Thursday, December 27, 2012


People always talk about the beautiful transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly. It is phenomenal, it is natural, and it is a sight to behold. When the caterpillar emerges and takes flight it is a beautiful thing and most times the focus of our long loved proverbial sayings. What people often skip is the process of transformation. No matter how natural it is, to completely change and transform from the inside out, to sprout wings from a substance unseen; it cannot be done entirely without great courage and yes, pain. 

It is not easy to leave your comfort zone and shift the inner makings of who you thought you were to become; while at the same time realizing that your cocoon is shrinking and forcing you to transform into what you were meant to convert into all along. There is a moment of suspension between two worlds, a fine delicate crosshair in life. In the end change of some sort is inevitable, perhaps it is allowing ourselves to let change take place without fighting it. Perhaps some butterflies emerge unscathed, complete and whole. Yet there are those who struggle and emerge with scarred and tattered wings. Those blemishes and scars carry with them the outward confession of their love of two worlds…to gain one you must leave the other behind.

And so it goes, we make these plans for the course of our life as this caterpillar and sometimes out of nowhere, life gives us a cocoon. We discover our plans are not what were intended at all and we are merged into change.  I guess in the end we can always take comfort that even if we are one of those tattered butterflies, our Creator has a plan for us. He saw growth in us in ways that we did not think were possible while we were crawling around on the ground…so he chose to expand our horizon and give us wings. 

In the midst of transformation it can be very scary and painful.  It can be difficult to refrain from striking out and hurting others, as we fight to understand the path before us.  Mankind seems to have this innate desire to know where they are going, what they are doing and who they are becoming.  Personally for me, during certain transformations of my life, the conversions were resisted immensely and I did not leave unscathed.  Yet God was working in my life, in ways that I could not see from inside this cocoon.  Outwardly I was still hurting and mourning and angry with the world around me consumed in my own bitterness because life had not given me the natural opportunities I felt I deserved.  Though there was not a pivotal moment that changed my life around, somewhere in the darkness I found peace, and I allowed it to consume me.  This process took almost a decade, but I could feel the walls around me shifting and cracking.  The light and warmth of the sun began to peek in and I felt the urge to expand.  

How can a caterpillar do that?  In some ways I still felt I was bound, but I had this urge to magnify beyond the capacity of what I still perceived as self, and in that moment I realized I had grown wings.  The walls around me broke and I emerged clumsily but hopefully.  With my new found wings, I fluttered and as I ascended, I began to appreciate this old world through these new eyes.  Though at times I can still see and feel the scars of my transformation, the exchange of knowledge, understanding and love that I gained is a gift I thank my Creator for every day.

It is in my own inner conversion that I still hold hope for others.  From my own experience, I know that the action of a person does not always imply that there are no changes taking place.  We do not have the ability to see what God is doing in their inner most beings.  Change takes time.  Through the midst of our struggles and pain, the truth of life’s beauty can be fogged and that pain often is transposed unintentionally unto others.  We are to love these wounded souls anyway, offering compassion and encouragement even in the face of adversity; we strive to build them up and help them on their path.  This is spiritual love.  It holds no condemnation, or anger.  It accepts even the ugliest of creation understanding that not everyone was born with beautiful wings; some people are still a work in progress, still changing, still evolving, still growing and on the verge of developing into something more beautiful than words can ever express or convey,even if they emerge a little tattered. Who are we to deny them wings?

April M. RedWing

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Brief Christian Reflection on Images of God & Christmas

Like most preachers in Christian churches, I have been thinking about the Christmas story—a lot. I have been intrigued by the difference between Matthew’s version of the story and Luke’s. In Matthew’s version, the angel comes to Joseph and announces that Mary is with child. Joseph, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” (Mt. 19), resolves to divorce her quietly. The angel sees through the mock concern and tells him, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife” (Mt. 1:20). Reading between the lines, it seems like Joseph’s deepest concern is not for Mary’s welfare but for his reputation. There are some parts of the Matthew story that I like, but this section is over the top misogygenistic. It takes an act of God to tell Joseph to grow up and get over himself. One thinks here that perhaps the Republicans in the House of Representatives need such a visitation after they appointed all white men to chair all of the committees in the House. 

Luke, on the other hand, tells a different story. The angel comes directly to Mary and speaks to her. In a patriarchal society this is a radical break with the status quo. Then, instead of being embarrassed, Mary delights in the news. At first, understandably perplexed, she asks “How can this be?” but then she accepts the good news and declares herself to be “a handmaid of the Lord” (Lk.1:37).

In addition to reading these two stories, I also reread an article by Dorothy Sollee, a German theologian, entitled, “God and Her Friends.” In the article Sollee asks why should we want to worship a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and independent—a God who does not need friends?

 What Mary “gets” and what Joseph seems to be unable to “get” is that we all need friends—even God. Going further, it is not that Mary wants to be Joseph, or become like Joseph. But rather, Luke seems to envision that a day will come when Joseph (who embodies patriarchy and misogyny) is no more. The basic image in Luke’s telling of the story is that God acts with the intention of empowering all people to lead fruitful and productive and healthy lives.

Skeptics would say that this vision of the future is utopian. It can never happen. Others might say that it would take a miracle to bring such a society into being. But isn’t that just the point of the story. It will take a miracle. And in order for the miracle to occur, we need to be the midwives. 

David Hansen

Monday, December 17, 2012

Does It Matter to You Which Side They Are On?

During the week of war between Israel and Gaza, the week of the Torah portion “Toldot” (Gen. 25:19-28:9), a prayerful meditation waiting to be woven into Shabbos peace.

Holy One of Being, Source of Peace,
Whose waters of life sustain, Whose voice is heard equally by Hagar and Yishma’el and by Yitzchak at the well of the Living One Who Sees Me, the well that is to the south, along the way to Gaza and among the cities upon which rockets fall. Cast out from the fold, it is the place where Yishma’el dwelled and his descendants, “from Chavilah to Shur, that is before the Land of Egypt…, before the face of all his brothers did he settle.” It is the place to which Yitzchak went for comfort following his ordeal, fleeing his father’s zeal, yet seeking reconciliation among them all, bringing Hagar back with him to be his father’s wife, a child’s plea for family to be as one.

You, Whose gentle pillar of cloud was to guide by day on a new path, along a way unknown; we fall back so easily into the ways of the past, lost in a maze of violence, paths that lead only to a dead end, help us to break out from the endless cycle of death and destruction to find the way of hope and possibility, of life that endures. Give us the courage to acknowledge in the face of our own pain that the way of response that has always been has not brought the change for which we pray. Reaching out to our people in the Land, help us to embrace the other as well, all Your children, all our family; how long You’ve waited, yearning for their return to each other.

At the start of the Torah portion that offered its teaching in the week of fearsome violence, from the very beginning there is a portent of violence from even in the womb, Parashat Toldot/Generations, the ones from whom we’ve come and become, ancestors to descendants; and the children struggled violently with each other within her womb/vayitrotzatzu habanim b’kirbah. And our mother Rivkah went to inquire of You, asking why? And so we too ask You why? Is this the way it is meant to be from the beginning? Tell me, please, is there sadness in Your answer, a spur to us to make it right, two nations are in your womb and two states; they will be separated from one another/yiparedu u’l’om mi’l’om

Of the world as it is, in Yitzchak You show us another way. He persevered in turning the hearts of those who stole his wells, three wells that were blocked up from the days of his father and three that were new, active and determined in a way we need to know, he saw reality for what it was and sought to overcome by shifting the emphasis and disarming their hearts of hate. He named the first well Essek/Contention and the second he named Sitnah/Enmity. And then they left him alone and he called the third well R’chovot/Spaciousness, and there was room in the Land for all. And when Avimelech came to him, who had hated him from before, he made a feast for them, and they ate and drank…, and they departed from him in peace/va’yelchu mey’ito b’shalom. Of a seventh well that Yitzchak dug, he named it Shiva/Seven, therefore the name of the city is B’er Sheva until this day/ad hayom ha’zeh.

Until this day the rockets fall and the planes thunder over the very same places, children of the same womb still struggle violently with each other. And of Your children who really are children, does it matter to You at all which side they are on? Of lifeless forms in their parents’ arms beneath the thundering planes, of children with seconds to run when rockets scream and sirens wail, sustain them all from the wells of life, that no more children die help us to find another way.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, December 7, 2012

Terrorists in Our Midst

A west river rancher friend called this morning. Sometimes he calls early, usually between 6 and 7 AM, my time. Fortunately this morning, it was later, as I was savoring my sleep. I still recall the Easter morning he called about 6 AM, just to let me know the meadowlarks were back. 

He's usually full of information about the world around him. He notices birds and bush, cattle and grasses, wind and weeds, weather and water. And almost every time he calls, there's something disturbing him he needs to unload on someone, namely me.

This morning he was upset about the devastation along the East Coast from Hurricane Sandy. He still has that Catholic ethic inbred in him, where he cares about what happens to other people, even though they may live thousands of miles away. He can still feel another's pain. As an example, this morning he also told me about having a neighbor over for a little whiskey and conversation the other evening. He tries to spend time with him at least once a week since the guy's wife died last year after a long struggle with cancer and the guy has Parkinson's. 

