under the guise of “states rights.” Such measures contribute to a distrust of government and disrespect for the courts.

Are we witnessing the legitimation of a new culture of violence in U.S. society? Is domestic terrorism becoming mainstream in America? One cannot discount the legacy of racial and gender violence in the United States, but one can ask if what we are witnessing today is not something new. The Patriot Act defines terrorism as “acts intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” When these acts are carried out in the United States by citizens, they are acts of domestic terrorism. The FBI reports 250 confirmed acts of domestic terrorism between 1980 and 2000.

I visited Oklahoma City not long after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murray Federal Building. People were still talking about where they were and what they heard and saw that day when nearly two hundred innocent people died in the explosion. Joel Dyer wrote about McVeigh and his network of support in his book, Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning, (Westview Press, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 1998). Stephen Singular wrote about the death of Dr. Tiller in his book, Wichita Divide. Visiting crime scenes and reading about acts of domestic terrorism does not make me an expert, clearly I am not. But as I stand in the shadow of these stories I ask myself, “What am I to do?”

Efforts by the police, the courts, and the grand jury to hold those who commit and plan acts of domestic terrorism are essential, but not sufficient. Waiting for the due process of the law to run its course seems too uncertain and ponderous a process. And, like the woman who spoke up in church, I am not pro-abortion but I am pro-choice. I cannot wash my hands of the struggle or turn a deaf ear to the sounds of violence. That is irresponsible. I wonder if communities of faith contribute anything constructive. The principles of nonviolence teach me that I must not allow fear to conquer me or self-righteousness to seduce me. I must not allow the culture of violence that I reject to grow within me. But this alone is not enough. I live in these times. I share in the guilt and the hope of my society. I must look for ways to encourage and strengthen the bonds of human community. And, I can support others, like members of the panel, who have the courage to resist the threat of domestic terrorism. In an article entitled, “Showdown for Nonviolence,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “All of us are on trial in this troubled hour, but time still permits us to meet the future with a clear conscience.”

In closing, I would like to thank Norbert Suchanek for his reply to my blog on depleted uranium weaponry. Mr. Suchanek informed me that on April 27, 2011 the Congress of Costa Rica became the second nation in the world to prohibit depleted uranium weaponry within its territories. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla formalized the law prohibiting the use, trade, transit, production, or distribution of uranium weapons in Costa Rican territories. In his reply, Mr. Suchanek referred to Friendly Fire, the Link Between Depleted Uranium Munitions and Human Health Risks, written by Damecio A. Lopez, Executive Director of International Depleted Uranium Study Team (IDUST). I am grateful for Mr. Suchanek’s reply. I believe that we can and must ban DU238 weaponry.

David P. Hansen

Throughout this article I have intentionally used the phrase “anti-choice” because I believe it is an accurate and non-inflammatory description of the position taken by those who engage in or implicitly support acts of domestic terrorism against women and women’s health clinics. Acts of domestic terrorism cannot be allowed to masquerade as “pro-life.”