Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Alternatives to Violence

If we'd like to hear some alternatives to violence, the news isn't good! This morning, as I write this, the death toll in the school shooting in Pakistan was 148. These were mostly kids killed, the future of Pakistan. 

Last night it was one of the top three stories on the evening news. The second story was about the 6 murders in Pennsylvania by the Iraq war veteran, who in the midst of a huge hunt for him, apparently took his own life. Some reports gave grisly details. One of his victims had his/her throat cut. The vet died of cuts to his midsection. There's debate about whether he suffered from PTSD. He obviously suffered from something. And I guess we don't have to look to ISIS for grisly. 

The third story was about the shooting at the cafe in Australia. What can I say? Even "down under" suffers from the madness.

Wars didn't even get a mention last night. And the continued killing of young black men has probably run it's course in the media. They gave Trayvon and Michael and Eric some print or air time, but they can only keep the attention of a tired readership for so long, before we go to sleep again. Still, if you saw the video of 12 year old Tamir in Cleveland being shot and killed, it's hard to go to sleep on that one without having nightmares.

So here we are, just a few days from Christmas, when Christians around the world celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. Fortunately, the path to peace is clear. The Prince of Peace has a program. We simply need to heed it!

We have the knowledge to provide a path to peace! Never in our history have we had so many minds teaching and writing about it. There are Peace and Conflict Studies programs at leading colleges and universities all over the globe, including at our own SDSU. We have African American Studies and Women's Studies and Native American Studies programs to help us grasp the history of our separation from each other and what we need to do to become one people. 

Organizations like the Einstein Institute in Cambridge, MA support research in nonviolent social change. That research makes the history of the human community nonviolently throwing off dictatorships and oppressive systems available to all, often in several languages.

We can teach and learn the skills of peaceful conflict resolution. There are programs available in conflict resolution, violence prevention, bias awareness and peer mediation for teachers and school systems. Organizations like CRC-Global out of Nyack, NY are taking these programs to schools and young people around the globe. They have trained people right here in Brookings, enabling them to provide these skill building resources to children and youth in the Northern Plains. These programs can make a difference, giving the troubled child skills to confront their troubles creatively.

There are organizations implementing both the knowledge and the skills of peacemaking in situations of conflict around the planet. One of my favorites is Peace Brigades International. Started in 1981 at the request of Mothers of the Disappeared in Guatemala, unarmed volunteers from other countries accompanied these courageous women working for  knowledge about their husbands and sons who had been "disappeared" and for basic human rights. Over the years, working in El Salvador, Colombia, Indonesia, Nepal, Mexico, North America, Sri Lanka and Guatemala, PBI volunteers have developed, in the field, the ways of peace, often at great personal risk.

And we have available to us the spiritual grounding for a pathway to peace. All of the world's great religious traditions teach a way of peace. None, rightly understood, propose a path of violence or war. We certainly see aberrations in all the traditions. And religion is often used by those in power, or seeking it, to justify hatred and violence. But the great majority of religious leadership and adherents in any of the traditions will decry any religious justification for abandoning a path to peace. Simply put, there is no spiritual grounding for violence.

Jesus said, "Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you." I know someone who prays daily for the person who abused her as a child. I know people who struggle daily to love their enemy. I think of Martin Luther King counseling love to civil rights workers suffering body blows from their "enemies." But King made clear it was a "tough love" he was advocating. It was a fearless love. Because real love, as the Bible makes clear, casts out fear.

Increasingly, those of us in the U.S. are a fearful people. And there are many who have a stake in keeping us afraid and making us even more fearful. They make guns and video games, drones and nuclear weapons, tanks and body armor, bushmasters and security systems. We face what the apostle Paul called principalities and powers. It will take some spiritually grounded, skilled and knowledgeable people, to set us on the right path again.

There's an effort underway to provide a few young people with that foundation in knowledge, skill and spiritual grounding. You can access the effort on the web at:  In the interest of transparency, yours truly is involved in this effort. In the face of the horrendous escalation of violence we see around the planet, one can do no less.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

With Humility and Hope

We learn of hard-heartedness from Pharoah, of what it means to divide people into “us and them.” We learn from Pharoah the arrogance of power and privilege, of hearts and ears that cannot hear a people’s cries for freedom and redress. In the weekly Torah portion Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43), we learn of the transformative power of humility, of what it means to step back from who we have been as individuals and as a nation and to embrace another way. Only in stepping back, in turning, in bowing our heads, can we then embrace another, honoring the space in which the other stands, the lives they live. Jacob has been arrogant, callous until this point, and now he says katonti/I am small. Humbled, he is able to wrestle with himself and come to a new place of recognition, able to see his brother Esau and the place in which he stands. Only then is his name changed to Yisra’el/Israel/One who wrestles with God, only then is he able to be the progenitor of a nation. Only then, when the individual Jacob is able to recognize his own arrogance, is the nation able to change and be transformed through humility.

That is where we are during these terrible days, black men cut down on city streets by those who represent the state through badge and uniform and none are held to account. We come face to face with ourselves, with the arrogance of power and privilege, and none are held to account. Encapsulating the arrogance of a nation in Ferguson, the white police officer who killed Michael Brown said after his acquittal that he would do nothing differently. And perhaps so too for us, nothing any different, with another acquittal only a week later in New York of the white police officer who killed Eric Garner, choking the breath out of him as he pleaded for his life. On the Sabbath morning, Jews sing out in prayer, Nishmat Kol Chai/Let the Breath of Every Living thing praise God’s name. Each one needs to be alive, breath still within them to praise God. We are all joined as one, filled with the breath of God from birth. Each one who has died so brutally is our own, our own beloved child, grandchild, brother, spouse, Michael, Eric, and truly our own child, twelve year old Tamir Rice, shot and killed by police as he held a toy pellet gun, no other way found to determine danger or way of response. 

Grieving with their families, we honor the memories of Michael, of Eric, of Tamir. We affirm what should be obvious, that black lives matter because all lives matter, each one created in the image of God. We are ashamed as Americans in needing to be reminded of such a basic truth, shaken from complacency to see through the lens of immediate trauma the pernicious effects of racism in the day-to-day lives of fellow citizens. 

Filled with horror and heartache that joins us as one, we all draw on our own particular experience as individuals and peoples to help us understand the experience of others. Jews know what it is like to be marginalized, to be the other within cities we thought to be ours, within nations in which we thought we belonged. As Americans all, we dare not minimize the pain that is felt today by our African American sisters and brothers. Jews are uniquely called, challenged from out of our own experience, to feel and express solidarity, and to act for the sake of justice. The Torah’s cry for justice is not meant to be as empty words falling on deaf ears. Justice, justice shall you pursue is a mitzvah, a holy commandment! It is meant to be heeded and made real, not foreclosed upon in the way of grand juries who preclude the pursuit of justice before a court of law.  Our memories of slavery are old, from long ago, memories ever renewed in the Torah’s call to remember, you were strangers in the land of Egypt. We are to know the heart and soul of all who are oppressed. We know of institutional hatred and discrimination, too often renewed, psychic scars to remind, meant to be a source of empathy. We know of state-sanctioned terror, when those in uniform have stood by or abetted the murder of Jews, when a uniform of the state offers no sanctuary. We know what it means when good people stand idly by, when courts and police are not there equally for all, coming instead to be feared and avoided.

It is our choice, which way we will go, whether in the way of Pharoah’s arrogance in which all lives do not matter equally, or in the way of Jacob’s transformation, change beginning with humility. Of the incomplete task of civil rights and of dreams deferred, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words continue to speak with immediacy from the days of the Civil Rights Movement: “Pharoah is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began but is far from having been completed…. Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is…. To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child” (The Insecurity of Freedom, pp. 85-86). Each one a child of God, each one is our own, Michael, Eric, Tamir. Black lives matter because every life matters. With humility and hope, we reach out in solidarity, seeking the way of change and transformation, of justice for all.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Thursday, December 18, 2014

That They May Dwell in Safety

The annual holiday season is always a time of reflecting on issues of peace and well being, on reasons for gratitude.  This year is no different than any other.

As I sat in conversation with my husband over lunch today, there was a savory pot of soup bubbling on the stove.  The lights on our Jade plant “Christmas tree” sparkle softly even in broad daylight.  Our Hanukah menorah is ready in the window, the box of tiny colorful candles and the matches ready nearby.   Our rabbi has reminded us that the Hanukah lights are for pure enjoyment.  They are to serve no functional use but to be a source of joy that allows for the flow of gratitude for all the miracles in our lives.

It is a perfectly clear day.  Earlier, a long morning walk with a dear friend began the day’s activities.  Then there was time to write a liturgy for a preaching engagement at the end of the month.  There will be dinner with friends and Torah study tonight.  Life feels warm, energizing, blessed, and supremely safe.

As we ate our lunch, we reflected on how safe we are.  At night, we turn off the lights for sleep without a thought about whether our sleep will be interrupted by anything (except, perhaps by a sleepy trip to the bathroom!).  We wake in the morning in the safe awareness that our day will probably unfold pretty much according to the events we have written in on the calendar.  

We come and go, day in and day out, without ever locking our doors –even on retiring at night.  We travel to the grocery store and fill the tank with gas, do pick-up and drop-off with our grandkids and never question whether we will get back home at the end of the day in safety.  We set dates for dinners and celebrations and do not question whether our friends will make it to our home alive and well.   We live in safety - - -supreme safety.

At this time of year our minds also turn to the great stories of our combined traditions - - stories of infants and families threatened by oppressive powers, of a baby floating in a basket on a river so that his life might be spared; of another baby spirited out of his own country to a foreign land so that he could live to grow to adulthood.   We think of a people historically oppressed by Rome – not permitted to practice their religion, brutalized by the threat of death and destruction as punishment for pursuing the most mundane of daily activities – like prayer, like celebrating Shabbat, like reading their sacred texts.   No safety.

We think about children dying from random bullets gone astray, child victims of police excess, parents who can never be sure that they will be able to grow their children to adulthood. We think about whole countries under siege – held captive to the violent excess of governments and movements that make safety a laughable dream for another time - -another life.    No safety.

We think about children on the move, trying to make their way to some other “promised land” where they might be able to find safety and discover only treachery and abuse and, often, a ticket that returns them to their starting point.  We think about parents who cannot insure their children’s safety and whose only option seems to be to let them go.  No safety.

Somehow, as human beings, we have thwarted a holy vision.  The words of the Holy One through the prophet Ezekiel promise humankind something so different:  I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely……They shall be secure on the soil…..They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; and they shall live in safety and no one shall make them afraid. (Ezekiel 34:25-27)

As we move ever more deeply into the cosmic darkness that attends the winter solstice, may it be with the prayer and the intention that we join with the ever increasing light that follows to create a world of greater safety for one another.  May we create a supreme safety for the next generation of children so that they may grow to healthy adulthood and take up the task in the service of the generations that will follow them.

Vicky Hanjian

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Economic Democracy

My best course in economics was experiential. It took place while we were living in New York City, first on Broadway and 120th. street, then later on Riverside Drive. I was in graduate school and my wife was working to "put hubby through," what we called getting her PHT. Her salary was modest so we had to pinch pennies.

We shopped at the Coop grocery store over on Amsterdam Avenue, between 124th and 125th. Street. It was right on the edge of Harlem and a diverse but mostly poor constituency shopped there. We would take our two wheel shopping cart the few blocks to the store, fill it up and pull it home. We were eating hamburger then and would buy it at the Coop for 89 cents a pound (this was in the 60s). When we fried it up at home, half of it disappeared in the pan of grease. Actually, we got a half pound of meat scraps and a half pound of water and fat.

After eating these burgers I usually felt ill. Sometimes it meant the runs. Not feeling well it was harder to focus on my studies or other tasks before me. When I didn't feel well I didn't perform well. When I didn't perform well, I realized, I was less likely to be rewarded. Less likely to be rewarded, I was probably fated to eating Coop burgers, and the cycle would be repeated.

Working in the Youth Department at the nearby Riverside Church, I got to know lots of kids from Harlem and other poor communities in the area. They were not all superhuman. Some would never be able to escape the cycle of poverty in place in their "hood." Some few had the chance to leave, as they had special gifts or incredible survival skills. Visiting in their homes I saw and began to understand the cycle of poverty in all its manifestations, not just poor food.

In some apartment buildings there were children playing in the stairwells all night. The older kids had to go to school in the morning so they had the only bed. The younger ones had to sleep in the daytime. Rat bites were common. One apartment I was in was flooded as we stood in the kitchen. The neighbor upstairs had been giving a child a bucket bath, the bucket had spilled and the water came through the porous floor into the apartment below.

Try it! Get a good nights sleep with rats crawling through the walls, children playing outside the door and walls so thin the wind blows through them. Then get up and put in a good day's work, at hard labor.

Eventually, because we had a car at our disposal, we would drive across the Hudson River, pay a bridge toll, and shop at a grocery store in suburban New Jersey. Hamburger was 69 cents a pound, it was still intact after frying, and we didn't get sick. Our groceries were always cheaper than at the Coop, even with the toll and gas figured in.

Besides, there was fruit in New Jersey without blemishes and greens that weren't wilted. Most of the time at the Coop, there weren't any fruits or vegetables, even wilted or blemished.

It's hard to believe but this was half a century ago. We still have millions of people caught in a cycle of poverty, perhaps more than in the 60s, in the richest country in the world. What's wrong with this picture?

At one time the U.S. waged a "War on Poverty." This was the slogan of the Johnson administration that got lost, as Martin Luther King so eloquently pointed out, in a different war, the war in Vietnam.

Then the country had a huge "peace dividend" under the Clinton Administration. Here were resources to be used for the strengthening of the commons. And that dividend disappeared, squandered in two more wars and tax cuts for the privileged.

Now there is a partisan Supreme Court that  has given even more economic power to the privileged to influence politics in Citizens United, and may well dismantle the only limited and flawed health care effort the U.S. has been able to muster in the face of big insurance and big pharmaceuticals.

Political democracy without economic democracy is not possible. When the top 1% have most of the wealth and resources, political decisions are made for their benefit and the 99% can go hang. And God help those on the bottom of the ladder, because the political leadership can't or won't.

I'm looking for a true populist movement to appear on the scene. Perhaps it had its beginnings in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The country needs people who care that this is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have an adequate program of health care for all. People need to care that many of our seniors are food insecure. People need to care that counties in South Dakota have off the wall unemployment rates. People need to understand the cycle of poverty and work to mobilize fellow citizens to accept their political power and reclaim their economic power as well.

David Korten has written, "The proper goal of an economic democracy agenda is to replace the global suicide economy ruled by rapacious and unaccountable global corporations with a planetary system of local living economies comprised of human-scale enterprise rooted in the communities they serve and locally owned by the people whose wellbeing depends on them."

As some work to disenfranchise the poor from voting (if you don't have a car and don't need a driver's license, where is your picture ID?), we need people working to include the poor in an economic democracy. You can't have one democracy without the other.

Carl Kline

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A UN Peacemaker

Being the daughter of a UN staff is always overwhelming. You change cities, you change friends, you change everything. Sometimes you dont change anything; its just the UN staff member who changes cities. That was the situation when my mom first joined UNICEF. She was very happy and so was everybody. During the time she was working in India I didnt know how risky it was to be a UN official. 

Then one day, after 6 years of hard work in  India, she got a posting in South Sudan for emergency duty. The family was again very happy. But now I actually started thinking that mom is going away to a different city, a different country, a different culture and to a place which was war stricken. She was very excited because she loves her work and profession. But I was scared because I love my mom. I didn't express myself because she would have been hurt. But I knew whatever she’d do was for the betterment of the family. 

She was sent there for treating kids who were affected by war. She was there for them. Life was tough. There was no fresh food and water borne diseases were prevalent. Being a vegetarian, she could not even think of eating meat. She had to take care of herself and of the children she went there for. 

War and peace doesn't affect people till someone from their family is in such a situation. They cannot empathize till they know how severe it is. Being a UN official is not easy. People think you get lots of perks but everything comes with a price. My mother works in such difficult conditions because of her profession and because doctors can see anything but hate to see a person dying. 

Who would ever think of going to a place where there is a deadly disease. But that is never the case with my mom. I dont know how she can love her profession more than she loves herself. After South Sudan my mom chose to work in Sierra Leone. Yes, the same Sierra Leone which is affected by EBOLA.

She has been there for almost 2 months. She never sounds scared. She is happy and confident. Many things about EBOLAhave been published in newspapers and shown on television. That makes me scared but it never affects her. She is always that lively. She went there when Ebola was at its peak.

I dont have much to write about this because I have no idea whats its like to be there. I am just writing this because peace is not not having war,but it is that place where our body and mind are also at peace. They should be disease free. And my mom is working towards attaining this goal of peaceful mind and body. 

She is my inspiration, she is helping to attain peace in her way by making people disease free. And mom, I am so proud of you.

Swarangi Joshi
Guest Blogger


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Militarism, A necessary Evil?

Militarism is often regarded as a necessary evil.
The “evil” part is understandable. We heavily invest our financial, natural, and intellectual resources in this system, yet our return on investment is dismal. For all the promises of security and peace, we have enjoyed little of either. Moreover, militarism leaves its well-known wake of physical and emotional suffering, environmental destruction, social stresses, and spiritual disintegration. Militarism is regarded as an evil because it is ruining us on many fronts.
The “necessary” part is, in a way, also understandable. What are we to do in the face of brute behavior around the globe? Civilians are beheaded, innocents are held hostage, villages are massacred, communities are terrorized, and so on. In response, we wield our tools of coercion and harm, with the hope that military force will defeat those who use violence to achieve their goals.
Of course, those who suffer the consequences of military force return, sooner or later, with new attacks, new hostages, and new terror. And we respond, again, with our arsenal of coercion and harm. Despite the futile cycle, we believe that military force is necessary because we see no better option.
Necessary evils make us uneasy. One would think that it is the evilness in the equation that causes distress, but perhaps it is the certainty of necessity. When we encounter a necessary evil, maybe our first question should be: Necessary for what purpose?
In regard to militarism, if we are to be frank, the popular view comes down to this: Militarism is necessary in order to protect ourselves and others from suffering, and, if it fails on that count, then militarism at least enables us to take revenge on those who we believe cause the suffering.
For many people, this is where the investigation of necessity ends. However, if we are going to keep pumping resources into militarism, it is in our interest to look deeper. Why do we want to invest so heavily in protection and revenge? This question might feel ridiculous, but our answer has great bearing on many lives and communities, including our own.
Most of us hope to live a life of happiness and ease, with all that we need, in a sustainable environment. Unfortunately, our interests in protection and revenge do not serve this vision well. If we live life in a defensive stance, we are unable to enjoy ease. If we are more concerned with security than openness, we lose the ability to engage easily with the life’s flow of changing circumstances. If we want to exact revenge whenever we are hurt, we sabotage the possibility of a sustainable peace. In other words, the core drivers of militarism work against the life we envision.
When threats and crises present themselves, we have more tools at our disposal than just protection and revenge. Mohandas Gandhi, who famously experimented with the possibilities of nonviolent social change, coined the Sanskrit term satyagraha to identify a method for transforming troublesome situations. Gandhi proposed that satya (truth) combined with agraha (firmness) creates a useful social power that does not rely on harming others. Gandhi often referred to this power as “truth-force.”
Satyagraha is an adherence to truth as it unfolds. Since many perspectives are necessary in order to see what is true, satyagraha offers a way to create change that recognizes both our incomplete understanding of any given situation and the wisdom that others have to share. It is a way of directly engaging with others to work out the difficult aspects of life without resorting to coercion, harm, or ill intention. Satyagraha is the social power which arises when we act with kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and service.
Key components of satyagraha include: changing ourselves as a means of changing the world; touching our adversary’s heart as a means of changing the world; maintaining kind intentions without exception; attempting to refrain from harming others; offering selfless service; and employing means consistent with the ends we desire.
If satyagraha is not a familiar concept, and if the history of its application to threats and crises was not included in our education, then we have a whole new world to explore. There are many traditions of nonviolent social change, all offering alternatives to our tools of protection and revenge.
As we educate ourselves about the techniques and successes of satyagraha, we may find that militarism is, ultimately, an unnecessary evil.
Clark Hanjian