Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Inner Life of Nonviolence

Clark Hanjian, coordinator of the Satyagraha Institute in August of 2015, was also the leader of an "Inner Life" session each day during the two week event. 

He has compiled those materials in a package available to all. We present the site where they are available to you, hoping that you might find in them a deeper path to your own way of living nonviolence.

Carl Kline

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Recently I took a trip abroad to a place I’d never imagined I’d be visiting – Cuba. I had the opportunity to travel there for an American Foreign Policy course my school was offering. I went into the experience not really knowing what to expect other than cars from the 1950s that my dad insisted I take tons of pictures of. What I gained from the experience was more than I ever imagined. Being immersed in a completely different culture and way of life for 10 days can really have an effect on someone. 

The first thing that surprised me about Cuba was the history. I’ve taken courses in Latin American politics and learned about Cuba’s extensive history, but being there and seeing it first hand was something I never expected. Walking through Old Havana, you could see old forts that looked more like castles, military camps, and architecture that resembled what you’d find in Italy, Spain, or France. It was not just run-down shacks that most Americans        envision. It was so much more than that.

One of the most amazing aspects of Cuba was the vibrancy of the culture. It was apparent within the first couple of days that the Cuban people valued the arts much more than we do in the U.S.. There were beautiful paintings and murals everywhere, art galleries around every corner, and schools dedicated to art, music, dance, and theatre throughout Cuba. The elementary school we visited had the artwork of the students on display throughout the room, and our group consensus was that these fourth grade and fifth grade students were better artists than most of us. It was apparent that they did not have to drill their students with the information to pass standardized tests like we do here in the U.S. Children were exposed to all aspects of learning, from art and music to science and gardening. Learning first hand was a major component of the Cuban school system.

My biggest takeaway from my time in Cuba, and something I think all Americans could learn from, is the desire of the Cuban people to follow their dreams. When we met with a doctor to discuss the medical system there, one of our group members asked if they were lacking medical professionals because so much more money could be made in industries like tourism. She almost seemed as if she hadn’t ever thought about it, and explained that if that’s the case, they weren’t meant to be doctors, saying she was born to be a doctor. She went into the profession because she wanted to help people, not because of the pay, and that was truly beautiful.

People chose a profession that they were passionate about, and you could see the effects of that. The culture was vibrant because Cuba is filled with artists, musicians, and dancers. The people weren’t just worried about finding a career where they make the most money, and although they may not have had as much materially, they seemed so much happier. We need to take a lesson from our Cuban neighbors, slow down, and do what makes us happy. Once we stop living for money, we will truly live. 

Kathryn Meggan Ust

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jesus & Guns

There are far too many people who read Scripture without any context. I'm grateful to Walter Wink, a New Testament scholar who opened my eyes to the context of "turn the other cheek."

According to Wink, in the time of Jesus it was alright to backhand your slave, your wife, your child, your inferior; to put them "back in their place." Since the right hand was the only hand you used for human interaction (the left was reserved for wiping one's bottom, still a custom among the poor in many places), you would backhand your inferior on the right cheek, the only cheek where backhanding would work. According to the laws of the day, this was allowable.

When Jesus says to the slave or wife, "turn the other cheek," he's not saying be a doormat for Jesus. The abuser can't backhand on the left cheek. The only option is a fist to the face. According to the laws of the day, that was not allowable! That was assault, even in the patriarchal society of that time.

Jesus is saying to the abused person, be fearless. Stand your ground in dignity as a child of God. Make your abuser recognize you as their equal and if they are going to unlawfully hit you, they will strike you as an equal. 

The other two scenarios that follow in the Gospel of Matthew, in context, counsel the same moral jiu jitsu, putting the burden of being in the wrong on the abuser. 

Most Bible translations also have Jesus saying "resist not evil." Wink contends this is a mistranslation, likely from the time of King James, when the King had a personal investment in having his subjects believe evil shouldn't be resisted. Wink claims the sentence should be translated "resist not evil in the usual way." 

And the usual way of resisting evil, then, as now, was violence. 

I'm not a Greek scholar. But thinking about it, I can't understand how Jesus would tell us not to resist evil. Isn't that what his whole life was about, resisting evil? Whether it was the work of demons, the oppressive laws and actions of the religious and political elites or the money changers in the temple, he resisted evil to the point of crucifixion.

Nowhere in the Gospels can I find Jesus suggesting we use violence or get weapons, even for self defense. But unfortunately, I still recall the church that wanted to start a men's group. In order to assure a good attendance they raffled off several free guns. And recently, Jerry Falwell Jr. counseled all the students at the "Christian" Liberty University, to buy guns and carry them, as he does; ostensibly, to take out any Muslims that might come their way. 

Let's face it. People with guns kill people. People with guns get angry, get fearful, get threatened, get drunk, get stupid. People with guns have an easy response to threat, especially a gun that's concealed and carried. Even if Jesus is in the heart, the gun is quickly in the hand.

This past month it wasn't just a massacre in California, following on a similar bloodletting in Colorado. There was also the guy in Texas who didn't like his neighbor parking in front of his house. When he told him to move the car and was denied, he shot his neighbor in the head. 

Didn't Jesus say, love your neighbor?

Or how about the waitress in the Mississippi Waffle House. She told a customer he couldn't smoke in the restaurant, they argued, and he pulled a gun from his waistband and with one shot to the head killed her. All over a cigarette.

People with guns are dangerous. It's not a backhand today. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser, if the abuser owns a firearm. And firearms are used more than any other vehicle in suicide. We have even coined the phrase in this country "suicide by cop." Is it any wonder, with guns in every home and on every street corner, that we have a climate of fear and terror permeating the very fabric of the culture. We only seem to know how to escalate, not de-escalate conflict.

And in the midst of it all, people like tough talking Donald Trump, encourage the "roughing up" of contrary voices, the beating of the homeless as some of his followers get "a little carried away," and as of late, celebrating "how his poll numbers go up" with every new massacre. My God, what have we become?

In the Senate on December 3, our two Senators in South Dakota both voted against:  (1) permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists; (2) ensuring that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and providing a responsible and consistent background check process; and (3) improving mental health and substance use prevention and treatment.

Both Senators should be retired as quickly as possible, after apologizing to all the family members of the gun dead on their watch. We need believers in Jesus, not the gun lobby, in Congress.

Carl Kline

Friday, December 11, 2015

If We Build It ...

For nearly three years now I have been watching the process of the building of a new drawbridge across the opening of Lagoon Pond.  It is an important stretch of road engineering as the bridge connects two of the main down-island towns and provides the most direct access to the island hospital for many residents.  The drawbridge also provides emergency access to a safe harbor for many boats when severe weather threatens.

The old bridge was built some 80 years ago, give or take a year or two.  A few years ago the drawbridge began to get stuck in the raised position when the weather interfered with the smooth operating of the lift mechanism.  This invariably happened in the heat of the summer when the bridge traffic was at its height, resulting in long lines of cars on either side of the bridge and great uncertainty about when the bridge would again become functional.

About five years ago, a temporary bridge was constructed alongside the old one and subsequently the original drawbridge was dismantled to make way for a permanent new bridge.

Almost daily trips into town over the temporary bridge provided a close up experience of the complexity of bridge building.  Long before anything appeared at the traffic level of the bridge, months of nearly invisible work took place as piles were driven deep into the sand beneath the water’s surface at the mouth of the lagoon.  Tons of steel reinforced concrete formed a massive foundation.  The hidden infrastructure took months to be completed before any of the more visible structure of the bridge could begin.  Gradually, the form of what would be our beautiful new bridge began to be visible and the work moved more quickly.  Just a week ago, after much anticipation and waiting, the first cars drove across the new bridge and the connection between the two towns was made secure for another few generations.

The process of bridge building became a visible metaphor for the process of building lasting relationships between individuals and communities and nations.  Much of the building was taking place as the US Secretary of State was in the Middle East attempting to broker a complex and peaceful resolution to Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  So much of the work was invisible – done out of sight.  

Indeed probably the most important part of the bridge will never be seen or appreciated by the thousands of drivers and bikers and walkers who will traverse its span in the coming years.  Very few people will be privy to all the secrets of engineering and construction that undergird the safe passage we will enjoy.  All that we will know is that we now have a much safer and much more dependable drawbridge that allows easy passage from one part of the island to another.

Such is the nature of diplomacy and statesmanship.  It is often a slow and subtle process, hidden from the view of the many.  We only know it is working because our lives are made a bit safer.  Much like bridge building, it is a slow and laborious process.  Waiting for the bridge to be finished often required a good bit of patience on the part of island residents when the road was closed down to one lane to permit work to continue, but the collective vision of a better bridge kept us from becoming too frayed at the edges during the process.

As our spirits are shattered over and over again by ever increasing occurrences of terrorist attacks and gun violence there is great temptation to consider violent and vengeful response - - something quick that will make a satisfying hit against the enemy - - an exercise of military power that will make a definitive statement.   The slow work of building invisible infrastructures that will create viable connections between human beings who distrust and hate each other is not very dramatic and it takes a long time for the results to become visible and effective.   But bridges can be built - - the practice of nonviolence builds the patience required - - - and therein lies hope.

Vicky Hanjian
Photos: Wikipedia, Vineyard Gazette

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I Have Seen Your Face as Seeing the Face of God

I share two recent experiences, each having challenged me to consider the nature of our engaging with others who are different than us, whether in ways great or small. Just before the Sabbath last week, I received a note from the Chassidic Talner community announcing an “emergency” Malaveh Malka. A Melaveh Malka, which means, “accompanying the queen,” is a gathering of learning, song, and food on Saturday evening following the Sabbath meant to help carry the spirit of Shabbat into the week. The small Talner synagogue had closed a few years ago. A Chassidic group that traces its line to Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (eighteen century), it is now a loosely organized community, remarkably open and accepting in its welcome to all. I had spent some six months praying with them prior to starting my own small synagogue, imbibing their spirit of learning, prayer, joy, and warmth. I was fascinated by the idea of an “emergency” Melaveh Malka, the invitation emphasizing the need to come together to sing and learn, most importantly just to be together in a time of such heartache. It was just following the murder of Ezra Schwartz, an eighteen year old from the Boston area spending the year in Israel, whom I realized many at the gathering would have known, and just after the Paris attacks, and so much else that we had enumerated in our own synagogue that morning. 

As much as I was drawn to attend, I hesitated, knowing that for all that joins me with that community, there would be very different assumptions and views of the world and of others underlying our presence at the table together. I decided to go, finding wholeness and affirmation in the presence of people I care for and in whose spirit I delight, whatever the differences between us may be. There were moments in which I felt discomfort and moments in which I felt comforted. I was asked to share a few words of teaching. Hesitant at first, I accepted the honor and was deeply moved by the response, underscoring in my own teaching that which every heart feels, that which is universal and beyond social or political views. We all know of heartache, however much our ways of responding to and expressing pain, and hearing the ache in another’s heart, may vary.

A few days prior to the Talner gathering, the very day on which Ezra was murdered, I had attended an inspiring interfaith gathering at Hebrew College, a local school of general Jewish and rabbinical studies. As part of the opening gathering, words of introduction were spoken that drew on the Torah portion called Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43). Jacob is making his way back to Canaan after twenty years, having fled his brother Esau’s anger and his threat to kill him for stealing the blessing and birthright of the firstborn. Word comes that Esau is approaching with four hundred armed men. With an elaborate plan in place to placate Esau, successive rows of mothers and children, herds and flocks were to precede Jacob in the hope of softening Esau’s heart. Suddenly Jacob went ahead, putting aside the elaborate plan in favor of direct and spontaneous encounter. We are told that Esau reciprocated, that he ran to meet him and embraced him, fell upon his neck and kissed him; and they wept (Gen. 33:4)

A short time later comes the verse that was offered by way of introduction to the interfaith gathering. Jacob has asked Esau to accept his gifts, which Esau declines, saying, I have plenty my brother. Jacob then says, “I have seen your face as seeing the face of God (Gen. 33:10). Expressing the purpose of the day’s gathering and of interfaith dialogue in general, the hope was offered that we strive to see the face of God in the other, especially in those who are different than us, those for whom we may feel unfamiliarity, and even some distrust. 