But the issue that caught my attention the most was his comment about his prairie land. It's parched and cracked. He tried to recall how long ago it was they got a few tenths of an inch of rain. And then he quickly went on to say only one of their water holes had water in it and they had to pasture cattle out several miles away where a creek was still running and there was grass to eat. 

Guess what? Extreme weather is not just happening in Bangladesh or Pakistan or Haiti anymore. It's obviously happening right here now in the U.S.of A. 

North America had the warmest summer ever and July broke all records. We experienced enormous forest fires. For the first time in recorded history all the Arctic sea ice disappeared and the warmest temperatures ever measured on a Greenland glacier went into the record book. Most are aware of the extended draught in Texas but how many of us are concerned about the expected extension of our own draught in South Dakota? 

As Governor Cuomo of New York State said after Hurricane Sandy, “I said kiddingly the other day, ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now.’ These situations never happened or if they happened, they were never going to happen again. … I think at this point it’s undeniable that we have a higher frequency of these extreme weather situations, and we’re going to have to deal with it.”

God isn't at work in the extreme weather events we see around us. Human beings are! And there are some weather terrorists in our midst that need to be identified and brought to justice. We have watched these terrorists as they have deluged the atmosphere with carbon. We have watched while they helped acidify the oceans and pollute our rivers and streams. We have watched as they removed mountain tops and left toxic residue for local residents. We have watched as they take private land from unwilling property owners for their pipelines and profit. We have watched as they paid climate change deniers and purchased anti-environment politicians. We have watched as they've knowingly changed the earth's climate, with no intention of stopping. We have watched as they purchased our democracy (Chevron just gave $2.5. million to a GOP Super Pac, the largest single corporate donation to a political campaign in history). Is it any wonder climate change wasn't on the debate agendas?

The arrogance of these terrorists is as extreme as the weather. They are willing to risk making the planet unlivable rather than back off their exploitation of fossil fuels, like the Canadian tar sands and the Bakken boom. They say, we will adapt. Tell that to those on the Jersey shore or the relatives of the dead. We need to make these terrorists focus their money and energy on renewables, instead of the engines of destruction. 

I agree with Bill McKibben of (his article in Rolling Stone on the math of global warming is a "must" read). Let's stop naming the hurricanes after people and name them after the perpetrators of extreme weather. How about Hurricane Chevron, or Hurricane Exxon. And how about stopping investing in these sowers of terror! (I intend to check on the investments of my church!) Who are these people who are consciously willing to make money off the destruction of the planet? They need to get a life!!

Climate change did not "cause" Hurricane Sandy. But global warming certainly helped. The ocean along the East coast is five degrees warmer than it was in 1970 and the water in New York Harbor is a foot higher. That makes a difference! And if folks in the teeth of this storm found it frightening, God help us all as we continue like lemmings down the path of fossil fuels, fueling the planet for far worse weather to come. The path we continue on doesn't hold much hope for our grandchildren. It will be hard for them to adapt, especially hard for the billions alive now of modest means. And if the 1% think their money will save them, they should think again. As Dr. King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

P.S.: Exxon and Shell just announced they made $16 billion in the last quarter alone. The cost of Sandy is estimated at $50 billion today. Maybe the fossil fuel carbon producers will help New York City rebuild infrastructure. More likely, they will continue avoiding their fair share of taxes and avoid contributing to the common good.

P.P.S.: And yes, Governor Romney, I too would like to stop the oceans from rising. You see, my grandchildren live on the coast!

Carl Kline

Sunday, December 2, 2012

At the Intersection of Their Lives

Riveted and repelled, I listened for as long as I could to a program on NPR’s Fresh Air, eventually turning the radio off and driving on in silence because I couldn’t bear the images evoked by what I heard. The person at the center of the story had tried for a long time to turn the images off, but that is a lot easier when they come through a radio and not from deep within one’s own psyche. It was a story about a former U.S. Marine suffering with PTSD who had been in Iraq in the early years of the war. He was part of a unit that fired on three cars heading toward an intersection and failing to stop when ordered. It turned out that all of those in the cars were members of one terrified Iraqi family trying to find their way home, all civilians. Three of the men in the cars were killed and a young woman was wounded. The NPR story was about one of the Marines in that unit and a New York Times reporter with whose help the Marine was able to contact and eventually establish a relationship with surviving family members who had been in the cars on that fateful day.

