Saturday, May 30, 2015

Restoration Project

My husband and I have been watching a video series called “Touch”.  The story follows the life of a single father’s challenges raising a young son who has autism. The son, Jake, does not speak, does not make eye contact and cannot tolerate human touch.  He connects to the world through the relationships between complex patterns and numbers that have their basis in quantum physics and in the realm of mysticism.

Since Jake does not interact verbally or emotionally with the world around him, it is his father’s task to figure out exactly how Jake does communicate.  As the season unfolds, it becomes the father’s mission to “hear” his son and to follow the complex ways in which his son feels his connection to not just other people, but to the world and the cosmos. His mission must be accomplished under the constant threat of having his son taken from his custody because he cannot control his son’s behavior and keep him safe.

There is much in the series that requires the use of imagination and a level of comfort with the edginess of a science fiction that could become reality. Jake’s life and gifts are an intrigue that draws me in.  Each segment of the series is given over to either a complex and repeating pattern or a sequence of numbers that keep showing up again and again as the episode unfolds.  The patterns and numbers are a connecting link between human lives.  A number sequence may connect two teen- age Iraqi boys, who are trying to get their own rock band going, with a techno-geek  in New York City who happens to see their Facebook post.  They all, in turn are linked with a family in another city, searching for a missing child who has been kidnapped by a woman suffering with schizophrenia.  The schizophrenic woman is cared for by a nurse who is the daughter of an elderly man who keeps challenging Jake’s father to “listen” to Jake.  All their lives are all linked in some way.  Jake knows this.  His father has to figure it out.  

A major underlying theme in the series is that Jake suffers terrible emotional pain when the connections between human beings are severed or are not functioning.  When the human beings in a particular pattern or number sequence are disconnected from all the others in the pattern, they suffer and their suffering causes pain to Jake.  Jake’s father is the one who must pay attention and find the ways to restore the connections so that the people involved get re-connected and Jakes pain will stop.

The series feels to me like a parable of sorts.  It draws my attention toward the interrelatedness of all sentient beings, toward appreciating that we are all connected through invisible bonds, through fragile threads, perhaps through a common genesis like the Big Bang - - the metaphors are myriad.

The idea that when one person suffers we all suffer weaves its way through the stories as I watch the evening news, acutely aware of the interconnectedness that makes universal suffering a reality.  Jake, very closed off from the people closest to him, has an experience of universal suffering that the people around him do not see until he draws them into his world where they have to meet him on his terms.  He does this by putting himself at risk, purposefully wandering into dangerous situations so the adults around him will pay attention….and follow him until a particular connection is restored.

As I have watched the news and have read the newspaper articles about the numerous protests around excessive police reaction against people of color in this country, I have seen Jake in the streets, both pursued and pursuing.  I see him behind the police blockades.  I see him in pulpits and on street corners, in broken and dying bodies - - doing his work – - drawing attention to the suffering caused by all the broken connections – putting himself at risk so that we will pay attention and put ourselves to the task of reweaving the tenuous, fragile bonds that connect us as human beings.  The series asks us to consider what many religious and indigenous traditions have always taught.  We are creatures who belong to a vast network of interconnections between each other, between ourselves and the planet, between ourselves and the entire cosmos.  Indeed, when one suffers, we all suffer. The myriad voices of humanity and nature are speaking.  It is up to us to listen carefully to hear what they are saying and to do the risky work of restoring the connections.

Vicky Hanjian

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Common Prayer

   by Jennifer Arnold

When I was asked to write for Living Nonviolence, I was told the blog posts “don't have to be about big events or big ideas but trying to make nonviolence more accessible and real to our readers.” Currently I live in the “middle of nowhere,” rural North Carolina, so I feel pretty far removed from a lot of big world events. However, in many little ways I find myself trying to “live nonviolence” where I am.

As referenced in my last blog, a little over a month ago I had the privilege of marching from Selma to Montgomery with the National Park Service in remembrance of the historic march which took place 50 years ago. Through this experience I met many amazing individuals, but I have built an enduring friendship with one person in particular. On the last day of the march this friend looked at me with determination in his eyes and told me, “I need you to pray for me when we leave here.” It wasn’t the typical passive prayer request. He was adamant. And so I purchased him a copy of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathon Wilson-Hargrove, and Enuma Okoro which I already owned myself. Ever since I first received my copy of the book, I had wanted someone with whom to pray. We could be prayer buddies.

In order to understand the significance of this act for me, you must understand that my religious upbringing was neither very liturgical, nor regularly shared. I was raised to think of prayer as an individual act between myself and God. Liturgical prayer, in my mind, was not personal and therefore less valuable. However, as my friend and I pray together out of the book, it is changing the way I think about prayer. I value the repetition of the words night after night. They are becoming part of who I am and I’ve begun sharing the prayers with other friends as well. As more of us share the prayers together the words are becoming part of who we are as a community. Maybe this is why the word “common” is the root of “community”.

It reminds me of the Friday morning prayer I participated in during college. A group of LGBTQ students, faculty, and allies would wake up early and gather to pray a liturgical prayer for ourselves, our campus, and our world. Praying together gave us a unified sense of language and a reminder of a purpose beyond ourselves. We built a stronger community through this shared time together. Three years later I am rediscovering these same experiences by praying through the book of Common Prayer with my friends. To pray in unison, all parties must be present and listening to each other. This changes us – as individuals and as a community – from the inside out.

In no way is this revelation new or earth-shattering. In fact, it is barely a revelation at all, but more of a personal rediscovering of an ancient truth. One that we all share together. And so I will close today in sharing this part of the common prayer with you and your community.

May the Lord bless us and keep us from all harm; and may God lead us to eternal life. Amen.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Just Love People, Just Love People

Tom leaned forward over the reading table as he spoke to us last Shabbos evening. Perhaps steadying himself to soothe nervousness, or to come closer to us in the way of his stance, we responded in kind, sitting on the edges of our chairs, leaning in to hear his words. Having asked for a yarmulke, when he arrived, rather than wear his hat, it sat slightly askew, his wearing it a way of honoring us. Dayenu/it would have been enough for us, as we say at the Passover Seder, honored simply to be in his presence, to welcome him, to hear him. His words came slowly and quietly at first, gradually gaining in strength and intensity, his voice remaining quiet and gentle even when offering harsh critique. Our teacher that evening, he spoke words of Torat Chayim/Living Torah/Torah of life, teachings from his own life carried on words so poignant and powerful. A “twenty year veteran of the streets,” he spoke of his life, of his early years, his journey into homelessness, his life as it is today, a person living among us, so near, so far.

When the electronic ways of modern life that so easily isolate us from each other are infused with primal fear of otherness, we become cut off from each other; and, so too, from our Source, in Whose image each one is created. In his way and in his words, Tom reached out to bridge the divide, many divides, teaching, evoking, modeling a way of being with each other, underscoring through his presence and witness all that joins us as people. However different the stories of life experience that filled the room, of who we are and what we do, and where we live, Tom’s words rose from a place of depth, the dwelling place of his soul, joining us together as one. At times we forget the address of our own souls, becoming spiritually homeless, lost in an artificial divide between spiritual seeking and justice seeking. Tom helped us to find the way home, reminding us that the two are one because we are one, drawing us with his passion and his compassion, his love, and his lack of artifice. As spiritual freshness, we felt the common bond of human emotion that rises from all of us when we let it, when we are not afraid to share of who we are as openly and honestly as Tom did.

Tom spoke in the week of the Torah portion Vayakhel-P’kudei, his words and his presence illuminating the essential theme of the portion, of what it means to build the Mishkan, the sacred space of the desert sanctuary, God’s symbolic home among us. Of our efforts to raise up the dwelling place of God, a place for all to gather, a place that each one can call home, the Torah teaches of each one’s part and of the collective goal and purpose, to join the tent together to become one (Ex. 36:18).  Our sanctuary was one on that night, joined together by someone most often missing from our consciousness. Tom reminded us of all that joins people across the divides of our own making. As his foot tapped to the wordless tunes we sang and his body swayed to words of Hebrew prayer, foreign and familiar, we wondered of our own ability to be so at home among strangers, realizing then that we needn’t be strangers, as Tom knew and shared.

As though sharing with friends of long standing, Tom told of the pain he has known. He told of addiction and his battles to overcome, his determination and perseverance, accomplishments and failures, in that like the rest of us. He told of the cutthroat ways in the streets and in the shelters, not unlike so many realms of human encounter, not the way it is meant to be, the challenge for all of us if we would make of this world a peaceful home for all. He told of government bureaucracy, like the mean streets of an endless maze that saps strength and will and then leads back to the very same place from which one started. 

Tom has stayed away from shelters, finding it easier to remain in the tunnel he calls home. He oversees who comes and goes, allowing no drugs or alcohol. He was asked at the end, “how should I respond if I see you on the street?” He answers so simply and kindly, “say hello, don’t stay ten feet away.” Then he added with a smile, “there are some I would stay ten feet away from, if they’re doing drugs or alcohol.” He took one more question, “what else would you like us to know?” “Just love people,” he said, “just love people.”

Inviting others into our places of worship and into our homes requires the same way of humility with which Tom spoke and prayed among us. In the presence of those with whom we have little encounter, with whose life paths our own rarely intersect, we learn to sit back and become honored guests in our own homes. The Torah portion Vayikra teaches of that humility from its first word, Vayikra/and God called. The last letter of the word is written very small, a small aleph. In that calling God is reaching out to Moses. Embarrassed by such attention, the little aleph reflects Moses’ humility. When we are humble enough to call out to another and open enough to receive the gift of their calling, we create the sacred space of God’s dwelling and we find ourselves at home together. Like the small aleph, we need to diminish ourselves enough to make room as equals for all who enter God’s house.

Sharing Shabbat dinner with Tom around our table later that night, there was not a word spoken among guests of ice dams or storm damage that had touched all but one around the table. It was a humbling gift in learning to keep perspective. One needs a house in order to repair its damage. As through the unfolding cycle of Torah we come soon to one of its central teachings, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” we shall hear the abiding challenge in the voice of one who knows, “just love people, just love people.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
Initial Photo by Tom Hubbard

Saturday, May 9, 2015

War Never Ends

A recent issue of Christian Century had an article by Barbara Wagner Dueholm titled, "War Without End: For My Father, WW2 Was Never Over."

The article is a description of how and why this "devilish young man" Barbara's mother knew before the war, completely disappeared. Shot out of the skies twice, held in a POW camp, and operating clandestine activities in Nazi occupied countries, the war changed him. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he gave voice to some of those experiences his daughter now shares.

“If you knew the things I’ve done, you wouldn’t have a thing to do with me,” he said to Barbara. “You would not cross the street to spit on me.” One particularly difficult time was after he blew up a train trestle, and then watched as a Red Cross train was destroyed.

He had never been an especially religious man, but Barbara concludes, "in the very last days of his life he seemed to retain just enough faith to fear damnation—yet not enough to imagine himself forgiven." His difficulty was not so much what was done to him, even in a POW camp, but what he had done after he escaped. 

This article arrived in my mailbox at the same time as another article reminded me we had just concluded 50 years since the start of the Vietnam War and the convulsions it produced in American society. On this May 1st. and 2nd., a group of veterans of that war, peace movement veterans (including a large contingent of Vietnam Vets Against the War), convened in D.C. to make sure the "commemorative events" the Pentagon was planning were historically accurate and not a revisionist agenda.

Unfortunately, there was almost no media coverage of the Academic Conference from April 29 to May 1, "The Vietnam War Then and Now: Assessing the Critical lessons;" or of the Public Conference on May 1. 

Although there might have been as much notice given those conferences as has been given the Defense Department program. Even with $65 million from Congress to create a web site and establish a program for thanking Vietnam Veterans for their service, the public response seems to be silence. Could it be it's a piece of history everyone wishes to forget, including the veterans, if they could?

The Pentagon reminds us on their commemoration web site that the total number of American dead in that war was 58,253, and 153,363 wounded. There's no mention of the estimated 3 to 4 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians killed. Nor is there a recognition that there was this thing called a peace movement in the country, that brought down presidents, uncovered administration lies and propaganda and eventually helped force the government to support the troops by bringing them home.

Jon Wiener, in an article in The Nation, says instead of offering "thank you" to Vietnam Veterans, we should say "we're sorry." We're sorry for the lost lives of their friends, the time lost in their lives, the nightmares and sleepless nights, the wounds healed and still festering. We should say "we're sorry" they were asked to fight an unjust war, were lied to, and not properly cared for on returning home. 

It's still war without end in Vietnam. Fifty years after American troops first went there, the legacy of unexploded munitions and agent orange lives on. Quang Tri province, an area about the size of Delaware, has the record for being the most heavily bombed area in history. More tonnage was dropped there than on Hitler's Germany. About 10% of that tonnage failed to detonate. Since 1975, 3,419 have died and 5,095 have been maimed by unexploded ordnance.

And the dioxin from Agent Orange continues to show it's devilish work in the third generation. It's estimated that 20 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed on South Vietnam, exposing as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese to their toxic effects (and these were the hearts and minds we were trying to win). That's not to mention U.S. soldiers exposed to the contents, sometimes cutting the herbicide barrels open to make barbecue pits or poking holes in the drums to make showers.

Chuck Searcy is a Vietnam vet. He went back after some 24 years. He decided to stay and helped found Project Renew, that by one estimate has located and destroyed 370,000 pieces of ordnance in Quang Tri province alone. Fewer children are losing their limbs and fewer farmers are dying in their fields.

Wars don't end in the hearts and minds and bodies of those who witness or participate in them. But even after fifty years, peace agreements can also last. Promises can be honored. Friendships can be renewed. Justice can be served. Earth, honored and respected, can bloom. Compassion can be born again.

Carl Kline

Saturday, May 2, 2015


In the month of February, 2010, a group of more than thirty men, women and children were traveling on a dirt road in southern Afghanistan. They were riding in a caravan of two SUV's and a pick up truck headed to Kandahar and then on to Kabul. They all came from the same rural area of the country and were traveling together to do various things in the city. Some were looking for work, some wanted to buy supplies and some were students returning to school. 

The area where they were traveling was Taliban territory so they traveled together, at night. Some were Hazaras, an ethnic group always treated by the Taliban with contempt. They were risking their lives because they had little gas and decided to take a shortcut.

Unknown to them, they were being tracked by U.S. intelligence as potential terrorists. After several hours of tracking them with drone surveillance, sending pictures back to Nevada, they were mistakenly identified as all men, no women and no children. (It's hard to tell from a camera 14,000 feet in the air that makes people look like blobs). 

Eventually the order was given to fire and helicopters did the deed. Twenty three people died, including two boys, three and four years old. Twelve were wounded, several severely. The helicopters stopped firing after some of the women who escaped the vehicles frantically waved their kerchiefs at them. 

The commander in Afghanistan apologized. Families of the dead eventually received $5,000 each, plus one goat. And if it wasn't for the reporting of Andrew Cockburn of CounterPunch, just this month in 2015, operation "Noble Justice" might have gone unnoticed.

We're told that some of those who sit at their drone control centers in the U.S., far from the results of their work, are suffering from PTSD. Even when we are thousands of miles away from where we fight to destroy evil, there are consequences right here at home.

It reminds me of the poster on my office wall, back in the 60's. Lyndon Johnson was President and we were involved in a long and costly war that many were protesting. The poster showed the police beating, savagely, protestors against the war. The caption read, "Our Foreign Policy Comes Home."

More recently, a friend asked me what we should do about ISIS, which was for him, the very incarnation of evil. He is following in a long line of politicians, even Presidents, who have a dualistic conception of good and evil. There's no gray. There's no conception of gradations of evil or goodness, especially when it comes to "friends" and "enemies." 

For instance, there's no admission that Saudi Arabia chops off people's heads. It never creates a media firestorm. And did you know the U.S. state of Utah will execute by firing squad? There's good and evil everywhere we look and sometimes what looks good, is at heart evil. 

Author Thomas King sums up the result of our dualistic thinking and its consequences when he writes, "… turn on your television and watch a vengeful United States, burdened with the arms of war, bomb the world into goodness and supply-side capitalism, destroying American honor and credibility in the process."

There's nothing in dualism like the eastern concept of yin/yang or the Pueblo idea that good and evil are tributaries of the same river. In dualistic thinking it's one or the other; good or evil. If you are the evil one, or the evil group, whatever is done to destroy you must be good. Then too, if you aren't on the side of the "good," you must also be "evil." Didn't a President say, "Either you're with us or against us?"

There's the rub! Evil is in all of us, even Presidents. And you can't destroy evil. Try as you will, evil will persist. And in trying to destroy evil, you add evil onto evil onto evil. Eventually it comes back on you. There must be a better way.

When Gandhi discovered that Indian men were traveling to England during the struggle for Indian independence to engage in terrorism, he went to England and met with them to dissuade them from violence. When he discovered they were using religious arguments to support their intentions, he wrote and spoke about how such arguments were baseless, and why. 

Where are the Gandhi's in conflict settings today? Are they risking life and limb to dissuade the terrorists? Yes, but that's a difficult task, as many are trying to survive the bombs and hate of those who would destroy evil! 

We might better heed the advice of Martin Luther King when he wrote to Christians about how to overcome evil.
First, we look for the worst evil in ourselves and make a conscientious effort to fill our lives with something better. How can we possibly know how to conquer evil in another when we don't do the hard work to send it packing in ourselves? Could we as a people, like the Hebrews of old, take a Jubilee year and look at ourselves as through the eyes of God, discerning our own sins and need for change? 

King says never to attack evil directly. You go after evil indirectly. You crowd it out with good rather than drive it out with violence. 

Some of the U.S. neocons still want to bomb Iran. Some aren't happy with diplomacy. Evil, in their eyes, will need to be destroyed.  And all those thousands of nuclear weapons stored all over this country, just waiting, will continue to be labelled "fat man,"  "thin man" and "little boy." And all of them will be good, destroyers of evil.

Carl Kline