Saturday, June 29, 2013


I remember it as a common adolescent complaint. I used it often with my parents. I would ask if I could go someplace with friends and they would say "no." I would complain, "you just don't trust me." Sometimes they would reply, "yes, that's true, and here's why." Then they would list all of the times in the recent past when I told them I was going to this place with these friends and they discovered later I hadn't gone where I said I would go and wasn't with the friends I said I would be with. In other words, my actions led to distrust.

It can be a difficult lesson for all of us to learn. Trust needs to be earned. And trust these days seems in short supply. The U.S. is a nation of people "sending messages" and "creating images" and doing "public relations work" and "advertising" and convening "focus groups" and "wearing masks" and "putting up a facade" and deliberately deceiving others and even lying to suit our purposes.

One of the reasons we believe in transparency in government, especially in a democratic society, is because it engenders trust. If people feel the government is secretive, if it isn't clear the government is living up to the contract it has with it's citizens to keep them educated and informed about what it's doing, citizens become distrustful and begin to imagine all kinds of suspicious and illegal activity. 

That's where we are these days. We're told U.S. Government surveillance is modest and only pointed at the "bad" guys. Since there's so much secrecy about what is being collecting on whom, the numbers grow that suspect bold faced lies. Why, for instance, does the National Security Agency need a new data storage facility in Utah that will use as much energy as Salt Lake City to store 100 year's worth of worldwide communications? Some no longer with the NSA contend the government is collecting and storing every phone call, purchase, email, text message, internet  search, credit card transaction, employment history, travel record, and most other information on every person in the United States. 

According to information released by Edward Snowden, British intelligence seizes virtually every international phone call and internet activity and shares it with 850,000 outside contractors as well as the NSA. We're told they collected 600 million telephone events each day in 2011. Hard to believe? Not if your government seems to be in the habit of minimizing bad news and often caught in the bad habit of lying.

It happens in personal relationships too. The institution of marriage seems on the rocks. Single moms are becoming more common. Divorce is now above the 50% mark in the country. The only ones who seem to truly want marriage for life with their partners are gays and lesbians; maybe because they've had to struggle together for so long to win the opportunity. Maybe the increasing acceptance of gay marriage will help the institution of marriage.

Marriage is based on trust. If I can't trust my partner not to be having an affair on the side; if my spouse is hiding things and being secretive; if our trusting relationship is tested by thoughtless and selfish behavior, it is hard to trust again. And lying? Try believing an alcoholic or drug addict you've lived with for years when they say they're going to stay clean; and then says, "just let me have twenty bucks."

At least on the personal, neighborhood, local level, we still stand a chance. We can see when people walk the talk; when they mean what they say and follow through. We can walk slowly and deliberately to build trust in a broken relationship, maybe even heal a marriage. We can stand with the addict in interventions to get life back on course. We can be sure the neighbor will return the tool  and the local council member will live up to a promise.

But in a corporate culture hiding behind a purchased media, purchased legislatures, government agencies, lawyers, P.R. departments and lobbyists, trust is evaporating. Why must people abide toxic chemicals in canned goods, baby bottles, water supplies, breast milk, our very bodies? Why must people abide the plunder of the planet when so many are simply left with the waste? Why must "development" mean the de-development of the planet and its life systems?

Do people really trust General Electric will pay their fair share of taxes? Apple? Citibank? Do people really trust the processed food they eat to be healthy and nutritious? Do people really trust that Congress is working for their best interests?

Trusting is a virtue! It's better to be a trusting person than a cynic. Our times and situation make trusting difficult. Nevertheless, we must engage and challenge. We must force the issue. We must call our loved ones and even our enemies to their better natures. Otherwise, we are lost as well. Who can trust a cynic to be anything but cynical, the complainant to do anything but complain. Gandhi says it well, "I do not trust anybody blindly. But it is our duty to have faith in humankind, since we ourselves aspire to other people's confidence."

Carl Kline

Friday, June 21, 2013

In the End, Love

During this season of graduations and transitions in the lives of young scholars, there is a natural opportunity to reflect on the nature of learning and its purpose in our lives. It is a matter that is central to Jewish life and thought. Torah comes to represent far more than a scroll of five books, becoming a term synonymous with a thirst, a hunger for learning. The highest form of learning is Torah lishma/Torah for its own sake. At the same time, learning is never meant to be a realm entirely unto itself, removed from the world and people around us. Knowledge is meant to be applied, to be used for the sake of bettering life, for fulfilling mitzvot, to be concretized and expressed through holy deeds. The very act of learning in Jewish life is itself just that, an act, a deed that has an impact on the world around us in the way of our engagement with text and study partners. 

The nature of Jewish learning at its core is a way of relationship, with people, with text, with God. Torah is meant to bring people together. Traditional learning is done with a study partner, a fellow seeker called a chevrusa. Of the word and its dynamics, the verbal and spiritual root of this partnership means "to join," to connect, from which comes chaver, friend, one with whom we are joined. Learning is meant to be passionate. We bring all of who we are to the learning table, our proclivities and sensitivities, our insights and limitations, our biases and burdens. In the presence of a friend, we are able to be vulnerable, asking, probing, able to say when we don't understand. In the way that kindergarten is meant to teach us all we "ever needed to know", Torah is a training ground for life, the essence of its content reflected in the way of our engaging with it. Competition gives way to cooperation, we learn to listen, to know the thinking of the other, to be concerned for their well-being, to disagree even vehemently but with respect, each as guide and follower, remaining together on the same page. The way of learning Torah is a model for life.

In the Book of Numbers, chapter 21, verse 14, the rabbis identified a fascinating source that reveals the dynamics of Jewish learning as a model for engagement with the world and its challenges. Finding richness in what might easily be passed over as an obscure, if mysterious verse, we are given an invitation to probe, to be curious, to question, all central to true learning. In the midst of telling of Israel’s desert journeys, we are told, In the Book of the Wars of God, Vahev in Sufa/B’sefer Milchamot Hashem, Vahev B’sufa. There are a few more words, equally mysterious, but perhaps offering a hint amidst the haze. The line ends, v’et han’chalim arnon/the streams that form the Arnon. The word for stream and inheritance in Hebrew are of the same root, nachal. Perhaps there is something here about who we are and who we are meant to be, visions unfolding on the flow of time. While scholars suggest that perhaps it is a missing book, an ancient work no longer extant, the question remains, challenging our sensibilities with its irony, what is the Book of the Wars of God?

The rabbis work backwards, wrestling in the Talmud with questions of learning and legacy. They compare children to arrows, the greatest warrior become the teacher who has raised many students, all as arrows in a full quiver. Of such a fortunate parent and teacher, the psalms say, “they shall not be ashamed when they speak with enemies in the gate.” We are challenged, speaking with enemies rather than fighting, right there in the gate, in our own domain. In the immediate context of Torah learning, the rabbis ask, who are the enemies in the gate? Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, his name itself so fitting, his father’s name and role as one, abba/father, says, even a parent and child, or a teacher and student, who are engaged in Torahbecome as enemies of one another; but they do not move from there until they become beloved of one another. As their proof, the rabbis draw on our mysterious verse. Apparently place names, the words Vahev Basufa become ahava basofa/in the end, love. An essential dynamic of nonviolence, we are to persist, not to be dissuaded, not to move from the place of conflict, until a path is opened from heart to heart, drawing out the best in each other, meeting on common ground.

Rashi, the great eleventh century Torah commentator, explains that the Book of the Wars of God refers to battles waged through the book. In the end it is not about milchamot Hashem/wars of God, but about our own battles transformed, carried out with words, struggle expressed in a Godly way. This becomes a nonviolent model of struggle and conflict resolution for all areas of life. Whether in regard to passages beautiful, bewildering, or brutal, we learn a way of engagement with life through Torah. On a beautiful spring day, when the sunshine of peace fills the earth, may the human family celebrate as one our graduation to a new time and stage in the becoming of the world, when there is in the end, love. 

Rabbi  Victor H. Reinstein

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Fortunately, it's still available out there in CyberSpace. If you haven't seen it, you should! It will only take you twelve minutes and it may help you understand the importance of whistle blowers and why war is hell. Vimeo still has it up and running. You can access it there. It's called "Collateral Murder." You know, it's about what the U.S. military prefers to call "collateral damage," the killing of innocents. Since I'd like you to watch it, I'm only going to tell you it involves the killing of several people, including two journalists and the wounding of two children by the crew of a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship in Iraq.

Honestly, screw up your courage and watch it! The government relies on the media and citizen apathy, especially when it comes to unnecessary wars, to keep a lid on unsightly and immoral activities. What you'll see is a war crime. And what has transpired since it happened is the messenger, the person who released the footage, is now being tried for "aiding the enemy."

Bradley Manning has been in prison since he admitted to releasing the Collateral Murder video and other evidence suggesting U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks. He says he did it because he thought the American people should know what was being done in their name. He's now being prosecuted in a military court and faces 149 years plus life behind bars. Someone certainly must be trying to send a message to someone!

The court has barred the defense attorney from saying anything about the Nuremberg principles, a set of guidelines created after World War II to establish what constitutes a war crime. The court has barred any information about the moral or legal reasons why Manning might have done what he did. The court has barred any questioning of the government's unverified assertion Manning harmed national security. And since many of the materials Manning released were marked classified, they can't be entered into the trial at all. Manning is facing what Chris Hedges calls, a "Legal Lynching."

Now he's been joined by Edward Snowden. Snowden is the one who revealed the surveillance taking place under the auspices of the National Security Agency (NSA). We now know that NSA has been fishing in a giant ocean of data on  the likes of you and me, gathering phone records, internet material and email traffic of millions and millions of Americans. Those who don't mind, sluff off this new revelation with "so what, I have nothing to hide." Others don't like the idea of big brother looking over their shoulder all the time. Even worse, those who believe in reasonable government transparency, don't appreciate a government committed to keeping uncomfortable secrets about tyrannical power from their own citizens. Some remember there is a Constitution with protections for the people.

If Manning is receiving a legal lynching, Snowden is already receiving a media lynching. The fact he was a high school drop out is a main story line. He didn't last long in the Army Reserves either, although most stories don't include the information he broke both legs in a training accident. And now the press seems most interested in the girl friend he left behind. Even comedian David Letterman got into the act the other night, saying his girl friend was a ballerina and a pole dancer and why couldn't Snowden have left a video of that.

If it weren't for whistle blowers in a country consistently being shaped and controlled by a plutocracy, operating under the cover of national security and with the consent of most major media, people would surely be rendered completely deaf and dumb. The first amendment is becoming meaningless as essential information for a meaningful democracy is rendered secret, classified, or shredded.

With each passing year the U.S. seems to turn another moral corner. First it was "defensive" war, meaning the government can invade any place, kill anyone, even if there is only a suspicion they might seek to do the country harm. No proof needed. No defense allowed. No trial necessary.  

Then came perpetual war, the "War Against Terrorism." That pretty much covers the waterfront. There will always be someone to chase. Osama was only the head of a many headed hydra and as the U.S. expands and extends military adventures the terrorists will only increase. Especially when the definition of terrorist broadens, as in those who disagree with a particular policy of the plutocracy. 

For example, now Transcanada, the corporation behind the Keystone XL pipeline, has held training sessions for the state of Nebraska law enforcement to deal with non violent protestors under "anti terrorism statutes." Honestly, farmers who don't want a pipeline crossing their farm are now "terrorists?"  What next? Since it's now lawful, according to the Obama administration to target American citizens with drones, are Nebraska farmers at risk? It seems absurd to even say this but worse things have happened in history with governments acting out of fear of the "other," and with the quiet consent of the governed.

Now, the U.S. legal system is being turned on its head. Instead of protecting the person who brings a crime to society's attention, the criminals go free and the messenger is lynched. So Bradley Manning may spend the rest of his life behind bars. In Iraq and Afghanistan and Yemen and all the other places where there are those who would like to do the U.S. harm, they don't need Wikileaks or Bradley Manning to tell them how the government operates. They've seen it! That's why they'd like to do the U.S. harm. And killing the messenger is not going to silence the message.

Carl Kline

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sacred Presence

It has been quite some time since my fingers and this keyboard have had a deep conversation. Writing has always been a stress reliever for me; but work, school and personal crisis put my mind straight into overdrive and finding time to reflect in stillness was next to impossible. It is hard to paint pictures of serene beauty and peace when your life is in turmoil, when there is anything but peace in your thoughts. So, I chose a journey of solitude, to seek peace amidst my inner chaos and to have conversation with God on a level that I have avoided for a long time. After almost two months I can not say I am much closer to resolution, but I've learned that our Creator speaks to us in many ways.
The first time I heard him, I picked up a little book my mother gave me for Christmas by Sarah Young called “Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence” It was a devotional with a little bit of wisdom given for each day of the year. Here it was April 4th and it was the first day I even cracked the binding of that little book. So naturally, I turned the pages to April 4th and the words read:
    “I meet you in the stillness of your soul. It is there that I seek to commune with you. A person who is open to my presence is exceedingly precious to me. My eyes search to and fro throughout the earth, looking for one whose heart is seeking me. I see you trying to find me; our mutual search results in joyful fulfillment.
    Stillness of soul is increasingly rare in this world addicted to speed and noise. I am pleased with your desire to create a quiet space where you and I can meet. Don't be discouraged by the difficulty of achieving this goal. I monitor all your efforts and am blessed by each of your attempts to seek my face.”
As I read the words tears ran down my cheeks. It was almost as if God had wrapped loving arms around me with a promise of wholeness; reassurance that I had chosen the right path for me (difficult as it was) at this time in my life. Yet it also scared me. If God knew the desires of my heart, surely there was also knowledge of my deepest pains and deepest evils. What more would the creator of everything have to say to me knowing everything that I was and wasn't? That was the last day I've read out of that book. However, our Creator is always speaking to us and it was not the last time creation would speak to me.

About two weeks ago I was finishing up my Spring semester at school. It was taking every little ounce of effort I had to even finish the simplest tasks. I was feeling defeated and as I pulled up in my driveway I sat in my car with a heavy heart, wondering if I had made the right choices, wondering if I was on the right path for my life and wondering if there was healing in my sanctuary. I opened the door and there was a bird in the tree singing his little heart out. It was so beautiful that I just listened and allowed the melody to soothe my spirit. Then later that evening, a friend posted a song on her Facebook page by Tamela Mann called “Take Me to the King.” Typically I would have skipped over this song as I don't view God as a king, I believe that title comes from mankind, but I listened anyway and that song spoke to my soul. “So Lord speak right now. Let it fall like rain. We're desperate. We're chasing after you.” All I could do was one of those smiles with tears because I could hear my God once again reassuring me it will be okay.
Over the past week I could not help but wonder how many times the essence of that sacredness would seek me? What made me so special that God would continue to reach out to me? Then it occurred to me, I really am not any more special than the next person.  My joy, pain and sorrow is no more than my neighbors'.  Our creator speaks to all of us all of the time. There is sacredness in the breeze upon our cheek, the raindrop that renews the earth, the song bird perched in the tree, a song playing at the right time, or an excerpt from a dusty book sitting on the shelf. Not everyone needs an extended journey of solitude to find sanctuary in our God. Our Creator is always speaking to us, offering comfort and wisdom, even on our most discouraging days.  All we have to do is create a quiet space in our heart and be open to receive the blessings of sacred conversations, available to all of us, all the time.  In that, I believe we can all find some type of serentiy and peace amidst the stir of echoes.

April Redwing

Guest Blogger

Saturday, June 1, 2013

For the Sake of the Living

There is great opportunity for growth when our ideals are tested in the crucible of reality. In pausing to reflect on our response, to consider how we did under moral fire, a mirror is held up in which to examine perceptions of self in relation to our behavior. In the midst of our collective grief for the Boston Marathon bombing, a grief that will linger and render us mourners for a long time, the question of where and whether to bury one of the bombers has felt like a cruel distraction. So too the backlash in some quarters against Muslims. I am not sure if these two intrusions are part of one xenophobic response. Given that the Oklahoma City bomber, an American and Christian born terrorist, was buried in American soil with little protest, it would suggest xenophobia, at least in part. I suggest that it is also more and deeper than this, having to do with how we express the rage and pain we feel toward one who has so brutally sundered the fabric of life. It is about how we contain and direct those feelings and see ourselves in the process.
With the practical dilemma of where to bury recently resolved, there is opportunity to pause and ask hard questions, to engage in personal and collective self-examination. Until we do that, the dilemma hasn’t really been resolved at all. We have simply been relieved of an immediate challenge, leaving all the unanswered questions as a moral goad. In this place of pause, we find ourselves in the gap between the ideal and the real. It is a place in which to consider how we would ideally like to respond and what values we would like our response to express in relation to how we did respond, both within ourselves and outwardly.

Instructively, this is where we found ourselves in the Torah reading cycle during that contentious week, standing between the ideal and the real, seeking our way forward. Just completing the third book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra, Leviticus, we prepared to move on to the fourth book, Sefer Bamidbar, Numbers. Fittingly, Bamidbar means in the desert or in the wilderness, and so we seek our way. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch speaks of the third book as representing the ideal in its focus on the desert sanctuary, the Mishkan as sacred dwelling, place of communion with God and each other. Resuming the factual narrative, as he puts it, Hirsch writes that the fourth book “shows us the relationship of the nation of Israel, as it actually is, to the ideal of its calling as outlined in the Third Book.”

The question is -- what is our ideal calling, as Americans and as members of all the overlapping communities that add an immediate sense of belonging to our lives? I truly believe that if asked in a reflective moment of their highest values, most Americans would speak of compassion, of graciousness, of a desire to be of service, and on some level even of feeling a bond with all people. So what happens when faced with moral challenge, when raw emotion takes over, when openness melts into the morass of “us and them.” I want to believe that the protestors in front of the Worcester funeral parlor that received the body were moved by pain and identification with the victims of the bombing. The ugliness in their ways of expression, however, spoke more of xenophobia and hatred than of compassion and love.

Values that emerge under stress reflect the depth of training throughout our lives by which we strive to inculcate in ourselves, our children, our communities, our nation the best values we hope to live by. So we wrestle with the question of our response to the burial of one become so evil. That wrestling can be part of our struggle to come to a place of deeper meaning and connection in the face of tragedy, seeking glimpses of the transcendent and ultimate. The way of our response under stress can become an affirmation of humanity in the face of its most brutal denial. Honoring the miracle of life and creation, we struggle to see through tears the twisted distortion of what is done with the gift of life. The human body is a sacred vessel into which is breathed the breath of life, nishmat chayyim. That breath is the soul, neshama. Part of our pain is in the bewilderment that comes of wondering what went wrong, how did such pure breath, as breathed even into this body, become so befouled, the image of God so contorted, yet physically present in the body of a person become so evil? As distant from the Source of life and its breath the bomber had become, we affirm life in the face of such denial of life by responding in accord with the hope of that first breath, in accord with who we would most like ourselves to be.

A calmer response, more in keeping with our ideal response allows us to hold our feelings of grief in more sacred embrace. Our anger becomes one in the way of its expression with our grief, and there is greater wholeness in relation to who we are and strive to be, and in our relationship with the victims, for whom our compassion and love remain unsullied.
That every person is created in the image of God is at the source of the Torah’s affirmation of life, even in death. That the human body is sacred is the reason for the Jewish, as well as Muslim, funeral practice to bury the dead as soon as possible after death. Remarkably, this practice is derived from the Torah (Deut. 21:23) in regard to the execution of a criminal, whose body is not to remain overnight; you must bury even him on the same day/ki kavor tik’b’renu bayom hahu. Though the rabbis made capital punishment a virtual legal impossibility, they draw great teaching from this instance in the Torah of what they sought to avoid. Respect for the body of the most debased is an affirmation of life, exactly what we seek to do in the face of life’s denial, as in the brutality of the Marathon bombing. For the sake of the living, may this be the ideal toward which we strive. 

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein