Friday, June 29, 2012


A friend of mine has written a book called "Gandhi's Worldview." It's a scholarly work. When you read the bibliography in the back of the book, you are led to  the conclusion he has read everything Gandhi ever wrote and everything that was ever written about him.

I'm thinking today about the word he chose for the title, "worldview." It's not a word you hear very often these days. It's as if we've forgotten that there are different ways of looking at the world around us. It's as if we've lost our capacity to observe how things work and be conscious of how and why we function a certain way in the world. Too often we fall into a thoughtless routine, without ever examining why we don't trust people, or why we don't feel safe like we used to, or why we don't like big corporations or big government.

I questioned some of my students the other day on basic ideas about human beings that might well influence the way we see the world. The impression I got was these were new questions for them.

For instance, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being evil and 10 being good, where do human beings belong? Are we half evil and half good? Or are we a 3, mostly evil, with a 3 in 10 chance of being good?

We're talking about human beings here, the plural. We're not talking about the individual serial rapist or saint. Perhaps if we have a worldview that sees human beings as mostly evil, we will be more likely to distrust others and wall ourselves into the security of private enclaves with only family and trusted others welcome.

How about our biggest failing as humans? What is it? Is it arrogance, egotism? Is it greed? Is it disobeying a higher authority and always doing what we want? Is it sloth or laziness? When I decide which is the worst human problem, am I projecting my own failings onto everyone else? And how does my perception of this original sin affect my worldview?

Along the same lines, we can  ask about a natural human propensity toward violence or nonviolence. Some earlier students of psychology wrote about human tendencies, for instance Konrad Lorenz in his book "On Aggression," and Eric Fromm in his book "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness." They were asking the important questions about what makes us tick, and what makes us kill and destroy.

Gandhi had his own ideas on this question. He believed violence was an aberration in human behavior. It was the way of the brute, not the average human being. The only reason why people might believe violence to be common to the species was nonviolent ways of solving differences went unnoticed. Rare situations, where people were unable to solve problems without violence, made all the headlines. He would probably rank us as a 9, almost perfectly nonviolent. But, of course, that was his worldview, one that he integrated into the life he lived.

A great Protestant theologian, Rienhold Niebuhr, wrote a book called "Moral Man and Immoral Society." The idea was that it's possible for an individual to be moral, but put humans together in groups or nations and watch out. According to Niebuhr, it's harder to be moral in a crowd than on your own. What's your point of view on this idea? Does it shape your participation in political parties or religious groups or social issues?

What is our point of view in understanding what shapes our personality, who  we are as a person? Are we 90% genetically determined and 10% shaped by  our environment? Or is it the other way around? Depending on our worldview on this issue, we  might believe more strongly in public education; or less. After all, what difference does early childhood education make, or a college degree, if the persons' environment doesn't make that much difference? 

Or consider whether human beings are spirit or flesh, and depending on how you respond, what that means? One guess might be that those who see the human as partly or mostly spirit, might have a different conception of death and deaths' meaning, than those who say "dust to dust" buddy, and that's it.

Is there order or chaos at the heart of the universe? Is the head or the heart at the center of the human being? Are we really wired for survival of the fittest, clawing and bleeding our way to the top of the pile? Or is the self sacrifice of parents and martyrs a better indication of our true nature?

These are all questions, when answered, that might reveal our worldview. And as our emphasis in this competitive and global economy, continues to ignore and resist the notion we are responsible for and to each other and the planet we live on, a reclaiming of a worldview could make all the difference in our survival as a species.

Carl Kline

Friday, June 22, 2012

It Is Possible to Live in Peace

I sit in my study this afternoon.  On this late June day, the sun beats down, raising the island’s temperatures to 95+ degrees. The air is heavy with moisture. The heat is enervating. Irritability rises. Tempers flair.  The beach traffic is a snarl. Angry words and gestures fly as even the most mundane tasks become a challenge for people unaccustomed to waiting in line.  I’m thankful for this air-conditioned corner in my bedroom.  

As I browse through a newly acquired hymnal from the Unitarian Church in town, I find some words from Ghandi shaped into a responsive reading to be used in worship.  The Mahatma’s words reach into the heat and humidity and bring me to center:

If someone with courage and vision                                                   
Can rise to lead in nonviolent action,
The winter of despair can,
In the twinkling of an eye, be turned
Into the summer of hope.

It is possible to live in peace.

Nonviolence is not a garment to
Put on and off at will.  Its seat is in the
Heart, and it must be an inseparable 
Part of our being.

It is possible to live in peace.

Nonviolence, which is a quality of 
the heart, cannot come by an appeal
to the brain.  It is a plant of slow
growth, growing imperceptibly, but

It is possible to live in peace.                                                                       

If a single person achieves the highest
Kind of love it will be sufficient
To neutralize the hate of millions.

It is possible to live in peace.

If we are to reach real peace in this 
World, and if we are to carry on a 
Real war against war, we shall have
 to begin with the children.

It is possible to live in peace.

The future depends
 on what we do in the present.

It is possible to live in peace.

-Mohandas K. Ghandi 

Vicky Hanjian

Monday, June 18, 2012

Is Democracy for Sale?

Last night I had the privilege of serving on a panel discussing the question "Is Democracy for Sale?" The event was well attended, and I was honored to be given the opportunity to be a participant. My thanks to the organizers of this fine event. Each of the four panelists was asked to comment on the U. S. Supreme Court  Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) decision and its implications for the future of democracy. The Court handed down its verdict in this case on January 21, 2010.

The Citizens United case evolved from an action by the FEC banning a political ad targeting Hilary Clinton, then running for office. The FEC ruling was based on a law forbidding the airing of political ads a certain number of days before an election. The Citizens United group claimed the FEC ruling violated its freedom of speech. The Court found in favor of Citizens United and, going beyond the limits of the case, it also ruled that money is political speech. Moreover, the majority of the Court concluded that the identify of the donor(s) does not matter. Nobody needs to know who is giving the money. The source is unimportant. The donor can remain anonymous.The Citizens United decision overturned a long-standing campaign finance law limiting political expenditures. As a result of this verdict groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates.The Court announced its decision on January 21, 2010. President Barack Obama famously criticized this ruling in his State of the Union on January 27, 2012. Justice Samuel Alito, with equal renown and in an unprecedented act, interrupted the President's speech to register his dissent.

My slightly redacted remarks follow. The talk was given at the Boathouse in Wichita on the evening of June 14, 2012.

I believe that many, perhaps even all, of our most perplexing and vexing problems begin in the realm of the spirit. When our spiritual center gets off-center and our core values become confused, problems are sure to follow. Because I believe that this is the case, I also believe that we cannot solve many of our problems without examining the underlying spiritual issues and finding ways to get our center re-centered and our values restored.

The idea that money is political speech is not a self-evident truth. It is based on certain assumptions and embodies certain values. If we are going to challenge this decision we need to know how it is justified and why this justification is wrong. Then we can propose an alternative. So I want to do three things this evening: 1) examine the justification for the idea that money is political speech, 2) show why I believe this idea is wrong, and 3) propose an alternative.

Let's begin at the beginning. The Bible is my tradition, so I speak from this tradition. I recognize that other faith traditions have their own sacred texts and I mean no disrespect. This is my tradition.The Bible describes the Promised Land as a land flowing with milk and honey. The prophet Micah foretells of a day when nations will study war no more and each one of us will sit beneath our own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. We want to do more than merely survive. We want to live well. This is true for everyone, and it has always been so.

From the days of Abraham and Sarah, Western tradition has taught us that a good society, a society in which people can live a good life, rests on a moral foundation. The most basic moral code involves self-regard and other-regard. "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Or as my mother taught me, "Let kindness be your guide." For thousands of years people believed that a good society rests on this moral foundation. 

Then in the middle of the 1600s everything suddenly changed. The old world was turned upside down and inside out as a result of the English Civil War. The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who is recognized as the Founder of Modern Political Theory, lived through this war. When the war ended he concluded that life in a state of nature is "mean, brutish, nasty and short." He said that people are motivated by what he called their Appetites (desires) and their Aversions (fears). He went on to say that our greatest fear is to die a violent, degrading, meaningless and humiliating death. What we want, what we desire, he said, is to be able to satisfy all our appetites.
Hobbes gave us a new vision of society. His was a society ruled by competition rather than cooperation. And he separated ethics and economics, or perhaps it would be better to say he reduced ethics to self-interest. In his world, what is ethical is what satisfies my desires. My self-interest is defined by my appetites and my goal is to do what it takes to satisfy them.What is good and right for me is now defined by what I want. Life is an endless competition between people trying to satisfy their appetites.

The idea of a society governed by the self-interest of individuals eventually leads to the development of a market economy and to the idea of progress. The idea of economic progress did not exist in any meaningful way before the rise of the market economy. One economist famously called this churning of society, this push for progress, this life of endless competition, the process of "Creative Destruction." Out with the old and in with the new. Some call it progress and others call it planned obsolescence. In truth it is both.

Now fast forward to 1987 and the Oliver Stone's movie Wall Street. As we all remember the main character in that movie famously declares "Greed is good!" The reason that greed is good is because it allows me to satisfy my appetite. It is a totally Hobbesean world. This is not the goodness of creation. This is the goodness of endless consumption.

We do not have to leave the set of the movie to conclude that money is the measure of success. Successful people are those who have the most money. They have earned it. They are able to satisfy their hungers. Making money validates the system and confirms the worth of those who have it. In the world of Thomas Hobbes successful people satisfy their appetites; unsuccessful people are left to cope with their fears.

Now we come to the Citizens United decision and to the personification of money. Money is the measure of value. Those who have it, have value.Those who have it are literally worth more. People who do not have money are literally worth-less. It is not only that money measures the value of other things; money is now the embodiment of value. Money is good. Money is political speech.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a 90 page dissent in the Citizens United case. His dissent had two parts, as I understand it. In part one, he said that the First Amendment does not guarantee the right of political free speech. He said that it prevents the suppression of political speech based on the identity of the speaker. That is a very different interpretation. The majority of the Court said, without explanation, that the identity of the speaker does not matter. It is unimportant. This interpretation is the personification of money and the subordination or suppression of the person--the human being. Justice Stephens argued that if there is no way to identify the speaker, then there can be no accountability. Nobody is responsible. All we are left with is a society governed by the appetites of those anonymous people who have money and can speak. Even Hobbes knew that this is a receipt for a culture of despair. Such a society can not survive; at least not democratically.

What, then, shall we do? I think we need to change the story. I think we need to reconnect ethics and economics.We need to leave the world of Thomas Hobbes and return to the world of Micah, who calls us to seek justice, love mercy and walk with kindness. Let me elaborate briefly.

Justice is found in the law. The law serves three functions: to teach us what is right, to restrain us when we are temped to do wrong, and to punish those who violate the social norms. To seek justice means that in the eyes of the law everyone is the same. Equality is the first principle of justice. Due process is the second principle. Everyone is equal and everyone is entitled to the same treatment; the same standard applies to all. Some people are not favored over others. Without equality and due process, there can be no justice.

Mercy, in this context, means that the goal of justice is the restoration of the community. The aim of justice is the healing of the community; restoring the community to health. Restorative justice is another name for mercy.

Kindness in this context means lifting up the bottom line. The measure of a successful economy is not the wealth of a few but the health of the whole. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself. Let kindness be your guide.

We need a new creation. Not the world of Thomas Hobbes but the world of Micah.We need a society that values justice, mercy and kindness. We need an economy that is in the service of life.  

Rev. David Hansen

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Speaking Nonviolent Truth

A few months ago, a friend asked if I would be willing to be a writer for a blog on living non-violence.  First, I was humbled that he would ask me, but secondly I was a bit hesitant. I have not written much on this blog due to my hesitation.  I’m normally not overly quiet when it comes to my views. In fact, I have spoken quite widely that I am a pacifist, but writing this blog put me to the test. It made me consider, deeply consider what living in non-violence means. 

My dad was a Vietnam vet. I have not seen him in over twenty years except for a brief encounter after my middle child was six months old. Dad met me at the beach and he sat in a swing holding Doug. My dad has many demons within him. Some are from childhood, some from the war. All are from being exposed to ways of being human that hurt. 

I believe at the center of my existence, that whatever energy of creation humans come from, we have not been created to hurt one another. And yet, we do. We hurt one another. We hurt one another out of our own hurt. 

We have a society that perpetuates bullying and our children are learning to be bullies from their parents. We have a society that perpetuates domination of one human being over another and because we like to think we are “nice” people, we never have the courage to call one another out on this methodology.

This is where my hesitation comes in. How do we hold one another accountable to how we overpower, over control, bully, exploit and dominate; and still claim to live in non-violence. Because our own species cannot see the difference between enabling and having expectations on human behavior. Our own society does not seem to know how to gently say, “wait, what you are doing is harmful; harmful to your own soul and harmful to the community of which you are  a part,” without seeing these words as being mean or unjust. And so we just continue allowing many levels of violence to exist among us. 

When I think of my dad and the violence that was projected into his life from childhood and from war, it makes me weep. It makes me wonder “WHERE WERE THE PROPHETS?” When I see the children in our schools committing suicide due to bullying; when I see our churches becoming places of dysfunctional power, exploitation, and personal temples of greed; when I see our earth being ravished for corporate gain, I wonder “WHERE ARE THE PROPHETS?”

Where are the prophets who have the courage to speak and say, “Children of God, look at your lives. Look and see what you are doing. Look around you and see the destruction. See how the beauty God has created has become places of devastation: devastation within the human heart, that hurts because it is hurt, and the only way it will stop hurting, is if it is able to see that hurting begets hurting; devastation within our children, because parents themselves are teaching inappropriate bullying ways of being human; devastation throughout the earth, digging, polluting, removing, destroying, because humans believe that our worth is found in our possessions. Turn from these ways of devastation and seek a better way of life.” 

Some will see this and think I am being violent. Some will think that my words are violent because they are said emphatically and with passion. And this is why I write this blog with hesitation. 

Kristi McLaughlin

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pastures of Plenty: Woody Guthrie & the Song of Torah

What is the power of a song? What is the power of a song to touch us so deeply, to bring us home, to soothe, to dream, to inspire, to love? Is it simply, or not so simply, a matter of association, as with smells, memories evoked of other times and places when the same tune, the same words were heard and with whom? Or is it all of that and more, something deeper, something that touches the protoplasm of our emotional being, the universal stuff of life? Rebbe Nachman teaches, a nigun and musical instruments have the great power to draw a person to God/l’hamshich et ha’adam la’shem Yisborach. The Torah itself is called a song, given over to our singing and living in accord with its tempo and tune, at times to be the harmony. The rabbis say that God created the world only for the sake of song and singing/bishvil shira v’zimra.

I was transported by song one recent night. My wife and I went to a performance of “Woody Sez,” a musical biography of Woody Guthrie, celebrating the centennial of the great American balladeer, prolific songwriter, social critic and activist. I wasn’t expecting to cry, but I did. Admittedly, it doesn’t take much. Woody’s own life was hard, touched by so much tragedy, close at hand and in the world all around. His refrain was always to keep going, singing as though just to me over the years when times were hard, but no where near so hard as his, filling traditional lyrics with his own wisdom, “it takes a worried man to sing a worried song, I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.” 

The music took me home, way back toward the beginning. I first heard Woody’s music when I was ten years old. My mother was in the chorus for a production called “Bound for Glory,” a benefit concert to raise money for the Guthrie family while Woody was still alive, though dying then from Huntington’s disease. The concert was in the YMCA on Huntington Ave, just about around the corner from where I live now. It seems like it was just around the corner in time, as well. My friend David and I, whose mother was also in the chorus, sat on the floor right in front of the stage, singing along as we learned the songs, imbibing their message. While they can be entertaining and make you feel good, these songs are never just about entertainment, but about values, about life as lived by real people. Woody would have cringed to be called an entertainer. He was a people’s artist, an organizer, a comforter and soother for all the pain that comes with life, and he was a firebrand whose light shines across generations of social consciousness. The music washed over me. I sang along with the old songs and I cried.

It is all Torah, the soft and the hard, the bitter and the sweet. It is the Torah of life, diverse facets of my being, yet seamless. I heard the words at the end of the “Ballad of Tom Joad” and took out pen and paper there in the dark, “Everybody might be just one big soul, Well, it looks that-a-way to me. Everywhere that you look in the day or the night, That’s where I’m gonna be, Lord, Lord, Yeah, that’s where I’m gonna be.” That protoplasm of life, humanity joined together wherever we are, with each other and with God. I thought of the morning blessings that praise God as the Life of the universe/chay ha’olamim

Wherever we open Torah, the Torah opens up to wherever we are. In the weekly Torah portion that week of the concert, Parashat Naso, there are teachings of peace, May God’s face be lifted up to you and may God grant you peace, whole teachings opening up from there. There is teaching of human sharing and equality, competition giving way to cooperation that none be shamed or diminished, the leaders of every tribe bringing the exact same gift for the dedication of the sanctuary, not about plaques upon the wall but of honoring equally each and every one. The leader, nasi, is one who lifts up the people, making each one count, as in naso et rosh/lift up the head, a technical term for taking a census at the beginning of the portion. These are all teachings Woody would have loved. He reveled in diversity, learning from the people wherever he went, “from California to the New York Island, From the red-wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters….” From Parashat Naso, the rabbis weave a tapestry of multi-hued strands become as one, diversity of thought and insight underlying the gifts that each tribe brought. From this portion they taught, shivim panim ba’Torah/there are seventy faces in the Torah. We are all one, with so many different ways of being, and of seeing and understanding. The rabbis teach further, shivim panim shel shivim lashon/seventy faces of seventy languages. Seventy languages refers to all the peoples of the world as the rabbis knew it, so much that is different, all as one in the essential stuff of life. Of God’s dividing Israel into twelve tribes, the Slonimer Rebbe leads us to see that God creates diversity so that we will create unity, haray r’tzono Yisborach b’achdutam/the desire of the Holy One is for their unity.
Torah is a radical song if we really hear it, like Woody’s songs, at times a bit more subtle. At other times boldly challenging, lifting our eyes to see beyond barriers that some would set to keep others out, of fields that are open to strangers to gather and glean, “my pastures of plenty must always be free,” God’s challenge to share the earth’s bounty. Among the last verses of “This Land is Your Land,” words not generally sung in school assemblies: of a sign that said No Trespassing, “but on the other side it didn’t say nothing, That side was made for you and me;” and of hungry people “in the shadow of a steeple,” Woody wonders for all of us, “Is this land made for you and me?”

As our own lives unfold over time, so too the world. Torah speaks to our hearts, to comfort and soothe, to challenge and prod, the power of song to transform and transport, of times long past and times yet to be, walking and singing together all along “that ribbon of highway.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, June 1, 2012

Perhaps you've heard: A report just released reveals that the Earth "is heading to a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, and likely more," a rise that will lead to "conditions not seen on the planet for 30 to 60 million years" (Climate Action Tracker). No government in the world has instituted the measures it had pledged to take in order to help prevent this.

Perhaps you've heard: At the damaged Fukishima Unit 4 nuclear power plant in Japan, a wall is bulging, and the building itself is leaning, deepening fears of an unimaginable nuclear catastrophe. As frequent earthquake tremors threaten the already fragile plant, toxic waste from the disaster of 14 months ago is washing up by the ton in North America, and radioactive fish are being caught off California. 

Perhaps you've heard: The "Gigaproject" of tar sands mining, called by many "the most destructive project on Earth," continues 24/7 in Alberta, Canada. Processing the tar sands uses enough natural gas in one day to heat 3 million homes. The toxic water resulting from the processing is stored in tailing ponds so large they can be seen from space. Shall I continue?

I won't. We've all heard these reports. The real question is, are we ready to admit the violence we are inflicting upon this planet, and take urgent steps to rectify it? We can't keep living in denial, if for no other reason than self-interest. To quote the farmer and writer Wendell Berry, "Land abuse cannot brighten the human prospect. There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers. The penalties may come quickly to a farmer who destroys perennial cover on a sloping field. They will come sooner or later to a land-destroying civilization such as ours."

We're capable of so much better, aren't we? I simply don't believe that we lack the collective wisdom, or the collective know-how, to treat the Earth with the care she deserves and requires. What we do lack is the will. 

The only way to generate the will, frankly, is to generate the will. To decide to do it, ourselves. We can't wait for our governments to save the planet (though their help would be much appreciated). We certainly can't wait for the corporations (most of which, while they might be "people," clearly have no conscience). And no, we can't wait for Mother Nature and Father Time to clean up the messes we've made--she's deathly ill, and he's keeping vigil. So no, it's up to us. You and me. To decide. And to do.

I invite you to watch the video below. You may well find yourself marveling, as I did, at the creativity, the engineering and the craftsmanship that went into its production. All that planning, all that effort, all that skill, all those resources invested for a three-minute--well, I'd better not spoil it. You'll see at the end of the video exactly what it is. 

My point is this: What if such human resources were immediately invested on a massive scale to change the way we relate to this planet? To end our destructive addiction to fossil fuels? To shift to a society thriving on safe forms of renewable energy? To learn how to appropriately manage and harvest the Earth's raw materials with a profound commitment to the welfare of future generations?

I believe that all this can be done. But it's up to us to see that it gets done.

That's why I'll be joining the Fast for the Earth, which launches August 1, 2012. The Fast will be a nonviolent protest against wanton disregard for the natural world, and as an affirmation that we are all part of that world, responsible for its careful tending. Originating here in little ol' Brookings, South Dakota (USA), the Fast may seem a small thing, but it's part of a big thing. Part of the whole, as a matter of fact. That's why we're inviting the entire world to participate.

Those of us who engage in the Fast--however we choose, whenever we choose, whether August 1 or after--will offer ourselves as witnesses to the Earth. Those of us who choose to fast by abstaining from food for a period of time will invest our bodies in humanity's struggle for a nonviolent relationship with the Earth. The Fast will mark our bodies with signs of Earth's suffering, yes, but also with signs of her cleansing and renewal. 

If you're inclined to join me in the Fast, sign up here. If you're not so inclined, please put your energies elsewhere on behalf of the planet. 

Just decide for the Earth, and do.

Note: If you can't see the video player below, click here to watch.

Deep peace,
Phyllis Cole-Dai