Monday, June 30, 2014

There Is No Just War

I'm thinking this morning about all the hoopla and celebration over the death of Osama Bin Laden, one ideologue who killed civilians to make a point. Relief, I can understand. Even grief, in remembering the deaths of the innocent. But this is the same ideologue who used to be our man in Afghanistan, when the Afghans were fighting the Soviets. 

"Our men" change, I guess. They lose favor, like Saddam and Qaddafi. Osama bin Laden lost favor, but he certainly hasn't been alone in using terror as a weapon. So did those other one-time friends of U.S. policy makers.

It used to be that terror against civilians and civilian deaths in pursuit of a just and righteous war were avoided. Augustine included it as a principle in his Just War Theory. He included several precepts in his criteria, all of them necessary for a war to be just. But it certainly couldn't be a just or righteous war if you were killing non-combatants. 

We hear this avoidance mantra periodically from our U.S. military, especially as there are reports of civilian deaths from drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I'm sure the U.S. military tries to avoid civilian deaths. It just makes sense when you're trying to win hearts and minds in a country you occupy.  Still, there are hundreds of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were alive before we invaded.

And that's only the U.S. Consider the "collateral damage" in Sudan or Mexico or Syria or Israel/Palestine or Colombia or Libya or ... you choose! Civilians have become a prime target in modern warfare, often used as sacrificial lambs to advance political or economic goals. Osama bin Laden was an eminently theatrical practitioner of an increasingly common tactic; defeat your enemy by dramatic terror tactics on innocent bystanders. Can we be honest enough in the U.S. to admit Hiroshima and Nagasaki were like that?

What troubles me most is, the vengeance is all so unnecessary. I was reminded the other day by an article by Gareth Porter, that before we attacked Afghanistan the Taliban were trying to negotiate a trial of Osama bin Laden with the White House. Apparently, one of the problems for the U.S. (besides imperial arrogance) was the Taliban wanted Moslem states, including religious scholars and leaders, involved in the trial.

What a missed opportunity! That's exactly who should have been responsible for judging a terrorist who perverted the Islamic tradition. Instead, we started two wars to get Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, against Moslem states. And we say we aren't at war with Islam? It's to bring justice to a terrorist and his henchmen, we say.

If that's true, all of our soldiers and resources should be home now, right? Bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda supposedly in disarray. After all the dead, wounded, disabled, and refugees; after all the debt on the national credit card; after all the wasted resources, human and material, that could have been used for building, not destroying; where are we? The apologists say we must continue our perpetual war against  terror, as our wars against terror have created more terrorists committed to spreading more terror. Be afraid, they  say, and leave things up to us. So people hunker down, afraid, on both sides of the planet. And the terror wars speed along toward the inevitable planetary train wreck.

It's about time civilians in this country decided whether the risks and rewards of the war on terror are worthy of our national pursuit. I'm hearing terror fatigue, war weariness, resource depletion, unfunded human needs. It's time to bring the troops back, close ninety percent of the hundreds of world wide military bases, and create meaningful work for healthy, educated citizens here at home. If we were to forswear our addiction to empire, I believe knowledgeable Muslims, Christians and Jews would be encouraged to spread the true values and tenets of their faiths that abhor notions of holy war. Together, at home and abroad, we could undercut those who would use religion to kill and terrorize.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hagar: Our Sister

Hagar’s story is one of the most difficult stories in the Bible. It seems like something that happened long ago and far, far away. It comes from another time and another place. Hagar is Sarai’s slave, Abram’s second wife and the mother of his child, Ishmael. She is a faithful servant who is exploited and abused by her owner—Sarai—divorced by her husband Abram and driven into exile. She becomes a homeless refugee, a resident alien who has no place to go, no future on which she can pin her hopes, no legal grounds on which to stand.

What can she have in common with us? And yet, now, perhaps three or four thousand years later, she stands before us as the patron saint of refugees and homeless children. 

How fitting that her story comes to us today as we think about the 47,000 children who have crossed the southern border of the U.S. so far in 2014. Experts anticipate that there will be another 40,000 or 45,000 children coming before the end of the year. There are predictions that next year there may be as many as 140,000 children. President Obama calls it a “humanitarian crisis.” I think of it as a modern children’s crusade against war. Today, as we gather in our peaceful settings, Honduras is the murder capital not just of the Americas but of the world—yet we hear nothing about this in the news. We hear nothing about the intolerable violence from which these children are fleeing. We hear nothing about our own complicity in contributing to this situation. It is as if we are being asked to believe they just decided to show up. I suggest that Hagar, our sister, can help us understand this situation. 

Her story is a simple, but not simplistic one that can help us understand the social, political, economic and religious dynamics of what the President Obama calls “a humanitarian crisis.” Hagar’s story does not offer a solution. And the parallels between her story and ours are not exact. But it is my belief that the Bible is a book written by people of faith, for people of faith, who are determined to leave a heritage of hope and a legacy of love to future generations, and the story of Hagar is one of the many stories we should know, not because it is easy reading but because it is so real.

I suggest that we take the liberty of thinking of Sarai and Hagar as archetypes. Both women are driven by their concern about the future, a concern embodied in their desire to have children. This is what they have in common. But this is all they have in common. Sarai is rich, married, powerful, privileged, knows herself to be blessed, but she is also old and unable to bear children. Still she believes that she is in control of her situation and that by taking action she can secure her future, so she commands her husband to sleep with her slave—the first surrogate mother in the Bible. 

In contrast, Hagar is poor, single, powerless, young, an immigrant with not legal status or recourse, and a slave to Sarai, her mistress. A point that is often overlooked by commentators is the disparity between Sarai’s power and Hagar’s powerlessness. Sarah owns Hagar. She has complete control over her body and her life. When Sarai tells her husband Abram to lie with Hagar, Hagar has no right to resist. When Sarai tells Abram to banish Hagar and send her into exile, she has not grounds on which to protest.
The story takes a tragic turn which is reported in Genesis chapter 21:10-16. Sarah says to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman and her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac. . . . So Abraham rose early in the morning and took some bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness. And when the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under a bush. Then she went, and sat down over against him, a good way off. . . for she said, ‘Let me not look upon the death of the child.”

It would be nice if we could say at this point that God comes and rescues the mother and child, and they all live happily ever after, but that is not what happens. God comes to Hagar and tells her to take the child and go back to Sarah and be obedient to her and accept whatever abuse Sarah heaps upon her. In effect it is a divine deportation policy. Hagar and Ishmael are sent back into the very situation from which they fled. Rather than leading Hagar to some promised land, God sends her back into to a place of peril. 

I have never read a commentary that offers any reasonable explanation of this text, so I have come up with my own. I submit that Hagar must return because within the scope of divine love there is no room for permanent divisions based on religion, race, economic class, nationhood, age, or gender.  As Paul writes in his letter to Galatians, “In Christ we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” because God’s love makes all things new. But Hagar tells us that we can create neither a theology of life nor an economy in the service of life simply by wishing the humanitarian crisis away, or deporting it and driving it into exile.

The story of Hagar is a cautionary tale. There are no easy answers. The reasons for oppression and the forms of domination are many. A careful reading of the story of Hagar helps us uncover some of the ways that race, nationality, class, religion, sex, economics and our concern for the future divide the human community. There is no single principle or strategy for social transformation that can address the complex problems and challenges of our time. At the same time, there can be no denial that the status quo is unacceptable. In his last book Dr. King asked the question, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  The question is still before us, and his book is worth reading for his insights are profound.

The Bible does not tell us what happened when Hagar and Ishmael showed up on the doorstep of Sarah and Abraham. We can only speculate. My hope is that they simply looked each other in the face and said, “Good morning. Welcome human being.”

Rev. David Hanson
Painting by Luigi Alois Gillarduzzi

Friday, June 20, 2014


Andy Borowitz has to be one of my favorite columnists. He writes satire for the New York Times. In the email copies I receive, there is always a warning in bold letters that it is satire. Otherwise, many might find what he writes quite believable.

Some weeks ago, his Borowitz Report included a picture of Pope Francis in his mitre, what the satirist called his "pointy hat." The column, reportedly sent from Vatican City, said Francis was "seriously considering losing the hat."  Borowitz quotes the Pope as saying, "I know I'm going to catch hell for saying this but it looks kind of dumb." Then he suggests Francis would prefer something different , maybe a baseball cap or something.

I shared this picture and column with some of my students and asked them if they found it credible. They were mostly confused. They were aware that Francis was charting some new courses for the church but weren't quite sure about a Pope in a baseball cap. It led to a conversation about knowing context, who your writer and audience is and the kind of literary form the writer is using. Knowing the writer was a satirist made all the difference.

Two of the recent Borowitz Reports have been about Iraq. There's plenty to satirize in this ongoing tragedy. One aspect of the tragedy in the U.S. is the continuing media attention given to some of the architects of the war, who regularly try to salvage their disastrous invasion and occupation. 

For instance, Dick Cheney is in the news again, offering scathing criticism of the Obama administration for not leaving large numbers of U.S. military personnel in the country. Here's a person who did much to deceive the American people about the reasons for the war, justified torture at every turn, and now trembles to leave U.S. shores for fear of being arrested in other lands as a war criminal. 

On June 17 Borowitz had a column on Cheney. The headline was, "My Thoughts and Prayers Are with the Iraqi Oil Wells." According to Borowitz, thinking about this new crisis in Iraq and the danger to all those oil wells was keeping Cheney up at night. The column concludes with Cheney saying, "If I prevent one drop of precious oil from  being spilled, it will have been worth it."

His colleague in promoting an unnecessary war, Paul Wolfowitz, said on a Sunday talk show we should have been willing to stay in Iraq for 60 years, like we did in Korea. This is the same guy who back in 2003 said the Iraqi people would welcome us, it wouldn't cost us much as we could be paid back through Iraqi oil revenues and he wouldn't support a long term presence.

Rather than spilt oil or a spilt treasury, we ought to focus on spilt blood. There's been plenty! We all know someone who left blood on Iraqi soil. They are our brothers, our friends, our neighbors. The war has gone on long enough that some spilled blood there more than once. Others left flesh and still others their spirit. Some came home dispirited, with that original life giving breath of God squeezed out of them.

What agony it must be for them to see the violence continue, even escalate, when they were given to believe that their sacrifice would ultimately lead to a democratic Iraq. And how difficult to see a force more extreme than Al Qaeda develop and take root in places where they fought and died.

And think of the Iraqi people. Thousands are dead or wounded. Hundreds of thousands are refugees. Estimates are that 70% of deaths from the violence of the war are civilians.

Now John McCain says there are no good options for the U.S. in Iraq. But all he can recommend is more of the same and joins  the "blame game."

Borowitz writes on June 19, "Congressional leaders left the White House on Wednesday 'deeply frustrated' that President Obama had not found a swift resolution to the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that began in the seventh century A.D." John Boehner reportedly said, "This struggle between Sunnis and Shiites has been going on for almost fifteen hundred years. That means President Obama has had ample time to fix it."

Of course, Sunnis and Shiites lived peaceably together in Baghdad and other places before the war. The war exacerbated religious tensions, especially when we installed the Maliki government with no intensions to be inclusive of the Sunni minority. Let's put responsibility where it belongs! The Bush administration ignored the wisdom of many as to the outcome of this disaster and now we have a President who is going back into a continuing catastrophe with more advisers, more weapons, more violence.

Are we so devoted to being number one in military strength, economic dominance and exploitation of the world's resources, that we must accept perpetual and pervasive warfare forever? Are we so lacking in basic compassion and diplomatic skills that we are willing to accept a politically polarized world like we see in our own country? Are we so devoid of leaders with wisdom and foresight to chart a course out of the morass of war?

Carl Kline

Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Serve and to Carry and Raise Each Other Up

As my wife and I biked along a path that followed the Belgian coast of the North Sea, something caught my eye. It was ever so small, not sure how I noticed it or why it made me pause. There among the gray gravel of the path’s shoulder beckoned the warm tone of a tiny piece of brown flint. I got off of my bicycle and bent down to look, lifting up the small stone in my hand. I am looking at it now, taken from my pocket where it lives, becoming ever smoother as it is carried through the days amidst the small stuff of change and keys. It was probably its differentness that caught my eye, though differentness is subjective, really its own uniqueness that stood out in the warm sun of salt air and sea breeze. Smooth edged and rough in its multi-faceted way, soft to the touch when absently turned in my fingers, whether in my pocket or upon my desk. Like that day when I raised it up to look, it lifts me up too, to muse and reflect, to pause along the path.

A piece of creation itself, present in its essence from the very beginning, sometimes we raise up that which is already intrinsically holy. Sometimes it may be an object that we turn in our hands or gaze at upon a shelf that has been carried to us through the generations. In the process of our carrying and communing with things along the path we are raised up in turn, to see more clearly the way ahead and within. At times the material things of our lives have no intrinsic meaning, even as day-to-day deeds we do of necessity, empty but for the meaning we imbue them with. Not to avoid, but to engage with all the material things of this world, of deeds and details so easily mundane, to raise them up to God. So the Slonimer Rebbe teaches, one should engage with all matters of the material world and raise everything up to the Holy One, for then one surely joins the lower and upper worlds

To raise up, to serve and to carry, each with a unique role, every person and thing imbued with purpose, that is the essential meaning, the thread that runs through the weekly Torah portion that is called Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89). The name of the portion sets its tone and meaning. It begins with a census, naso et rosh/raise up the head, as in to count heads, insuring that each one counts. It is a census of the Levites according to their families, to each one a particular task in carrying the Mishkan, the desert sanctuary that is made to be portable, to be lifted up in all its disassembled parts and lovingly carried when the people journeyed, making camp and breaking camp, never knowing which and when on the way from place to place. Of each one who lifts up and carries and in the process is raised yet higher, the Torah says of their role, la’avod u’l’masa/to serve and to carry. It is a beautiful expression of a way in the world that is for each of us, to carry the sanctuary in all of its parts every place we go, to make every place and thing holy to God.

Lift, carry, bear, raise up, of the word naso itself, I held it up to closer view this year, to see more clearly its meaning and form, seeking with others to know its part of speech and use. It is an ancient grammatical form, the infinitive absolute, used only in Biblical Hebrew, an imperative, a bit softer perhaps, as a smooth piece of flint among the gravelly stones. In Hebrew, its form is called makor/source, as in that from which the river flows. And so it sets the tone for all of the ways of lifting up as the portion of its name unfolds. Most of all it is about people, raising up each one to their own unique task, to serve and to carry/la’avod u’l’masa, of the same root as naso. In the knowing that we are needed, in this world for a purpose all our own to carry, every head is raised a little higher. God’s face too is raised, as we pray it be upon us, the source of the Priestly Blessing/Birkat Kohanim in this portion, yisa ha’shem panav elecha/may God’s face be lifted unto you, v’yasem l’cha shalom/and grant you peace. It is peace, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches, that holds together all the disparate elements of creation, fire, wind, water, dust of earth. To serve and to carry, ever seeking to raise up the Mishkan in all its parts and find such union among ourselves, so beautiful in our diversity, in essence all the same. The princes of Israel/n’si’ey Yisra’el, each one a nasi, bringing the gifts of their own tribes, and all the gifts are exactly the same down to the smallest detail. More than the gifts raised up in all their sameness, the princes raise up each other, none to compete, none be let down or diminished. Of the same root as naso, the nasi is one raised up to a special task, “bearers” of the people, as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch describes the role of leader, whose most important task is to raise up the people, “to elevate the nation to equal height.”

And so it is in marriage, as in every partnership and social contract, raising each other up for the common good, the commonweal that is greater than each one. The second part of the two parts of the Jewish marriage ceremony is called nissu’in/raising up, of that same root, naso. I think of my beloved, cycling together along the North Sea, cycle of life turning, raising each other up, a smooth piece of flint to remind. 

Victor H. Reinstein

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


My oldest brother was named after my father and the original Protestant (since he was the original protester) Martin Luther. Since dad began his ministry in the Lutheran Church, it seemed appropriate to him to give his first son a middle name honoring the church founder.

I'm not sure if it meant that much to my brother. I do remember how he sang in church with gusto. I often sat with him in the balcony and even there suffered some embarrassment as he sang loudly but not well. I often wondered if people thought it was me. I was also curious if people below could hear what I was hearing. I'm not sure if Martin  Luther sang well, but given other things we know about him my guess is he also sang loudly and with gusto.

My younger brother was named John Mark, after two of the Gospel writers. He's turned out to be a writer as well, not on religion, but close enough. He mostly writes on ethics in international business. I realize that sounds like an oxymoron to some of us, and my brother and I have had our arguments and debates over the years. But still, he does the hard work of promoting a factory like Alta Gracia, one model company paying a "living wage" in the Dominican Republic and setting an example for others and he travels to China lecturing about business ethics, including respect for human rights.

My sister was named after a queen of Persia with the middle name of Dawn. You know, like the sun rising! Growing up, she always expected me, as her younger brother, to treat her like a queen. And I know that these days, she sees the dawn most days since she's an early riser. Much more so than I.

And me, my parents named me after my uncle. No famous church leaders or Gospel writers or royalty. My uncle worked in a clothing store. He and my aunt took me into their home many summers, as they were childless. And they took my father into their home after his mother died, as he was on the tail end of twelve boys. My uncle's legacy of simplicity and generosity is one that still challenges.

It used to be that most names were given as symbols, as challenges to live into. Biblical names were replete among Christian communities, all except Judas. 

Names are still symbolic to some. Take the Washington Redskins football team for instance. 

A few days ago some 50 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the commissioner of the National Football League saying that "racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports." They asked Roger Goodell to personally support a name change for the Washington team.

This request came on the heals of the controversy over the racial remarks of Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. If the NBA can move so quickly on a racial issue when it applies to African Americans, why is the NFL so slow to move on concerns of Native Americans? One wonders if it isn't a question of power, not ethics or morality.

Still, the power base of Native American communities is changing. Most European Americans are oblivious to the new developments in Indian country, especially with the continuing work of tribal colleges. Self development is happening. Now, if only the white liquor establishments in places like White Clay, NE would get out of the way. It seems some people like keeping racial minorities addicted, whether to alcohol or cocaine, and too many of us ignore these moral atrocities in our midst.

There are also new relationships developing. The Cowboy and Indian Alliance (CIA) is one. This is a group of Indian people opposed to the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline, and what they call the "new Indians." These are ranchers and farmers (Cowboys) under the gun of eminent domain. A foreign corporation (Transcanada) will take their land for the pipeline to send oil, most likely to China, and the Cowboys have no recourse, except organizing a moral and political effort.

The CIA held a week long presence on the national mall in D.C. And there are now three camps in South Dakota along the proposed pipeline route. There hasn't been much news coverage of these efforts, perhaps because the camps are devoted to prayer. I attended one a few weeks ago supported by the Rosebud tribe. Some sixty of us gathered for prayers, dancing and dining together. Half were Indians and half Cowboys, from as many as a half dozen states. Their stories were troublesome and yet heartening, as they were struggling with enormous principalities and powers that could devastate people of lesser courage.

I especially like their name, and acronym, CIA. Their cause has more intelligence for the earth and the basic necessities of life than any government agency. And they are centered on the primary intelligence we all so desperately need, how to live in a sacred manner on this planet. 

Names can be meaningful. 

Carl Kline

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

America: Melting Pot or Patchwork Quilt

Some members of my congregation have asked about contemporary theologians who are addressing some of the hard issues of our time and what they are saying about them. One of the contemporary movements in theology is called “postcolonialism” or “postcolonial theology.”

In the last century the center of Christianity was in Europe and the United States, and so theologians from these parts of the world were the ones we read. In the twenty-first century this has changed. The influence of Christianity on the majority culture in Europe and the United States is in decline, but in Asia, Latin America and Africa it is on the rise. Theologians from these regions of the world are bringing a fresh perspective, and they are challenging some of our deepest assumptions. This makes ours a very creative time, and a controversial time of change. 

One of the issues postcolonial theologians have identified is the close relationship between the Protestant Church and the majority culture. For the last 500 years, since the Protestant Reformation, or maybe even for the last 1500 years if you go back to Constantine, Christianity has been closely aligned with the state. We have become used to thinking of the U.S. as a Christian country. Postcolonial theologians are saying that we, and they mean particularly white Protestant Christians, need to create some distance between ourselves and the majority culture. We need to disengage from the culture so that we can re-engage the culture in a more prophetic way. We have confused the “way of Christ” and the “way of culture,” and now we need to create some distance between these two ways of life. As you would expect, there is some push back coming from some people who think that this is throwing the baby out with the bath. This is too radical.  

One of the people who is pushing back is Patrick Buchanan. He is not a theologian, but he served as an advisor to three presidents. He has been on the inside of the debate on American policy and culture. Here is what he says in his book, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? (St. Martin’s Press, 2011). “The old concept of America, as a melting-pot nation, was about melding immigrant Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews, Poles, Greeks, Czecks and Slovaks into Americans. The melting pot was about the abolition of diversity and the Americanization of immigrants . . . “(232).  He goes on and says later in the book, “Our intellectual, cultural, and political elites are today engaged in one of the most audacious and ambitious experiments in human history. They are trying to transform a Western Christian republic into an egalitarian democracy made up of all tribes, races, creeds and cultures on the planet earth. They have dethroned our God, purged our cradle faith from public life, and repudiated the Judeo-Christian moral code by which previous generations sought to live” (400). And he warns, “We are trying to create a nation that has never existed . . . [and] we are killing the country we inherited—the best and the greatest on earth” (403). And he warns that the death of Protestant Christianity will be the death of what he calls the “European Tribe.” This is strong stuff.

A few years before Buchanan sounded his warning, the late Samuel Huntington wrote a very important article called “The Hispanic Challenge” (Foreign Policy/2004/03/01). In this article he said, 

"The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—and rejecting Anglo-Saxon Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril."

It turns out that Buchanan and Huntington are the cousins of two biblical prophets: Ezra and Nehemiah. When the Babylonian empire conquered Israel they destroyed the city and the temple and carted off the nation’s elite and took them into exile. When this period of exile ended, Ezra and Nehemiah returned to their homeland and they were dismayed to find that nothing had been done to restore the city or the temple. Things were left in ruins. It is understandable that they came to the belief that the remnant that had been taken into exile was now being called by God to restore the city and rebuild the temple. They wanted to restore Israel to its proper place in the community of nations—and the path to glory began with rebuilding the city walls and the temple. Nehemiah was very critical of people who weren’t prepared to go along with his plan. Here’s what he said.

"In those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashded, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called down curses upon them. I beat some of them; pulled their hair out. I made them take an oath that they would not give their daughters to their sons in marriage or take their daughters in marriage to their sons or for themselves.”  

He wanted to restore Israel to its glory days, and he believed that the way to do this was to protect and preserve the purity of their faith tradition. He was also worried about economic issues. Intermarriage was one way that immigrants could gain access to the land and to a whole host of social programs. And, worse yet, through intermarriage Israel would expose itself to foreign influence in its internal affairs. Families would have divided loyalties—half to Israel and half to the foreign homeland. The Nehemiah of old, like Huntington and Buchanan today, wanted to give no one a “passport to amnesty.” Protecting the tribe was the priority.

Postcolonial scholars want us to disengage from this way of thinking. They tell us that the Bible is an important book of our tradition, but it is not the infallible, inerrant Word of God. As a biblical people we have to choose the narrative from our tradition that we want to use. How shall we organize our community? What values are dearest to our tradition? We can be a people of faith who refuse to collaborate with the Ezras and Nehemiahs of our time not in spite of our faith but precisely because we are people of faith.

One of the oldest passages in the Book of Deuteronomy says “A wandering Aramean was my father” (Deut. 26:5) In other words, our ancestors were refugees—whom the Lord brought to a land flowing with milk and honey. And the Lord said to them, “You . . . and the aliens among you shall rejoice” (Deut. 26:11). In another passage from Deuteronomy we are told, “You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt” (10:19). And in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19: 34, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” And the Jesus tradition teaches us to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, cloth the naked. We are called to greet and welcome the humanity that meets us every day, and join with others in the struggle to create an open society. 

The Bible is an important book of the Christian tradition. But it is not an infallible word. It is a dialogical word. The Bible is a dialogue, a conversation, being had by people who are members of a faith tradition. The United States has always been a nation with many cultures. Those who advocate for a return to the melting pot of the past are asking us to embrace a vision of an America that never was and can never be. Today we can embrace a vision of a multicultural America that is what our nation could become.

In celebration of this vision I want to share a poem by the late Maya Angelo, whose life we must celebrate today. This is an excerpt from A Brave and Startling Truth, a poem she wrote for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations:

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through the causal space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we discover
A brave and startling truth . . . . 

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged may walk into evenings of peace
When  religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not
Kicked away by nightmares of abuse
When we come to it. . . . 

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
And without crippling fear
When we come to it

We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonders of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

Rev. David Hansen