It is a beautiful thought and one that I hold to. Much of the commentary to that verse, however, is not so hopeful or open, reflecting some of the Jewish people’s struggle through time to find its place among the nations, the struggle that comes of being a minority, that comes in response to persecution. However real these dynamics are, the great challenge is to understand them and not be stunted by them. A classic rabbinic commentary sees Jacob’s words as flattery for the sake of survival, suggesting that amidst the realities of this world it is allowed to flatter the wicked. Sadly, this reflects an inability to hear Esau’s tears or see the possibility of change or openings toward new possibility. Offering a different view, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) writes: A kiss can be false but not tears that flow at such moments…. It is only when the strong, as here Esau, fall round the necks of the weak and cast the sword of violence far away, only then does it show that right and humaneness have made a conquest

Whether in relation to those of one’s own people whose particular Jewish, Christian, or Muslim choices may be different than our own, or in relation to others of a different path to God and life entirely, our challenge is to see the face of God in the other, to receive their tears, and to seek a way forward together. When invitation is offered to sit and share, to gather and learn, a connection is made that waits to be affirmed. It is up to us to respond. It is in the Torah’s own words, without need for commentary, that we learn the way of response from Jacob, words to be spoken with sincerity of heart to all whom we encounter on the way, “I have seen your face as seeing the face of God.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
Picture by Peter Paul Rubens - The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, 1624

Sunday, November 29, 2015


It was only a few weeks ago that TV carried pictures of the little Syrian boy who drowned trying to escape the violence in his homeland. The picture touched the hearts and conscience of people the world over and those with intact homes, especially in Europe, opened up their arms to those seeking refuge from the terrors of warfare.

Now, since the attacks in Paris, each day brings news of doors being closed as the demagogues spread fear, doing the work of the terrorists for them. 

Donald Trump is now suggesting that Mosques in the U.S. may have to be closed and Muslims be registered. Any Syrian refugees coming into this country would be one too many. Apparently he is joining Chris Christie in prohibiting even Syrian child orphans from entering the country.

What's even more appalling is how both Donald Trump and Ben Carson stereotype people of certain ethnic and religious backgrounds. This is despicable. Carson is now implying that Syrian refugees will have some "mad dogs" in their midst. So none of them can be trusted to enter this country? What's next, concentration camps?

Governors are also getting into the act. Governor Pence of Indiana refused entry to two Syrian families being placed in Indianapolis in cooperation with Catholic Charities. One of the families had been in a Jordanian refugee camp for three years, the norm for many entering this country. It takes that long for them to be vetted, especially with the modest resources the U.S. Congress makes available. Fortunately, the Governor of Connecticut stepped up and welcomed the families to his state.

The irony is, these politicians are playing right into the hands of groups like ISIS. Those in the ISIS camp are terrorists after all, and the most effective weapon terrorists have is fear and division. If only they can pull off some horrific acts like 9/11 and the Paris killings, fear will drive people and governments to do vengeful and stupid things; like try to kill an ideology with bombs and missiles instead of ideas and compassion; like driving wedges of fear between people who would otherwise be neighbors in solidarity. ISIS would love to see Muslims all over the globe persecuted for their religion. What better evidence could there be for their demented holy war ideology.

If we were honest with ourselves, we'd admit our government has been creating new terrorists left and right because of the kinds of responses we've made ever since 9/11. Motivated by vengeance and fear, the mirror is now reflecting back on us. I keep remembering how Muslim leadership in Afghanistan offered to put Osama Bin Laden on trial,  only to be denied by the Bush administration. Instead, we responded with 14 years and counting of warfare in Afghanistan and the creation of ISIS from a destroyed Iraq.

But there are wiser and more compassionate voices out there, almost unheard in the babble of media sensationalism and among all the terrorism "experts." A statement was released by the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, distressed by calls from elected officials to halt the resettlement program.

"These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris," said the statement by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the conference's committee on migration. "Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive."

The National Association of Evangelicals also asked for compassion. “Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president. A push by Republican presidential candidates to ban Syrian refugees "does not reflect what we've been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country," said Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy at World Relief, an evangelical organization that helps resettle refugees. "Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris ... doesn’t reflect who refugees are."

And then there are the 18 U.S. mayors who have publicly welcomed refugees to their cities. They know that since 2001, the US has admitted roughly 750,000 refugees and none have been accused of involvement in domestic terrorism aimed at the US homeland.

The real problem is, Monday morning after the Paris massacre, war industry stocks in the U.S. rose dramatically. 1.6 billion of military aid is going to Saudi Arabia to continue bombing hospitals and killing civilians in Yemen. And in the U.S., people are afraid.

The culture of fear can only birth a culture of death, and death is seldom a considerate and fair minded opponent. The best opposition to a culture of fear and death is the fearlessness of the lover, schooled in a culture of life.

Carl Kline

Sunday, November 22, 2015

One Humanity

A few weeks ago I came home from work to find my back door shattered by a brick and my home burglarized. Many things were missing and it was quite a shock. The day of the burglary, the emotion I felt more than anything else was dehumanized. How could someone walk in my house and take my things without seeing that I too was human? As if somehow the labels I had built around me – caring, teacher, good neighbor, ally, hardworking, etc. – should protect me and bad things should only happen to bad people. Ha! Through the course of the investigation I learned that our things had been kept in an apartment just around the corner from my home. Standing in front of these apartments you can see my house. It was a reminder to me that although the physical distance may not be far, the worlds we inhabit can be vastly different, especially in a virtually still segregated South. So my roommate and I are left wondering, how do we bridge that gap? How do we get to know our neighbors? How do we keep from living in fear? How do we ensure that we treat each other as humans and not as our stereotype or labels?

As I think this week about the responses several governors and others around our country have had in response to the Paris attacks and refugees, I see several overlaps. People feel hurt and betrayed by the attacks, just as I felt when my home was burglarized. It is easy then to live in fear. It is easy to say “I didn’t deserve this” and demand retribution. It is easy to close yourself in to only the world you know already. But this response will not bring healing. It will only further dehumanize both ourselves and the perpetrators. I am reminded of a Teaching Tolerance article titled, “There are no bullies, only kids who bully.” In the same way perhaps it could be said, “There are not burglars, only people who burglarize” or “There are not terrorists, only people who terrorize.” Here I am reminded of each person’s unique humanity.  Our momentary actions do not need to be our permanent identity.

Can we find it within ourselves to look beyond labels of religion or nationality to the human inside each person applying for refugee status? Can we have conversations about how to bridge our misunderstandings? There may be miles separating us and our worlds may be very different, but we all want to be seen as human because in the end that’s what we all are.