As I drove, trying to get the horrifying images out of my mind, I did not expect to make a Torah connection, but later, I did. The true bravery of that Marine, manifest through deeds for which no medals are given, and the profound humanity of the survivors he reached out to, are all about Torat Chayyim/the Torah of Life. The story about this Marine and this family opened up a place in Torah where I had never lingered before. It is a place where the stream of nonviolence that flows beneath the surface of Torah, of which I often speak and seek, bubbles up, challenging, begging us to think and act in a different way from the surface way of text and life. All too often we assume the surface way to be the only way, violence engendering hate, and then more violence, and more hate. At times the bubbling up of that stream of nonviolence seems so crystal clear and loud, like the gurgling flow of a springtime brook, that I can’t understand how we miss it, in text and in life. Beyond the reflexive way of violence and hate that so prevails, the more effective way of response to violence and hurt is to bravely reach out and to graciously receive, acknowledging the humanity of the other. Affirming the web of human connection is at first the more difficult way, until in prevailing it redirects the endless cycles of violence that separate us from each other. Either cycle will in the end perpetuate itself, whether of war or peace, violence or nonviolence, a new path emerging from within our selves when we can no longer ignore the voice and the face of the other, or the relationship to which we are called.

The NPR story was in the week of the Torah portion Lech L’cha (Gen. 12:1-17:27). Grammatically, the two words can simply offer a strong imperative, “go forth!” It is the beginning of the Jewish journey, as Avram and Sarai are told to go forth. Leaving all they had known and travelling on faith to a land they do not know, it is also an archetypal journey experienced by every human being, each one setting out toward their own becoming. The two words, lech l’cha, literally mean, “Go to yourself.” Our lives are to be journeys of discovery. In the uniqueness of each one’s journey, we are each truly meant to find a new way. At the intersection of worlds, the inner world and the outer world, the path of our lives is formed, the way of our going in the outer world influenced and shaped by inner experience. As paths merge, a new human way is formed. The challenge is to hear and heed the lessons of inner response, our own and those of ancient ancestors, not to brush them off as unrealistic, only a dream or vision. They often represent the ultimate reality toward which we strive; the stream beneath the surface, waters of life waiting to rise. 

In the outer world of Abraham’s life as it unfolds on the journey through the portion Lech L’cha, he engages in a strange battle with four kings to rescue his nephew Lot and emerges victorious. In the aftermath of battle, returned safely home, it would seem to be a time more settled, even of peace. But it is not. Immediately after the battle with the kings, the Torah turns to the inner life of Abraham: After these things, the word of God came to Avram in a vision, saying, “al tirah, Avram/fear not, Avram….” What is Abraham afraid of? Nothing is said of fear in the text? Looking beneath the surface of text and psyche, the rabbis look to the preceding verses, to the battle from which Avram has returned for the source of his fear.

In a profound midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 44:4), Rabbi Levi suggests two sources of Avram’s fear, first asking the same question that we ask, “of what is our father Avraham making himself afraid?” Rabbi Levi then gives voice to Abraham’s question, a burning inner question that Abraham can’t turn off, just as millennia later it wouldn’t help the one returned from battle to turn off the radio. Abraham asks: Of all those troops that I killed, what if there was among them one righteous person, one who was in awe of heaven/tzadik echad virey shamayim echad? The word for troops in Aramaic, ochlosin, is very similar, unmistakably so, to the modern Hebrew word for population, ochlosiyah. There is a very fine line, all too easily blurred, between the soldiers and the general population. Abraham struggles with the thought of the innocent who may have died at his hand, at the forbidden intersections of life and death where humanity seeks itself. In Abraham’s question is a foreshadowing of the challenge he will soon pose to God regarding the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked/ha’af tispeh tzadik im rasha? If Abraham is going to hold God to account, he first needs to hold himself to account. Blurring the line further between the one and the many, soldiers and populace, Rashi changes the words of the midrash and Abraham’s pained question becomes, what of all the souls that I have killed/kol otan n’fashot she’haragti?

Introducing his second question in the same way, Rabbi Levi again asks, “of what is our father Abraham making himself afraid?” This time we realize from his question that Abraham can’t possibly find peace because the war will never end: Of those kings that I killed, will their sons gather troops and come and make war with me/ba’im v’osim imi milchamah? Speaking to the futility in the endless cycle of war, the great Israeli Torah commentator, Nechama Leibowitz, writes of the realization that comes with Abraham’s fear: “Victory is not the end of war. It contains within itself the germs of the next war.”

Haunted by images of war that cannot be turned off, we can only redirect them. The legacy of endless war is a human legacy that belongs to all of us. All of humanity suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Healing and transformation begins when we hear God’s call to seek a new path and go forth, lech l’cha. We shall come to that land of peace as yet unknown when fear gives rise to the gnawing questions of Abraham, and to the courageous way of response at the intersection of their lives by one Marine and an Iraqi family. 

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein