Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Different Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is America’s favorite holiday. People of every faith tradition and people who disavow them all can come together and share the feast. Community shelters and faith communities open their doors and invite the world to come to the table. Families and friends come together and have a great time. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

This year the mostly white congregation that I serve as their interim pastor will be joined by a black congregation that shares our building with us in a thanksgiving feast. In spite of the fact that the first organized civil rights sit-ins occurred here in Wichita, Kansas, in 1958, the city remains pretty racially divided. There are many people in the community working in the spirit of 1958 to reclaim a greater sense of wholeness in the community. I am thankful for these efforts, but regret we have made so little progress over the last 55 years.

I will miss that party at the church, which is held the weekend before Thanksgiving, because I will be in Georgia, standing with thousands of others calling for our federal government to close the School of the Americas, also known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The rally begins on Friday, November 22, 2013.

One of the places that I hope to visit while I am in Georgia is the Steward Detention Center—the largest private prison in the United States with over 2,000 inmates being held for deportation. The detention center is owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). This company owns and operates 67 private prisons in the U.S. with a capacity of 92,500 beds. With the help of CCA we have managed to turn people into commodities and prisons into a federally funded private business operated for the profit of shareholders. It’s obscene. (Note: my dictionary defines obscene as “a system designed to invite depravity.”)

The main event will happen outside the gates of Fort Benning, the home of the School of the Americas. These demonstrations have made a difference. Because of the courage of those who gather here we have learned a lot about our governments complicity in the war against Mayan people in Guatemala; its support of “Operation Condor,” which involved the military in seven Latin American nations; the work of SOA graduates who have tortured and killed thousands of people in Mexico, Honduras and Columbia, and efforts to further militarize the U.S. economy.

I am looking forward to meeting and hearing speakers like Edith López Ovalle from Mexico, Loren Cabnal from Guatemala, and Héctor Aristizábal of Columbia. All of these speakers will share first hand personal accounts of the work of SOA graduates in their countries. And, of course, we will celebrate the courage and witness of Father Roy Bourgeois, who founded School of Americas Watch thirty years ago.

I have long admired the work of Fr. Roy. I met him a couple of years ago when he was in Wichita to speak. This year I am thankful that I am able to go to Fort Benning and join his ever expanding company of witnesses who call for the closing of SOA and the demilitarization of our hemisphere.

David Hansen

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A New Harmony

A friend recently gave my husband a copy of  A NEW HARMONY:  The Spirit, The Earth, and The Human Soul by John Philip Newell.  It came into our hands in the midst of the reports of the rising death numbers in the Philippines.  

Concurrent with those reports is the ongoing saga of the Affordable Care Act and the many stories of disappointment and suffering that flood our collective consciousness every day as accusations and blame fixing and apologies and political consequences continue to dominate the news.

Two paragraphs in Newell’s book continue to do their work in me.  The first is a quote from Ettie Hillesum, a young woman who lived and died under Nazi rule in Holland during World War Two.  As she struggled to maintain her own humanity in the face of so much inhumanity she wrote: I feel like a small battlefield in which the problems, or some of the problems, of our time are being fought out.  All one can do is to keep oneself humbly available, to allow oneself to be a battlefield.

Newell writes that Etty Hillesums ability to “to look suffering in the face” was what allowed her to “passionately name the falseness of what was happening all around her…..and, at the same time , to know that the battle was being fought out also in the depths of her own soul.”

So, I am thinking now about what it means to “look suffering straight in the face”.  Just when it seems that the suffering of the world can’t get any worse – a typhoon hits.  I want to be rid of the consciousness of it and along comes a book that challenges me to stay with the suffering, to look at it head-on.  The continual coverage of the Affordable Care Act is wearying and yet the challenge is to look it “straight in the face” and to learn to name the falseness of so much that is happening in the world. No wonder Etty Hillesum described herself as “a small battlefield.”

As the drama around the Affordable Care Act continues to play itself out, and the players continue to move about on the stage in often self-serving ways all the while pointing their fingers at other actors, I wonder what this outward drama is telling me about the drama I need to witness within myself.  How is my own brokenness mirrored in the brokenness being acted out onstage?

Looking suffering straight in the face –in whatever way it manifests (and I am more and more inclined to see the conflict over the ACA as a manifestation of deeply seated and unnamed suffering) is not something that can be done in isolation.  It is just all too easy to grab another mystery novel off the shelf and move into an imaginary world where pain and suffering are all transformed into something more harmonious by the last page.

John Newell affirms that “Life’s essential harmony is within each of us.  So is life’s brokenness.  To be part of transformation is to look falseness in the face and to passionately name it and denounce it in our world, and at the same time to clearly identify its shadow within our own hearts and to do battle with it there.”

So suffering and falseness are closely juxtaposed in this challenging little book.  Both need to be “looked straight in the face”. Both need to be encountered within as well as without. 

In recent days, Yeb Sano, the leading Philippines negotiator addressed the UN climate summit in Warsaw.  In a passionate speech, he looked the suffering and the falseness that attend many of the discussions about climate change right in the face.  His willingness to do this on behalf of his own people on the world stage may have the potential for transformation to begin.

In July of 1942, Hillesum wrote in her diary “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end…straight in the eye, and my love of life has not been diminished.”   Newell concludes: “To look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and to see its beauty – this is an essential part of glimpsing the way forward.”

The way of hope and transformation seems, always, to be a way through, not around, the suffering and falseness that attend life at every turn.  We are given so many opportunities to learn.  May we look them straight in the face and be transformed.
Vicky Hanjian
 E. Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943, trans. A.J. Pomerans (London:Persephone, 1999), p. 164
 John Newell, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and The Human Soul, (San Francisco:Jossey-Bass, 2011), p.62
 Ibid., p. 63
 Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, p. 189
 Newell, A New Harmony, p.75

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chasity's Lesson

When I was in junior high school – a seventh grader – I had a best friend.  As a seventh-grade girl, this title of “best friend” was tossed around a lot, but not by me and Chasity.  We lived a mile apart, which is extremely close when you’re growing up in rural South Dakota.  We were nearly inseparable for about three years, until after our freshman year of high school.  After that year, her family moved half an hour away to the city of Watertown and she switched high schools. 

By this time, we were old enough to drive and I had gotten a very old and semi-unreliable car from my parents.  Chasity did not have a car, but since I did, we determined that we wouldn’t grow apart despite her not returning to our same school.  After all, in rural South Dakota, thirty miles is also quite close.  

As our sophomore year of high school commenced separately, we did begin to grow apart.  We now talked only once a week, and slowly, even less often than that.  Finally, after Christmas break arrived, Chasity called me to tell me that she missed me, and that we ought to get together to catch up.  I missed her too, and so agreed to make the drive.  We made plans to go to the mall and then see a movie.

I came inside her new house and received a tour, and then we went out the door.  When we got to the mall, however, I was surprised and annoyed to find that Chasity had arranged for other people to meet us there without telling me first.  I let it pass, thinking that she had only wanted to introduce me to new friends, though I was very disappointed.  I had wanted to spend quality time with her and really catch up.  Over the course of the next couple of months, this happened several more times.  

It took me a few more visits to realize that Chasity was only using me for access to a vehicle, and because her mother trusted me.  If her mom saw me in my car outside waiting to pick Chas up, she didn’t worry that her daughter might be up to no good, or at the very least she didn’t worry as much.  This realization hurt me, and infuriated me.  After all, I was driving thirty minutes to spend time with her, though time with me apparently meant little to her.  

The last time I allowed this to happen was the last time we spoke to each other face-to-face.  I picked her up, and hoped against hope that she would not have arranged to meet anyone at the mall.  As you know, teenaged girls are disinclined to tell each other what they really think, and so I postponed the moment when I would have to say anything.  I was also hoping to give her the benefit of the doubt, and that maybe this time, we would actually just hang out.  

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.  Chasity had indeed texted some of her guy friends to meet up with us.  I find it pertinent to mention that the only people we ever met with were guys, because it was another reason for the growing rift in our friendship.  I was never a flirt like Chas was, and I felt left behind.  I remember feeling defensive of the “compliments” the boys threw my way, but Chasity liked the attention.  I was always rather put off by the things her guy friends said.  I did not encourage any of their interest on the few occasions when I met them.  They were not always the same guys.  All I knew at fifteen years old was that I was in unfamiliar territory, and I was confused and probably a little frightened by the flirting, which was on a more advanced level than what I was used to.  I think back then though, Chasity had more curiosity than I did, and I might have been jealous.  If she had ever talked to me about these things and kept me in the loop of her life, things might have gone differently that night.  As it was, we were immature teenagers who didn’t know how to communicate with one another.  I don’t know whether it ever occurred to Chasity to simply tell me that she wanted to meet up with other people when we got to the mall – perhaps if she had, I would not have felt betrayed and then left out by the flirting that ensued.

The mall was never a busy place in Watertown, South Dakota,  especially not on a weeknight.  As we walked inside and rounded a corner, sure enough, I saw a small gang of guys strutting cockily towards us, and I turned to Chas in disgust, and our confrontation began.  I don’t remember what we said, or how it escalated, but before long we had started shouting, and I remember that we had to take it out into the parking lot because it had been inappropriately loud in the empty mall.  I know that I said the cruelest things I could think of to her, and she defensively shot back the corresponding insults at me.  I called her things like “skank” and “slut” etc., and she called me a baby and a prude and told me to grow up.  I remember getting into my vehicle and yelling after her before I drove off, “Have fun slutting around, hope you don’t get knocked up!”  

That was not the last time we saw each other, but it was the last time we spoke.  We didn't interact if we saw each other, but made awkward eye contact and then looked pointedly away.  This continued for the remainder of our high school years.  However, after our dramatic and extremely final fight, I did not take the high road.  I doubt she talked about me respectfully after that either, but that doesn’t change anything, especially not now.  I returned to my high school the next day and abused her thoroughly to the other girls who had known her, and she was our topic of cruel gossip for the next week or more. Throughout the year, occasionally her name would again crop up for negative discussion.  Even after I graduated and went off to college, I would still sometimes bring her up to new friends of mine if it happened to be relevant somehow, and cut her down all the more. 

She did eventually reach out to me on Facebook in the fall of my sophomore year in college.  She informed me that she had had a daughter, and told me that her baby’s birthday was 10/10/10, and she loved that her baby had such a unique birthdate.  October 10th is also my birthday, but instead of offering her a half-hearted congratulation, all I could say back to her was something indifferent and along the lines of “Yeah, that’s my birthday too.”  The conversation fizzled, and I made an excuse to get off my computer.  She never reached out to me again.  I was at a friend’s house at the time of this exchange, and as soon as I closed the laptop, I proceeded to – you guessed it – bash her.  I told the whole stupid story of how she used me for my car and to lie to her mom, and called her a whole host of cruel names again.  I even said some pretty low things about being annoyed that she’d had her baby on my birthday.  

Chasity died on August 4th, 2013.  She was in a vehicle accident north of town somewhere, and I don’t know anything else about the circumstances of her death.  I found out about her on the radio while I was driving out to the Sturgis motorcycle rally.  I felt like I’d been hit in the chest with a battering ram.  I immediately pulled over and called my mom, and then my sister, and then my dad, to tell them what I’d just found out.  My mom cried with me over the phone… I couldn’t have stood it if none of them had picked up my call.  I needed desperately in that moment to have someone to listen while I cried at the loss of an old friend’s memory.

I think about Chasity almost every day since I heard the news about her death, though had she not died, I probably would have gone years without paying her a single thought.  Unless perhaps a new opportunity for talking trash came up.  We did, after all, spend immeasurable amounts of time together, and we had so many great memories.  You do a lot of growing up between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and we had had everything in common once.  I remember the songs we liked, and some of the silly dance moves we made up to them.  I remember climbing trees together in my shelterbelt, and how once we had laughed so hard that she had fallen, though thankfully not far enough to be injured, and we had laughed even harder.  I remember how we’d endlessly play volleyball, or play catch and practice batting in my yard.  She once hit a ball and broke a window on one of my dad’s trucks parked out in the grass.  We got into trouble that day and hadn’t been permitted to see each other for a week.  I remember what an awful week it had been.  

When I think of her now, I don’t remember the things that led to the end of our friendship, except to feel deep shame in my behavior.  I don’t know why I thought it was okay to say the things that I did about her – I think I told myself that it didn’t matter, and because I was telling people who didn’t know her, what I said would never get back to her or hurt her.  I was right about the second part… what I said never did get around to her or hurt her in anyway as far as I am aware, but I could not have been more mistaken in thinking that it did not matter.  

You see, the main reason I think I talked so much trash was that I thought I was right.  I knew that she was wrong to use me for my car, and I knew that she was wrong to lie to her mom, and I knew that she was wrong to lie to me about it.  But how trivial do those things sound as you read them?  It is tragically comical now, yet those things were enough to tear our friendship apart.  I clung to the knowledge that I was the wronged party, and that she was the bad one, making all the mistakes.  I felt quite high and mighty knowing that I was resisting attention from boys and that I never had to sneak away from my parents, because I was an angel and they trusted me.

When I learned that she was gone forever, I think a part of me realized that also meant that any lingering thought I had entertained of making amends with her was also gone.  I would never get to try and make up for all of my trash talking, and worst of all, I would never get to tell her that I didn’t mean the things I said the night we “broke up."  Worst of all was knowing that she had tried to bridge the gap and I had denied her the opportunity.  I could have let my curiosity take over, but instead I let my own bitterness and superiority rule me. 

So, every day for the past few months, Chasity has crossed my mind in one way or another, and the fact that she never heard my mean words directed at her doesn’t ease my guilt anymore.  Instead I feel disgust, and shame, and regret.  I let my need to be right ruin what might have been one of the closest and longest friendships I ever had.  The cruel things I said about her didn’t hurt her one little bit.  They hurt me.  Those careless, stupid, bitter words hurt me every day, knowing that there is nothing I can do to take them back. 

I will never get to be introduced to her daughter, who I hope has her beautiful dark eyes.  I bet her baby’s eyes sparkle and crinkle at the edges when she laughs just like Chasity’s did.  I can never make right the things I said to her in a moment of anger.  I can only learn from my immature mistakes.  I know now that “being right” will never matter as much as a friendship matters. 

I have since found her mother and younger sister on Facebook, but I don’t yet have the courage to reach out to them.  I hope that sometime soon, I can contact them and find out where Chasity is resting.  I’d like to visit her grave, and pay my respects, and maybe if I am extremely blessed, I might get to meet her daughter after all.   

Pamela Parliament
Guest Blogger

Sunday, November 10, 2013


My wife reminded me that our kitchen faucet was leaking. Since I've made an effort recently to respond to minor household emergencies quickly, and since I was aware of the dripping for a few days, I got right on it.

After taking the top off I discovered that the part that was likely the problem was different from any I'd ever seen before. It must have been installed by the plumber the last time I couldn't stop a leak. In years earlier, all I had to do was replace a little rubber ring and it would work as good as new. But since the inside of faucets have become more complex, with the interior parts all of one piece and costing ten bucks, I'm even less handy than before.

Still, I tried. I went to the hardware (do it yourself) store to get a new piece. I took the old one with me so I could get a match. After looking for the part for about ten minutes and not finding anything like it, I asked for help. The clerk took me to a different aisle and found one with some modest differences. I bought it. Did I mention it cost ten bucks?

It installed easily. I turned the water back on and bingo, there was no dripping. So I put my tools away, congratulated myself, and waited for my wife to come back so I could proudly point out to her that the dripping faucet was fixed. 

Alas, before she got back, I turned on the faucet to wash my hands and the drip was still there. It was as bad, or worse, than before. So I got out my tools again, worked at tightening everything down and stripped some threads. Defeated (I called it the third strike), I put things back together as best I could and waited for the inevitable admission of failure.  

It got me to thinking about water. My Lakota friend tells me that water has rights, just like humans have rights. One of the rights of water is to flow where it will. If we don't recognize this right of water, it may cause us difficulty. Certainly it does! 

Consider basements wet after a heavy rain. Or how about what happened to those folks in Vermont as a result of hurricane Irene and along the Jersey Shore during hurricane Sandy. Some folks are still recovering from the flooding along the Missouri a couple years back and imagine all the time and money they'll need to spend in Colorado after the recent flooding there.

Boulder County, Colorado was hit the worst with over 9 inches of rain on September 12 and up to another 17 inches recorded by September 15. The annual, average precipitation for Boulder County is about 21 inches. That's annual, in a year! So in 4 days Boulder County got more than the usual rainfall in a year. 

This water went exactly where it wanted to go. And it took 1,500 homes with it and damaged another 19,000. There are at least 30 state highway bridges destroyed and another 20 badly damaged. Miles of roadway and rail lines were washed out or submerged. The flood waters covered about 200 miles from north to south and did damage in a total of 17 counties. To make matters worse, some of the 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado were flooded and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reported it was tracking 12 spills, 14 sites with evidence of small spills and 60 sites with visible damage to storage tanks.

Water goes where it will and if it's polluted with all manner of toxic chemicals or with oil and gasoline, watch out. Fracking generated some 280 billion gallons of toxic waste water last year while drilling 80,000 wells across the country. That's enough toxic waste water to flood all of Washington, D.C. twenty two feet deep.

It's ironic that the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center scheduled their annual meeting in Rapid City, S.D. but cancelled as the weather forecast got worse. The theme of the meeting was "water," that resource we all need and want, in our bodies, our fields, and our faucets. But the water that was falling in record amounts as snow, meant members had to sit at home and reflect on why so much moisture was falling again, rapidly, in one place. 

When questions arrive my way I have a favorite place to look besides the internet. The Brookings Library always seems to have some interesting new books on that shelf just inside the door. As I glanced that way the other day, I noticed the latest book by Bill McKibben called "Oil and Honey." McKibben answers the question of big rains and weird weather for me. 

We are experiencing a warmer climate. There is about 5 per cent more moisture in the atmosphere than in the past. So when it comes, rain comes in buckets and the water flows where it will.

Some folks are beginning to call these events like Sandy and the Colorado flooding and the terrible wildfires "Biblical" events. I agree. They  are. The problem is we humans are taking the Genesis story of creation in the Bible backwards. Instead of being stewards of the earth with the Creator we're de-developing the harmonious whole. Our relentless addiction to fossil fuels and the industry's addiction to profits promises to bring us back to chapter one, verse two. The plants and animals will go first (which is already happening) but we humans will eventually go too. We'll be left again with, "and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."

Carl Kline

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance: Erica Chenoweth

Between 1900-2006, campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance were twice as successful as violent campaigns. In this TedxBoulder Talk, Erica Chenoweth discusses her research on the impressive historical record of civil resistance in the 20th century and also the promise of unarmed struggle in the 21st century. She focuses on the so-called "3.5% rule"—the notion that no government can withstand a challenge of 3.5% of its population without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating. In addition to explaining why nonviolent resistance has been so effective, she also shares some lessons learned about why it sometimes fails.

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