Jennifer Arnold

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Veterans Day

Last evening the Brookings Inter-Faith Dialogue met at the local Islamic Center. Since we had just celebrated Veterans Day, the theme for the evening was the relationship of religions to war and returning warriors. Two local veterans shared their stories, giving some context for comments from others present. Almost immediately, a third veteran denounced the idea of "holy war," saying no matter what name you give to the divinity, God doesn't ask us to kill each other. Local Muslims agreed, citing the Koran and the conviction that groups like ISIS are misusing and abusing their Scriptures and religion.

The conversation led me to remember that Veterans Day used to be Armistice Day. It was celebrated at the end of the First World War. Cessation of hostilities between Germany and the Allies took effect at 11:00 AM on the 11th. day of the 11th. month in 1918. It was declared a national holiday and remained Armistice Day till after World War 2. The idea at the time was World War 1 was "the war to end all wars."

In establishing the national holiday, the U.S. Congress declared: "Whereas the 11th. of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed; Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations …" 

Then there was World War 2! Once again, there were celebrations as the "greatest generation" returned. Given the destruction and global character of this war and hope for the future, the United Nations was created in 1945, where the world community could talk out their differences instead of going to war.

Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in the U.S. in 1954, maybe because we began to understand that we were always going to have veterans to honor because our wars were unending.

The other remembrance from the Inter-Faith gathering was a contribution to the Christian understanding of warfare provided by an early theologian by the name of Saint Augustine. He lived from 354 to 430 during a period of time when the Christian empire needed to be defended. So Augustine developed his theory of a "just war." What are the conditions one would have to meet for warfare to be considered "just?"

He cited seven, all of which should be met for a war to be considered a "just war". 

1. A legitimate authority must make an official declaration of war.
2. It must be a last resort. All peaceful means of resolution must be exhausted.
3. It has to be waged with the right intention; to secure human rights; protect innocent life, etc.
4. There must be a probability of success; the situation after the war should be better than before the war.
5. War must be waged for defensive, not offensive reasons.
6. The means must be proportional to the ends.
7. Combatants must be distinguished from non-combatants. Civilian populations must not be attacked.

Obviously, these principles have not been at the forefront in governmental circles of so called Christian nations. Even though they are clearly dated criteria, were they to be honestly followed in decision making, we'd have far fewer veterans to honor and far fewer casualties abroad.

For instance: (1.) The U.S. Congress refuses to accept their constitutional authority to declare war. (2.) The historical record is increasingly clear that President Bush intended to invade Iraq from day one; it wasn't a last resort though the administration tried to make it look that way with their "weapons of mass destruction." (3.) You mean Iraq wasn't about oil; Vietnam about ideology? (4.) Fourteen years into the war in Afghanistan, are things better? And Iraq? We'll make things better in Syria with boots on the ground, right? (5.) Why have U.S. Special Operations forces been deployed to 147 countries this year and why isn't the National Guard still guarding the nation, here, in the nation? (6.) Let's not even talk about nuclear war and how the missiles are still aimed and armed. (7.) These days, more civilians are killed in conflicts than combatants. Check the recent documents on U.S. drone strikes and the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Clearly, veterans should be honored. We honor them best when we provide them and their families with the things they need and deserve, especially when they return home. And we honor them best when we make sure far fewer of their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, are remembered by memorial walls and fields of white crosses. 

Carl Kline

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gandhi & Jesus

I had the opportunity to be in the presence of a friend and mentor for close to three weeks this summer. His name is M.P. Mathai and he comes from India. We first met in India in 1982 at the Institute for Total Revolution, a rather formidable title for a rather modest place.

The Institute was located in the state of Gujarat on a few acres of land with some simple buildings for eating and sleeping, a large shade tree under which we carried on our discussions and a few rice fields where we leaned how to plant rice. There was nothing spectacular about the site or the circumstances or the participants. But the experience enabled a quiet revolution of perspective and practice in those who were there. 

Under the thoughtful and loving eye of Narayan Desai, son of Gandhi's personal secretary and founder of the Institute, we learned about Gandhi's idea of nonviolence as a way of life. From the East and from the West, some forty of us, ate, played, prayed, learned and lived together for three weeks. In the concluding evaluation of the program, Narayan praised the way the group cared for the sick. He saw this as the most meritorious indication of having learned nonviolence. In essence, nonviolence for him was about a life of service.

How hard it is to open the mind to the reality of a different way of being in the world, without violence. Even in a society that calls itself Christian and takes as a model one who suffered and died on a cross for others, without violating anyone, even praying for those who put him there, we can't seem to believe one can live in a world without violence. In the U.S. we put Jesus at arms length, as people in India put Gandhi at arms length, as if treating people with respect and love, healing the sick and touching the lepers is only possible for God men or those far holier than us. And in our disbelief, even despair, we fail to look deeply into alternative methods of resolving conflicts without resorting to threat, coercion, harm and violence.

Lately I've been questioning whether human beings are inherently rational beings. We seem to make all these irrational choices, like expanding and updating nuclear weapons arsenals or promoting oil drilling in the Arctic, all threats to the future of life on the planet. So being with and hearing from the likes of an M.P. Mathai give me hope for the future. For he is able to communicate a clear and hopeful worldview of Gandhi, who has thought through the dynamics of violence and nonviolence and charted a path toward a less violent future. If only more would follow.

Mathai came to the states to participate in the first Satyagraha Institute. Some forty five people joined him in the Black Hills to learn more about Gandhi's worldview and his understanding of nonviolence. The program included knowledge about the theory behind nonviolent social  change; skill building in conflict resolution; opportunities for deepening the inner life through meditation, prayer and yoga; and the broadening of one's sense of community across all those barriers of race, class, gender, orientation, culture and country that separate us.

One day the Institute participants visited Ellsworth Air Force Base to visit the Air and Space Museum and learn about the nuclear mission of the base. And then the group refurbished the peace and ecology symbols at the end of the runway with a new coat of paint and replaced the poles and flags on a Native American prayer wheel, all in the hope that the planes coming and going would never again release a nuclear weapon.

On the last day of the program the group went to Bear Butte, a sacred site for many native nations. As one walks the trails there, one sees many prayer flags blowing in the breezes and tobacco ties left by Indian people. There are even stones lodged in the crooks of the trees carrying prayers for those who left them. 

That's my favorite symbol for an eternal prayer at Bear Butte. One puts the prayer in stone and as long as it stays in place, the prayer is offered into the heavens.

There's a great hunger on our lonely planet. It's not just for food that sustains the body. It's also for food that sustains the Spirit. And we need to reclaim those teachers like Jesus and Gandhi who have shown us a path of selfless service and suffering for others, modeling effective and nonviolent methods of social change. 

Before he left the country Dr. Mathai spoke at our public library on "Jesus and Gandhi," the title of a new book he is writing. He is convinced from his scholarship that the life of Jesus was the most formative influence on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the cross the most formative symbol and the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament one of the most significant writings. 

Both of these teachers, Jesus and Gandhi, are more relevant in our time than they were in past ages and their ideas are as fresh, though ignored, as ever. Let's resurrect them!

Carl Kline

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tolerance & Acceptance

We hear all the time that we need to practice tolerance. We need to tolerate different races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, and so on. While tolerance is a virtue and necessary for a peaceful society, we will not achieve true peace until we begin to preach acceptance. Tolerance promotes the fair treatment of an individual; it prevents discrimination and bigotry. Acceptance, though, goes further than tolerance.

When you tolerate something, you are saying you can put up with a certain behavior or certain viewpoint. Acceptance, on the other hand, means you welcome a certain behavior or viewpoint, even if it is different than your own. You can have tolerance without acceptance, but there is no acceptance without tolerance. You may be wondering why it is so important that we change our framework to preaching acceptance rather than tolerance. Why must we accept another’s views that are different from our own? Isn’t tolerance sufficient?

Tolerance is a good step, and a step that many people in our society still need to take, but the world we live in is filled with differences. There are cultural differences, religious differences, ethnic, national, and historical differences; there are racial differences, ideological differences, and the list goes on and on. Instead of saying "I can put up with this viewpoint or behavior or race that is different from my own” it is imperative that we begin to think “I will accept this viewpoint or behavior or race that is different than my own.” Some people may think if you accept someone else’s difference you are conforming to it. That is simply not the case.

We can accept that someone has a different view on something without conforming to these ideals. Accepting the fact that someone has a different outlook than you does not only promote peace, it promotes freethinking and the betterment of society. If we are able to accept that a person’s opinion is different from ours when we are challenged with a different idea, we are not only open to new perspectives, but we are able to strengthen our own convictions through discussion. This is an extremely important aspect of development and one that modern political philosophers have long advocated.

Next time you hear a politician or leader talk about tolerance, commend them, but push further. Preach the practice of acceptance. Do not stop at “I can put up with this” but try “I am welcome to new ideas, cultures, religions, etc.” By pushing for acceptance, we are pushing for a world that is open, a world that is free, and a world that lives in peace. Once we begin to accept that others have views we do not agree with and realize that that is okay, even good, we will begin to understand the true meaning of peace. 

Kathryn Meggan Ust
Guest Blogger

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cultural Exposure

Growing up I never considered myself a minority. I am a white woman that was born in Virginia, how could I ever be considered a minority? Then my family moved to a small reservation town in South Dakota. I grew up in White River, South Dakota which is a town that is divided by a highway. On one side it is reservation land and the other side is not. In elementary school our school had a pretty good ratio of white and Native American kids. By middle school our school combined with the small communities of Norris and Corn Creek and my classmates were predominantly Native American. So I guess you could say that my childhood was a little different from the typical “white kid”. I was a minority in my school and I got the opportunity to experience a whole culture that I would’ve known nothing about if I hadn’t moved to South Dakota.

This experience gave me a unique outlook on life and the way that I looked at people of different cultures and different lifestyles. I was judged a lot in school as being a typical rich white girl when really that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I lived on a reservation that showed extreme poverty and very little wealth. I was not the typical “white girl” by any means. Being put into a stereotype that didn’t represent me correctly and was based on my skin color made me think about the way that other stereotypes are put onto other groups of people.

One situation that I experienced in high school that has stuck with me throughout my life comes from the South Dakota State B Boys Basketball tournament in Aberdeen. Our small town made a name for itself by having an outstanding boys’ basketball team. We had kids come from all over to play on our team and we were recognized all over the state. Even the Rosebud Sioux Tribe had honoring ceremonies for the team. I cheered at the state tournament for four years and seeing the way that people reacted to the Native American culture was crazy to see. Every year that we attended the tournament we brought a young boy to sing the Lakota Flag Song at the tournament. The crowd’s reaction every year to this never changed, they didn’t know how to react. They would look around at each other or just stare as the young boy sang in Lakota.

So many people in South Dakota would never have experienced this cultural aspect that so many people in our state recognize, if it wasn’t for our high school giving them this small bit of exposure. Even now, being in college, I see that so many people don’t know about Native American culture and they are shocked that I grew up on a reservation. Lessons like this have shown me just how important it is to respect other cultures and their practices but also not to judge a book by its cover.

Jessie Rounsley, Guest Blogger

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Creating Personal & Political Power

In the process of my perennial efforts to sort, simplify and discard, I came across a journal entry that I wrote more than 20 years ago. It was written following a 2nd International Conference on Nonviolence held in South Dakota in the summer of  1993.  The journal entry surfaced at about the same time that I received the program report from the recent, successfully completed Satyagraha Institute a week or two ago:

“$100, a mailing list, and a lot of goodwill.  That’s how the 2nd International conference on Nonviolence began.  A year of planning, fund raising, communicating and hard work brought together 250 people from all over the United States, from India, Uruguay, El Salvador, Switzerland, Japan, and South Africa.
The conference was held on Marv Kammerer’s ranch - - a nuclear free zone that borders Ellsworth Air Force Base, the largest site of nuclear weapons in the United States.
For four and a half days a small international community lived on the prairie in an area called a Holy Triangle – its base formed by Bear Butte and Harney Peak, both holy places for Lakota Sioux, and its apex pointing toward Ellsworth AFB. 
The roar of low flying B-1 bombers provided a constant reminder of our reason for gathering to share and to learn from one another and to encourage one another in our common commitment to a world without violence. The theme of the conference was “Creating Personal and Political Power”.
As the conference progressed we learned in many ways that our most personal concerns and efforts were the most universal.  We reaffirmed that our personal power is political power.  Each time we speak a word or perform an act out of our personal convictions and commitment to a nonviolent world, we make a political statement - -perform a political act.
Were we effective?  Do gatherings and conferences like this make a difference?  Is anyone impacted by a diverse group of 250 people living in peace together in the open air on a windblown, wildflower strewn stretch of mid-western prairie land?  Does anyone pay attention to people who find their greatest power in prayer and meditation - - who love one another - - who take seriously the work of loving their enemies?
Perhaps the fact that we were under continual aerial surveillance the whole time is an indicator.
Perhaps the fact that group members who visited a missile silo site were immediately surrounded by heavily armed military personnel is an indicator.
Perhaps the local news headlines alluding to secret strategies by a peace group on the concluding day of the conference are an indicator.
Perhaps the fact that one of the most powerful and heavily armed military installations in the world had to call a security meeting to determine how to deal with the threat at their borders is an indicator.

My musings ended there.  I still often chuckle that our small group, armed with prayer, nonviolent intentions and plastic forks and knives was able to cause such concern.  
While other threats to world peace and a nonviolent future have risen in the last 20 years and we are still the most heavily armed country in the world, it is interesting to note that many of the missile silos in the area of that earlier conference have been retired and the land has reverted to pasture land.  One or two sites are now historical sites under the auspices of the National Parks Service.  
As we continue to be assaulted daily by news of violence and by threats of war on a variety of fronts, perhaps the vision we need to hold in our minds and hearts is a vision of the effectiveness of every single endeavor, large or small on behalf of a nonviolent and harmonious future for the planet.  Perhaps a vision of cattle grazing in rich, mid-western pastures over sites where weapons of mass destruction have been disarmed is one we can cultivate as a collective vision for a more peaceful world.

Vicky Hanjian

Monday, October 19, 2015

Here We Go Again

Last weekend my wife and I traveled to Deadwood S.Dakota for the annual Festival of Books, sponsored by the South Dakota Humanities Council. Every year there is an awesome collection of writers, with a huge schedule of presentations and special events. You can't go to it all. You have to be selective.  We signed up for a workshop with a novelist and short story writer from Florida, an old friend from our days in MA. His workshop was titled "Flash Fiction: Writing the Short, Short Story."

This was listed as a workshop but I didn't go well prepared. It didn't really occur to me I was going to have to write, not just hear about writing. I didn't have writing materials with me. So when we were told we were starting with a writing assignment, I had to borrow a pen. Then I used the back of my ticket, printed from my computer on a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 paper, for my first "Flash Fiction" assignment.

The assignment went like this. "Think of a time when someone said something to you that really hurt. Write about it. I'll give you a few minutes."

The seconds ticked away. I thought and thought. I was beginning to think I would fail the first assignment when out of the blue a memory arrived. And this is what I wrote. 

"My younger brother, who I had helped mentor, said 'You weren't there for me when I needed you the most.'  … I knew he broke down crying when he first fired a gun at Y camp. When he talked about going into the Army I didn't say, 'don't.'"

What is it about love that allows us to abandon others to the violence of the age? It could be as simple as purchasing that video game for Christmas; or taking the kid hunting for the first time; or encouraging their interest in guns by buying them one; or being passive as they go off to war.

Gandhi believed that violence was an aberration of being human. Love was the ruling principle in humankind. Jesus gave flesh to that conviction, teaching self giving love rather than violence and brute force.

I'm thinking about these things this morning because our society seems to be descending into a dark, dark night of the soul. Why are so many young people killing others and themselves? Charleston was horrendous! A 21 year old killing people he just sat with in a Bible Study in a church, with clear racial implications. Now it's a 26 year old killing students at a community college in Oregon. And then there's the 16 year old in Harrisburg, right here in South Dakota.

One of the headlines this morning is about the arrest of a 16 year old in CA who is charged with shooting his father, his father's fiancee and their 8 year old son, then setting the cabin they were in on fire. Then there's the infant, 5 months old, shot in a drive by shooting Thursday in Cleveland, the third child killed by gunfire in Cleveland in the last month. In Chicago, in 3 September weekends, the numbers were: 4 killed, 35 wounded; 8 killed, 45 wounded; 4 killed, 53 wounded. All these killings are becoming so common we can't keep up with them. Do we even remember Columbine, Aurora, Oikos, Virginia Tech, Red Lake, or Sandy Hook? God help us if we can't remember Sandy Hook! And I must confess, the school shootings are becoming so common I had to think long and hard before I could remember the name of that massacre.

Personally, I'm soul sick about the violence in our society, especially the way it's affecting and impacting the young. Suicide is still the second leading cause of death among the young, just behind automobile accidents that could sometimes be classified as suicide, and ahead of cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, stroke, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Many of these mass shootings by young people are tragically, "suicide by cop". 

The terrorists are not just outside our borders, they are among us and growing like ISIS. News sources have now compared the numbers of people in the U.S. killed by terrorists from abroad and those here at home. From 2001 to 2014, the "at home" terrorists win, by 50 to 1. And that's not including "legal" killings and suicides. 

The terrorist recruiters at home are feeding our young people the same kind of propaganda as ISIS, on the internet, in movie theaters and social media sites, on TV and radio hate talk. They are propped up by the weapons industry, organizations like the NRA, ideologically driven politics and religion, and moral and political cowards in government.

Only engaged families and an engaged citizenry, convinced that we can do better by our young people, can make the changes necessary to make our schools and streets safe again. It all starts right here, at home. Once more, I recommend Americans for Responsible Solutions as one organized effort to save lives.

Carl Kline

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Gift of Imagination: Lessons from Turtles, Pirates, Fathers & Sons

Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden, did not want to settle for mere existence. By seeing the extraordinary in an ordinary, simple life, he discovered a pathway to new discoveries: the power of imagination.

At a writers’ workshop that I attended, participants were invited to explore the imaginative together. After a long day focused on the craft of writing, we segued into the serendipitous with a toss of the dice. These were no ordinary dice! They had words engraved upon them. Every roll of the dice presented a word to stir each participant’s imagination. The word led to a phrase and the phrases led to imaginative stories that were then collected like beads on a string for a synthetic calibrating of them all into one very tall tale! Turtles escaped from cooks with turtle soup recipes with the help of sympathetic animal rescuers. A sheep was grazing very happily on a green hillside. Captured sea pirates were transported from their ship on the high seas to the Egyptian pyramids by plane-flying captors. A wild assortment of characters and images made their way into the ever growing and evolving story.

In many ways, real life is very much like our playful experiment. Each distinct life’s story adds to the larger and blesses it. It seems we embellish as to provide some sparkle to the gray and monotonous in our days. Imagination does indeed add poetic yeast to the dough of prose. Life is after all a grand composition of disparate elements that we hope will gracefully be put together like the pieces of a puzzle. We long for a unified narrative that makes more sense of things as they are or that intuits things could be different if we but change.

In 2003, a beautiful and playful film was released based on a novel written by Daniel Wallace. The book and film, both aptly titled Big Fish, are wondrous celebrations of what I call amplified narrative. In the film adaptation, while dealing with the novel’s serious themes, director Tim Burton blurs the lines between reality and fantasy and gives exaggeration a good name. He tells that hyperbole may well serve the real in albeit unusual but nonetheless apropos terms.

“Big Fish” is the story of Edward Bloom, a man who has told stories all his life and is now preparing to die. Necessarily for himself, Edward told many stories about his own life’s adventure. Sadly, they were too outlandishly and repeatedly told as to be fully welcomed by his young listener son, William. Edward’s stories produced a profound skepticism in William about the veracity of his father’s life lessons. William now comes home as an adult to his dying father’s bedside as befuddled in hearing these stories told once again as he was in his youth. Because his father’s truth-telling had grown so suspect there is an observable hardness and distance in William, a reaction to the perceived alienation caused by his father’s oratorical excesses. Yet for Edward, it is precisely his “over the top” sounding stories that best convey the mystery that lights up and colors life when one is in love with people and places. It is this mysterious quality that Edward still longs to share with his now grown up and story-wary son.

William is encouraged to seek a better rapport with his estranged dad by his pregnant and compassionately less cynical young wife who has accompanied him home and when he makes an effort, the film turns into an account of William’s gradual transformation from bewildered and angry son to a more knowing and budding adventurer himself. William decides to set out a daring journey of inquiry to uncover his father’s actual past by retracing some of his father’s steps as told in his tall tales. In this exploration, he hopes to confirm his suspicions that his dad is just a big fibber but surprisingly discovers that his storytelling indeed has roots in the factual. In reality, Edward’s life was peopled by the colorful personages he was always talking about who helped him get by and who he helped get by too in a supplying of mutually needed kindnesses. The film suggests that we all need such caring assistance from each other if we would successfully traverse our respective yet shared pathways home.

Big Fish has something of a classic conversion story about it. As William comes to recognize that there is more truth hidden in the depths of his father’s imagination than he assumed, he is simultaneously enlightened as to the actual nature and purpose of his father’s storytelling. His fact-finding mission not only provided him with a reasonable basis for recognizing the cast of characters his father actually met along the roads of his grand venture but his own meetings with strange truths also gave him rational grounds for finally esteeming the long journey of adventurous living that really was his father’s and was most worthy of being told. It is when William discovers the extraordinary in the ordinary for himself that a new day dawns for this father and son who can now celebrate their real kinship as fellow recipients of gifted lives. Big Fish is a story of reconciliation that has the capacity to spur a greatly needed discovery in us all or at least occasion a “thinking twice” before we too easily dismiss the imaginative as having little relevance for our critical-minded age.

There are, of course, dangers in risking an overly imaginative or idealistic approach to reality and these must not be ignored. But that said, the dreamers among us have a compelling truth to share and lesson to teach- there are gifts to be had in exercising our imaginations, glories to be had in dreaming, delight to be taken in the fact that there is more than a surface life to be lived. The many story-telling traditions emanating from a variety of distinctive spiritual sources- Native American to Biblical- tell such and are fraught with deep wisdoms that offer to edify and enrich those who would listen and learn. 

Imagine yourself as invited to a conversion experience the likes of William’s. Where would such an invitation take you or me?  The seeds of reconciliation may be found in turning to the imaginative- the full flowering of which may indeed be fantastic! With a recovery of spiritual poise, with openness to the inquisitive and the imaginative, such a turning as was had by William might also be ours.  If we dare to be similarly adventurous, we may find mighty big fish tugging on our lines that needn’t get away and that most significantly, perhaps, desire to be caught by the likes of us!   

Michael Boover

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Rebirth of Know Nothingism

Immigration is in the news. In his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis I introduced himself on the lawn of the White House as a “son of immigrants,” and he referred to the United States as a nation of immigrants. While many applauded the Pope for this affirmation, many Republican candidates for the Presidency are debating how high to build the wall along the border between Mexico and the United States, and some are proposing another wall to separate Canada and the United States. Suchproposals would transform this “land of immigrants” into a gated community.
Of course the immigration debate is not new in the U.S.. Benjamin Franklin questioned the loyalty of German immigrants. Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton was Francophobic. The Naturalization Act of 1795 and the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798 targeted immigrant populations. In 1875, in the infamous Dred Scott Decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that African Americans could never be citizens. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first anti-immigrant law that specifically identified a nationality for exclusion. Native Americans did not gain citizenship until 1924 when the Indian Citizenship Act (also known as the Snyder Act) became law. The anti-immigrant campaign is not new.
The anti-immigrant movement reached its zenith in the 1840s and 1850s, following the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants who came to the U.S. during and after the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. At that time the anti-immigration movement coalesced into a national political party called the Native American Party. After 1855 it was renamed the American Party. The American Party later morphed into the Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Horace Greeley is credited with pinning the “Know Nothing” label on the party, but the name is also attributed to the semi-secrecy of the movement itself. When asked about their affiliation members would say, “I know nothing.”
Membership in the Know Nothing party was limited to white Protestant men. The party supported women’s rights, divided on the question of slavery, and championed the regulation of corporations. The main plank in the party platform, and the stand for which it was best known and for which it is best remembered, was its virulent anti-immigrant policy. The party won important elections in California, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Millard Fillmore was the party’s candidate for President in 1856, although he himself was not a member of the party, and he did not share the party’s anti-Catholic position.
The Know Nothings professed to be a value-based political movement that would keep America Protestant and pure. Immigrants, especially Roman Catholic immigrants, were by definition “un-American.”
I suggest that whether they acknowledge it or not, today’s “wall-builders” are drawing on the history of the Know Nothings. They are, in fact, the most recent incarnation of the Know Nothing Party. Know Nothingism is alive and well in the United States in the twenty-first century.
Those of us who identify with a faith tradition have an obligation to unmask the pretense of this modern Know Nothingism and name it for what it is. It is fear mongering in the name of patriotism. It is demagoguery in the name of democracy. And in the past, Know Nothingism spawned violence in the name of faith. In the 1830s members of the Know Nothing movement in Maine rioted against Roman Catholics. Anti-immigrant fever reasserted itself in Maine in 1851 when a Jesuit scholar, Johnanne Bapst, who later became the first President of Boston College, was tarred and feathered. In 1854 a Catholic church in Bath, Maine, was burned to the ground following a Know Nothing rally. In 1855 Know Nothing adherents rioted in Louisville, Kentucky, and Baltimore, Maryland. However, by 1860 the Know Nothings were no longer a national political movement. Political leaders like Abraham Lincoln had rejected their philosophy. The rise of two national parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, spelled the demise of the American Party, but not the Know Nothing philosophy.
Immigration remains a hot issue in American political and cultural life. Many cities in the United States are already a mosaic of minorities. Pluralism is a fact of life in public schools, in the workplace, and in many neighborhoods. At the same time we are witnessing a growing effort to expand segregation along economic, religious, racial, and ethnic lines. It is often said that demography is destiny. In the not too distant future the United States will be a nation of minorities. By adopting what Pope Francis calls “a theology of encounter,” and by rejecting the ideology of Know Nothingism, people of faith can help to shape and create a future that honors our more noble past and makes this nation what Emma Lazarus promised we could be,
Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows a world-wide welcome
--The New Colossus
Rev. David Hansen

Thursday, September 24, 2015

In the Eyes of God and People

On a recent trip to New York to visit our children, I did something entirely out of character and experience. I walked into a McDonald’s Restaurant, specifically the one at 1499 3rd Avevue and 85th Street. Looking over my shoulder, casting furtive glances, I wondered to what degree motive offset appearance. Motive was important to me, but I was sweating with discomfort, a sweat quite distinct from that in response to the heat of the day. Wearing my kippah, this was clearly a case of maris ayin/appearance to the eye. Though an act involves no direct violation of a commandment in itself, it is preferable not to do it if others may be led astray or make false assumptions, as in McDonalds being kosher. I made my way to the counter, fidgeting in line, chuckling at my urge to explain. Finally coming to the counter, I in fact did start to explain, to simply be asked with impatience, “what do you want?” Taking a deep breath, I made my order, the bill still on my desk to prove it, one quarter-pound burger with cheese, fries, and a chocolate shake.

Carefully carrying my purchase, I made my way back to the homeless man on a nearby street. As my wife and daughter and I had walked past him a little while earlier, he asked for money. I only had larger bills in my wallet and not enough change to give respectfully. The man asked if I could get him some food. Feeling torn for a moment, realizing that anything more than giving him money would take time from our outing, I asked if he wanted to walk to a restaurant with me, where I figured I could pay and leave him. He motioned at what were his worldly possessions scattered around him, a milk crate, a packed garbage bag, a blanket, and said pleadingly, “I can’t leave all of my stuff, would you go for me.” I took the man’s order and said I would return. I called out to my wife and daughter, who had crossed the street in one direction as I prepared to cross in the other, “I have an errand to do,” and they understood.

As I walked, I thought of the verse from the Torah portion Re’eh, read just the day before, pato’ach tiftach et yadecha/open, open your hand to your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land (Deut. 15:11). I mused at the irony that in the same portion is a lengthy enumeration of that which we shall eat and not eat as Jews, culminating with perhaps the most familiar verse pertaining to kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, “you shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” (Deut. 14:21), the source of separating milk and meat. As I walked, I thought about how seriously we are to take such calls as to open our hands to the poor and needy. What is our role and responsibility to strangers? As I inconvenienced my own family, I wondered to what degree in real terms I was to see this homeless man as my “brother.” Of course, to take the time to go to McDonald’s, with all of its ironies, is such a small thing, hardly worthy of mention or merit in the grand scheme. And yet, the small deeds of healing and repair that come to our hand in the day-to-day are of great and instructive meaning. It was I who was the recipient of the greater gift on that sweltering New York afternoon.

From the root tzedek/justice, tzedakah is not charity, as the Hebrew is often unfortunately translated. We give to help others for the sake of justice, for the sake of correcting an imbalance. In the weekly Torah portion Ki Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19), numerous commandments are given for the sake of correcting social and economic imbalance. In truth, tzedakah is meant to remind us of the greater work needed to create a just and equitable society, one in which there shall be no need for such trips to McDonald’s as mine on that hot summer’s day. Of caring for the poor in Ki Tetze, we are told, u’l’cha ti’hi’yeh tzedakah lifnei hashem elokecha/and this will be for you “an act of righteous duty” before God, your God (Deut. 24:13), the sacred obligation of tzedakah emphasized in Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s translation. The portion goes on to speak several times of our responsibility for the “stranger, the orphan, and the widow.” These three come to represent the most vulnerable members of society, those most in need of concern and response for the sake of justice. We are reminded here, one of thirty-six times in the Torah, v’zacharta ki eved ha’yita b’mitzrayim/you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt. Elsewhere we are told, v’atem yadatem et nefesh ha’ger/for you know the soul of the stranger (Ex. 23:9). To know another so deeply is indeed to be as family, intrinsically connected, all part of the human family. 

In a climate of xenophobia, hate, and disregard for the image of God in every person, when the words of a presidential candidate are cited by those who would brutalize a homeless man on the streets of Boston, Torah offers challenge to all that dehumanizes, pleading that we listen. The Torah portion Ki Tetze contains seventy-two commandments, more than are found in any other portion in the Torah. Underscoring just how seriously we are to take the Torah’s call, just how much is at stake, the Sefer Ha’Chinuch, a Medieval work that offers reasons for each of the commandments, teaches the ultimate purpose of the commandments, l’lamed nafshenu le’ehov ha’tov/to instruct our souls to love the good.

Though I would prefer to have provided the man on a New York street with healthier food, I am grateful that I could help him with at least one meal on one day. The receipt that sits on my desk is a reminder of how much more there is to do for the sake of true justice. For all of my discomfort in entering McDonald’s with a kipah, I would have felt far greater discomfort had I not gone, feeling then a far greater weight upon my head. In the same portion, Re’eh, just before the verses pertaining to the dietary laws, the Torah pleads with us to do that which is right in the eyes of God/la’asot ha’yashar b’eyney ha’shem (Deut. 13:19). A clear case of maris ayin/appearance to the eye, I realized later that my concern for how people might perceive my entering McDonald’s had been entirely misplaced. To do right in the eyes of God requires no justification to people, only to share and explain with joy and patience. The eyes of the homeless man were as the eyes of God. Waiting, hoping, upon seeing my return the man’s face lit up, his eyes shining with appreciation, the glow of faith affirmed. His words were warm and embarrassing, “you are the best.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein