Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The Need for Forgiving
Friday, April 20, 2012
No Spring Break
Their play reminds me of my own childhood days, growing up on the edge of a pond that was surrounded by undeveloped, wooded land. My younger sister and I could disappear into woods after lunch – into all kinds of fantasies - and not return until the sun began to set late in the afternoon. We became whatever we wanted to be, tried on the identities of princesses and paupers, witches and fairy god-mothers and our most feared enemies were the poison ivy and the leeches that sometimes grabbed on if we went wading in the pond. Our little world was safe.
Daily I am aware of the bombing in Syria. Where do the children play? Where is there enough safety for them to enter their childhood fantasies? Do their young minds even entertain the notion of being anything more than fearful for their survival? What do bombed out buildings stimulate in their imaginations? What are the warnings they carry in their ears from their terrified parents? “Do not go out the door – the world is dangerous!” “Be careful where you walk –there is broken glass and sharp metal everywhere!” “Do not go into the neighborhood – the buildings are in danger of collapsing!” “Stay indoors, in the cellar, in the shelter, away from cars, under the table… the bombs will come again.” Their world is not only unsafe, it is deadly. The play of children becomes the fear-filled work of survival.
As much as I enjoy the peaceful sounds of the little boys playing in the woods at the end of our lane, my heart aches with longing for the safety of the children who are the greatest victims of warring adults. If they survive long enough, the world will belong to them. What will their childhood nightmares teach them about how to live in the adult world? Where will the dreams for a peaceful, nonviolent life for them and their families come from?
The world is not safe. As long as it is unsafe for the children of war in Syria, it is not safe for anyone – even for the little guys who play in the trees on my street.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
The Nuclear Option
There's a lot in the news recently about the nuclear program in Iran. The neocons that talked us into an unnecessary war in Iraq appear to be using similar strategies to raise the level of tension with Iran. Already, it is quite likely that Israel has been at work in assassinating several of Iran's nuclear scientists and causing an explosion at one facility. One never knows for sure these days what hands might be involved in these operations, under the cover of "national security" considerations. The national security state is not very friendly with media attention and public transparency.
I wonder why? Could it be that the public might find some activities morally reprehensible?
As the nuclear program in Iran hogs the headlines day after day, almost no-one is taking notice of our own nuclear program in the U.S.. There's no doubt about our intentions. When we lofted the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 25, it wasn't for domestic energy consumption. It wasn't even for defensive purposes. It was a test of a first strike nuclear weapon that continues to place the world on a hair trigger alert for nuclear armageddon. Currently, in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, there are 450 of these nuclear armed missiles ready to fire at a moments notice.
Unfortunately, there are as many in Russia, armed and ready to fire as well. The problem with this situation is, you have to make sure your missiles get off the ground first, otherwise they could be caught in their silos by a surprise attack from the other. It only took that Minuteman III fired from Vandenberg thirty minutes to reach the Marshall Islands. When you figure in nuclear armed submarines on both sides, a nuclear armed missile from off the West coast could reach Montana or Wyoming in less than twenty minutes.
So the Air Force personnel in those nuclear silos have a small window of opportunity to make a decision about the future of the planet. Is the blip on the radar screen a technical failure, a flight of geese, or an incoming missile?
Even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons could mean utter catastrophe. If less than 1% of the world's nuclear weapons were used in a nuclear exchange it would lead to nuclear famine. The smoke from burning cities would shut out warming sunlight for up to ten years, making it impossible to grow food and causing massive starvation. That's not to mention the poisoning of the planet from radiation.
I'm reminded of a visit with my nephew years ago, when I was interviewing for a campus ministry position at South Dakota State University. A student at SDSU, he and I got together over dinner. He told me that evening how he had always expected to die in a nuclear exchange. He had that expectation for as long as he could remember, since he was a child.
No-one should have to live with that very real expectation. What a terrible legacy my generation was leaving our children and grandchildren.
It was a defining moment for me. It led me to some experiences at Ellsworth Air Force Base, where, between the bombers and Minuteman missiles, we maintained the largest nuclear weapons complex in the country. We got rid of the South Dakota missiles. There was a mutual drawdown with the Soviets. Why can't the de-escalation continue, the first strike weapons be dismantled?
I'm reminded of all this because, fortunately, I subscribe to some alternative news sources. They keep one abreast of what's really happening in the country, not just what the 1% want you to think is happening.
Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, was arrested on February 25th. with several others, protesting the test firing of this first strike missile. Ellsberg, you may remember, was a consultant, to the Department of Defense and White House specializing in command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans and crisis decision making. All of this while he was a defense strategic analyst for the RAND corporation. One has to be concerned that someone of his background would go to Vandenberg in the middle of the night to protest a test flight and be arrested.
Ellsberg said, "So the existence of these weapons, in this country, compels virtually both sides to be on a High Alert status, prepared to go off on what might be a false alarm … The risks of having nuclear accidents are outrageous, and it is inexcusable that these weapons continue to exist."
So why do they continue to exist? Why aren't we working for a nuclear free zone in the middle east? Why aren't we continuing negotiations with the Russians to reduce nuclear stockpiles? Why aren't we modeling the kind of behavior that might influence India and Pakistan to reduce their nuclear weapons? Must we have an accident or an intentional detonation before we understand it's not in the interests of the human community to continue testing and threatening and developing these weapons?
Once again, there are some who have an enormous investment and stake in the continuation of nuclear weapons and their assorted technologies. Only when the public, the commons, reclaims its voice, its hands and feet, will change come.
I'm grateful to Ellsberg and the others for pricking my consciousness again. I believe it continues to be the most significant moral issue of our time, a policy that has no rational, let alone moral, foundation. MAD (mutual assured destruction) should be on the dustbin of history!
Saturday, April 7, 2012
More than 20 years ago, that day still haunts me as if it were yesterday.
And now, another of my grandmothers--and the most important--is dying. Her decline is totally unexpected. She is ancient, to be sure--many are the "greats" in front of her name, all of them earned--but by the miracles of nature, her health has been remarkably robust until these latter years, when suddenly she has begun to suffer a number of significant ailments. The calls come, updating her condition, worsening by the day. "Multiple systems failure," say some specialists gloomily. Others, meanwhile, say, "Nothing at all to worry about." I'm dumbfounded by their rosy reports. Which patient are they looking at? I don't know much, but even I can tell that Grandmother is in bad shape.
I'm speaking of Unci Maka, "Grandmother Earth" in the language of my native neighbors, here in eastern South Dakota. My Grandmother--your Grandmother, too. And she is in distress. Just this morning, I read how government geophysicists believe that a series of recent earthquakes from Alabama to the Northern Rockies have "almost certainly" been caused by drilling for oil and natural gas. Then, this afternoon, I watched a video about the "clean-up" by the Enbridge corporation of a tar sands oil spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River. Enbridge had, among other things, deposited clean sand on the riverbottom, clearly visible through water that the company claimed was no longer polluted. But stick a little shovel into that sand and dig around a bit, and guess what happens? A sheen of oil instantly appears atop the river. I guess you can judge a clean-up by its cover-up.
Pollution, habitat destruction, destabilization of the land, climate change.... Grandmother trembles. Grandmother moans. Not for herself only, but for all her grandchildren, even for those of us who live off her without acknowledging it, or without caring; those of us who, in our ignorance or our indifference, are slowly but surely killing her off, and ourselves with her.
Some among her grandchildren do understand what's happening, however, and they are raising their voices and offering their bodies to protect her. Native people have been particularly inspiring. Consider their resistance to tar sands oil mining and related pipelines--remarkably strong, yet it has gone largely uncovered by the mainstream media. Their witness, their struggle in defense of Grandmother Earth, should not be ignored. We in the majority culture could take a lesson or two.
Here in South Dakota, the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council and the Oglala Sioux Tribe both passed legislation opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. They also adopted the "Mother Earth Accord," calling for a moratorium on tar sands oil extraction because it is so destructive to Grandmother Earth and her inhabitants.
|White Plume outside the White House|
Then, in March of this year, White Plume was among 75 Lakota who set up a human road block to prevent a convoy of two enormous trucks and a dozen other vehicles from transporting oil pipeline components across the Pine Ridge Reservation. The trucks were en route from Houston, TX, to Alberta, Canada, the site of tar sands mining. The roadblockers also included Renabelle Bad Cob Standing Bear, defiant in her wheelchair, and 92-year-old Marie Randall, who eloquently reminded the tribal police of native values.
|Roadblock on the Pine Ridge|
White Plume commented, "We stood our ground for our land, our treaty rights, our human rights to clean drinking water and our coming generations. We did this in solidarity with the First Nations people in Canada, who are being killed by the tar sands oil mine, which is so big it can be seen from outer space. It is as big as the state of Florida."
|Tar sands hunger strikers in Eagle Butte|
Unci Maka. Grandmother Earth. We know that she is sick. Desperately so. Even those of us who want to deny this are now finding it difficult to dispute. The evidence is all around us. We can all see the extreme shifts of weather, from mountains to plains. We can see the rising seas swallowing islands. We can see the snowcaps disappearing from the Alps, the gigantic icebergs breaking off Antarctica. Though we may not recognize or understand all the causes of Grandmother's suffering, there is much that we can say:
It is not good for Grandmother that we poison her.
It is not good for Grandmother that we disrupt her natural systems.
It is not good for Grandmother that we act as if she exists simply to serve us.
It is not good for us if Grandmother dies.
Please. Let's listen to our best instincts, and join the struggle for her life. We need to get there now. We can no longer afford to monitor Grandmother's condition from a distance. Direct intervention is needed. You and I must step up, ask the tough questions, make the tough decisions. No more delays. This is the only grandmother we have who is meant to live forever. And she will live forever, if we can only save her from ourselves.
Give us this day that we may see the beauty before our eyes
Give us this day that we may cherish the earth before it dies
Note: The verse above is the refrain of the beautiful choral anthem in this video. You can read the rest of the lyrics here. If for some reason you can't see the viewer above, please click here to watch the video.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Turning of Hearts & the Rising of Light
I have been sitting at my desk crying after reading an email from a young woman. From the ache in my heart, I wonder how long until the hearts of the parents shall be turned to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents, how long until the rising of the morning light?
It begins late on a Monday afternoon, at the very last session of the JStreet conference, which I attended in Washington. So many words spoken, so many images, ancient tensions stark and grainy, rolling forward like the flickering frames of an old film, the projector running on its own, overheating. Words of pain, words of hope, images rising on wings of speech and from the printed page, leaping from the video screen, a new medium and still the same faces, of Jews and Arabs, a landscape of aching beauty and jagged boundaries of psyche and soul and sacred space. Images of Palestinians evicted from family homes in Sheikh Jarrah, of Israelis bereft at the fraying of democracy, of children begging to understand the world inhabited by themselves and the other.
A certain calm pervaded the proceedings, inevitable, necessary perhaps, the violence so far away, need for clarity in order to seek the way. The mood seemed heavier to me than last year, perhaps a rising up from within myself, though too palpable not to have been real, the unspoken fears, the weariness and worry felt by all. In the presence of Israelis and Palestinians of so many strata, officials and writers, academics and activists, striving and struggling daily, despair not an option, pleading for us to do the same. Beyond the policies and the politics, in the beginning and in the end it is about people and the human toll, of hearts that yearn to turn to each other, to live and to see a new day rising, to be safe at home among one’s own and with the other.
At that last session on a Monday afternoon, attended mostly by rabbis, I sat pensively, so many thoughts turning as I listened to colleagues share the challenges of speaking publicly about Israel. As we came near to the end of the program, I looked toward the door, planning to exit quickly in order to make my way to the airport. There were two young women standing at the microphone in the center aisle, the program chair announcing that theirs would be the last two questions. For a moment, I thought I would quietly leave before they spoke, but then thought better of it. The first challenged the rabbis present, accusing, why hadn’t we told her what to expect in Israel, “why didn’t you tell me the truth?” She referred to being at the Kotel, the Western Wall, her horror at seeing women arrested for praying while wearing the traditional garb of a talis, a prayer shawl, a woman bundled into a police van while cradling a Torah scroll in her arms, herself threatened with arrest if she didn’t wrap her talis around her neck like a scarf, to be worn in the way of women, not as she had been taught it should be worn, as a garment of prayer.
My head was down, my eyes closed in thought, as the next young woman began to speak. I was jolted upright by the power of her voice, by her stance at the microphone, her words more of pleading and pain than of anger. I couldn’t quite see her face, sitting somewhat to the side and behind her. And then she said it, not accusingly, but pleading for help to find her way home. She had lost her left eye to an Israeli tear gas canister at a demonstration on the West Bank. My sadness from the first student congealed into a frozen sea of pain. I turned in my seat, leaning forward, needing to look at her, unable to look for shame. She had gone to Israel to study art at the B’tzalel Academy in Jerusalem. We send our children to Israel to study, to grow, and we should also want them to feel the pain. But not like this! Then I could see the left lens of her glasses, swirling lines painted in black and white filling the space that was no longer a window to the world, but now in vibrant witness a window to her soul.
For all of the words spoken at the conference, the words of this young woman were the most powerful, tearing at my heart, bringing home more than any others why we had come to Washington. It was not only her words, but it was her courage and grace in getting up to speak at all, to tell her story in its essence, so simply and so starkly. I tried to imagine her struggle against alienation from her own people, from Israel, from God. It was violence at the hands of her own people while pleading on behalf of others that has scarred her for life. I wanted to scream out for her, to offer a hand, to light the way home. As the session ended, I was only able to speak briefly with her and her parents before hurrying to the airport. I continued to think about her, hearing her voice and the urgency of her plea.
The week came to its end with Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat that precedes Passover. In the special reading from the prophet Malachi, we chant and make our own a vision of time to come, a time of swords turned to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks. It is a vision that begins at home, among our own, the making of peace with those who are closest to us, Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God, that he may turn the heart of the parents back to the children, and the heart of the children back to their parents/v’heyshiv lev avot al banim v’lev banim al avotam (Malachi 3:23-24). It is the day that is neither day nor night of which we sing in the Haggadah at the Passover Seder. We read in the Torah that week a beautiful phrase concerning the olah/ascent offering that is to burn on the altar through the night, kol ha’layla ad ha’boker/all night until the morning (Lev. 6:2). From the embers of that offering and the fire that consumed it, the new day’s fire is to be kindled. So foreign to us on one hand, and of the distant past, it is also of the future and a reminder to us in the moment to keep the flame alive. To kindle the flame of a new day is an act of hope. Of that flame that is to burn all night until the morning, the Ma’or Eynayim, Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, teaches that it is not only about the darkness of night: surely, it is also one’s own darkness that one is able to transcend and to make from it the morning light/v’la’asot memenu boker or.
And so I cried over an email as I read the words of a young woman for whom the world is a little bit darker than it once was. Transcending her own darkness, touching hearts and turning them, there is the rising of a new day’s light in the poignant yearning of her words:
“It's so hard to explain how I want to live my life to others who do not know what it is like to feel the weight of human suffering. Who don't know that my feelings for Israel-Palestine are far beyond politics…. I want so badly for Israel and Palestine to be free from horror. I want my life to start working again.”
On Shabbat HaGadol, approaching Passover, these words of a young woman of great vision formed my prayer for her and for all of us, that we might bear together the weight of human suffering until it is no more, that together we might create a world that is free from horror, a world in which the lives of young people everywhere shall start working again as they were meant to be.
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein