Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace a Chance"

I find myself hearing echoes of a plaintive cry, a pleading chant so achingly innocent. The simple words were sung over and over again at peace rallies against the Vietnam War, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” It seems in retrospect that perhaps the words were sung primarily in the earlier years of the war, before the horror sunk in of how deep we were in the “Big Muddy,” as Pete Seeger sang of the churning vortex. Perhaps it was before it became so clear that the American war machine was chewing up our young and spitting out the pieces of a generation. Perhaps it was before the fiery dragon spewing Napalm flames devoured so many Vietnamese, those who were never included in the nightly body counts. Much as in the way of another dragon called Puff, that which is innocent and good is also eternal, however masked or maligned, continuing to speak its own quiet truth.

I keep hearing the old words, singing them alone, at times with tears, stunned to hear them on the lips of an American president, yearning for the multitudes to gather and raise their voices together. I hear the truth of a song’s simple innocence, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I heard that truth as I read the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Mattot-Massei (Numb. 30:2-36:13), and I hear it amidst the cacophony of voices that would drown out glimmers of hope as the Big Muddy rises. All is connected when John Kerry tells of learning the horror of war in Vietnam, of the urgency to prevent war carried since then, when all we were saying was “give peace a chance.”

The choice is ever before us, whether to give peace a chance, to take realistic steps to allow for its possibility, or to rely on old ways of power and might that become the only way, insuring more of the same. It is the question that pulsates in Parashat Mattot-Massei, what will we do to make change, to shift the momentum and the paradigm? Torah is the context in which we wrestle, facing the challenge of violence and of hope desperate to rise, asking ourselves what else might have been the response then, realizing in a flash of honest encounter that the question is not of then, but of now, not of Moses, but of us.

This week’s portion is one of those for which Abraham Joshua Heschel gave us a way of calling and containing, one of the “harsh passages.” It is brutal and bloody. The Israelites wage war against Midian, massacring men, women, and children. Forced to look at its horror in the holy text, challenging us not to avert our eyes to the same horror in our worldly context, war itself is the ultimate reflection of human failure. For all that Midian might have done or wanted to do to undermine and eradicate Israel, there are those who explain it simply as war, the lives of men, women, and children not withstanding!

But it didn’t have to happen; it doesn’t have to happen. There were enough threads of human connection to weave together in this portion, threads that in their weaving might have offered a new way, that still can. Moses fled to Midian to escape the wrath of Pharaoh. There he found his calling, encountering God at the burning bush while tending the flock of his beloved father-in-law, Yitro, a Midianite priest. Moses married Yitro’s daughter, Tzipora, mother of their children, Gershom and Eliezer, children of Israel and of Midian. In a remarkable Jewish ethical/Musar work, whose title is its own teaching, Chochmat Ha’Matzpun/the Wisdom of Conscience, we are told that after ordering the battle, Moses himself stood back, perhaps as though stunned, horrified, v’eyno yotzei la’milchama/and did not go out to battle. Asking why, the Musar teacher draws on ancient midrash to underscore Moses’ deep connection with Midian, underscoring in its own way all human connection, for it is not in the way of justice to cause pain to those who had done good for him for he had been raised in Midian (Sefer Chochmat Ha’Matzpun, vol. 3, p. 238).
Moses failed to weave together the threads of human connection, but we can. Offering context in which to engage with the timeless trials of human life, the Torah cries from its essence for us to meet the challenges of our own time, challenges reflected in its own ancient mirror that cry out for a new way of response. A new way has been offered today, without which an unthinkable path to war is far more likely. Threads of human connection wait to be woven. No longer of innocence, but from a place of clarity and vision, a timeless truth, a truth of Torah waiting to be sung, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ten Illusions about Inequality and Peace

Our ten illusions about inequality and peace.
Yesterday I realized that we humans do not focus well on the goals of life. We still have a long journey to go, when it comes to "Artham," the way of power and wealth.
I think the Eastern view that life is an illusion is more attached to living reality and our nature.
We cannot define the accumulation of wealth on earth as bad, though as we all know, everything stays when we die.
First illusion: Moral: All that remains of what we saved after death is exactly what we work for in vain.
When we are rich, we have to build a fence because of fear that someone will remove what surely we have in excess, what is left after our needs.
Second illusion: Why do we fear losing what is left, if what is left is excess?
Third illusion: We've never seen a millionaire lose his fear even after building a very high fence. I knew a great millionaire in Monterrey that slept with a guard outside his room, despite the fact his home had a wall three meters high and electrified.
Perhaps fear is directly proportional to the size of the fence?
Money creates the accumulation of wealth and power and this power makes one build bigger and higher walls to protect the wealth. This fence is called laws and punishments.
Fourth illusion: Artificially, this power and wealth creates the right to private property, which is a universal and positive law, but we forget that others have the right to meet their needs also, and this is above the right to accumulate. Others also have ambitions that may be legitimate or not legitimate and that although the punitive law does not eliminate the rights of others to survive, or diminish ambitions.
We forget that even the most interesting story of wealth accumulation depended on the work of others, because nobody can get rich alone. If you build a team, for sure the output will have to be divided equally.
Fifth illusion: Any sensible thinker would say that if the rich accumulated his wealth by the work of others and they were not compensated equally, only then he is exploiting; In a forest of trees, if only we take and we do not give back the same of what we cut , we call that exploitation and nature eventually will pass an invoice for sure. Nobody has the right to exploit anyone and if you do, wait for nature to compensate. This is inevitable. I see that exploitation always smells like blood.
In the world, rich people created plutocratic states, and these states form armies to protect the wealth of the millionaires who control the country.
Sixth illusion: Let us realize that in order to sustain the interest of these plutocratic nations we will have to sacrifice young people for the sake of homeland defense, when it only defends the interests of powerful minorities. Maybe you can maybe justify homeland defense, but you can not justify the defense of the interests of the country abroad. It is only the illusion of patriotic unity. The children of the rich almost never die in war. The poor boys are the only ones who are killed as they have less to lose.
We can accept that perhaps we deserve more if we work more and if we don’t work we might not deserve anything. Actually it is not that way, as the time rates for working are not the same for everyone.
Eighth illusion: In our society we value mason workers and the civil engineers on a construction site differently. Aren't both as important? What is true is that a Mason has a lower life expectancy than a civil engineer? I have never seen an engineer laying bricks on a wall or a mason worker calculating a structure. Is it true that both are needed equally? Inequality in pay rates causes the problem of envy and injustice. "Equal pay for equal work, with the same rate if the effort is the same" We could perhaps accept a near "double" rate for the engineer, but never absurd multiples for the capitalist, a big differential in today’s world.
We can define justice as to satisfy what everyone needs and how much effort you provide to others. So why this abysmal inequality?
 Ninth illusion: By observing social inequality we may think that this will bring Peace and Justice, then we are living the greatest illusion, because this will not happen despite the laws.
Tenth illusion: If we believe that human beings are like that, and we are satisfied with it, then we can only expect that the world will not change, because to believe otherwise would be an illusion; to expect a different world without the same inequality.
My thoughts by default do not expect more of the same world. What I see is that we have to change to a more just world to deserve more peace.
Some may think that what I write here is similar to "Dialectical Materialism" of Karl Marx, but it is not. What I want is peace and justice, and one without the other cannot exist. I am not seeking to rob the rich and take all from them, what I want is to give the poor a better chance for life. This is not a theory, not a fact, it is only seeking to be consistent with myself and accept that I am part of inequality and therefore part of the problem of an illusory world attached to matter.
Fernando Ferrara

Monday, July 13, 2015


Once again, we have a home grown massacre that focuses our attention on a long standing problem in the American psyche. If it were just one sick soul as perpetrator, we could relegate him to the prisons of the mentally ill or to death row. But we all know the soul sickness is deeper than that. 

From what we have heard and read so far, it's likely the killings in the church in Charleston were motivated by racial hatred. We are forced to confess once again that nowhere in a country that celebrates equality and freedom, can one escape the reality of racial divide and injustice, if not outright hate, even in church. 

It's ironic that in the same week we experienced the murders in Charleston, we heard the story about Rachel Dolezal, the Seattle NAACP President who resigned because of the controversy over her race. Her birth certificate says she is "white." She has been passing herself off as "black," saying in a recent interview that she has identified with being African American since a young age. It makes one think of the recent attention on the transgendered, where one's identity, one's psyche or soul, is different from one's physical characteristics.

Or consider the irony of how blood quantum is used to determine whether one is "Indian" or not. Because of intermarriage, the "red race" and the "white race" have gotten all mixed up. So in order to be considered Native American by Native Nations and the U.S. Government, you need to know your genealogical history so you can prove you're maybe 1/8, or whatever, of Indian blood.

And then you have what Native Americans call "wannabes," the whites who would like to be Indian. Some who make a life in Indian country may well believe they have the soul of an Indian, like Rachel Dolezal believes her true identity is African American. 

The irony multiplies when we look seriously at the origins of the concept of "race." There is good reason to believe the concept started with the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind in 1785. Meiners proposed two races, Caucasians and Mongolians. He considered Caucasians (from the southern Caucasus region) more physically attractive because of their paler skin ("whitest, most blooming and most delicate skin"). He also considered them more sensitive and morally virtuous. Europeans with darker skins he considered "dirty whites," mixed with Mongolians.

His work was continued by one of the founders of anthropology, Johann Blumenbach, who added the study of skull structure and facial features to skin color distinctions. He wrote On the Natural Variety of Mankind in which he identified the "White, Yellow, Brown, Black and Red" races.

Both Meiners work and the work of Blumenbach have been used over the years by scientists and others to justify political policies like segregation, immigration restrictions and other opinions rooted in prejudice and stereotyping. Just listen to some of the candidates running for President in the U.S. today and you hear some of the same racially based stereotypes. 

The reality is, there is only one race, the human race. Don't get me wrong. The color of your skin makes a difference, a huge difference in this country and elsewhere. Racial distinctions are still implicit in all of our social institutions. But it's not something inherent in who we are as people. Whatever distinctions are made, whether on the basis of skin color or skull structure or facial features or cultural characteristics or genealogy, the writers of the Genesis story and the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence were right, we are all created equal. Distinctions we create to make someone else the other, aren't a given. We make them. At base, we're all humans. 

It's astonishing what lengths people will go to, to separate themselves from others who they see as below them. One could say that those who would use human differences to separate the beloved from each other, are falling victim to Christianity's original sin. There are several ideas as to what Adam and Eve eating the apple represents. But in God's eyes, in the Genesis story, the first humans are trying to be more than they are meant to be. They lack humility!

One gets the same message in the story of the tower of Babel in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the story that tells us of the origins of our human divisions. What is the cause? Once again, it's the attempt to be more than we are created to be. It's that sense of human arrogance that we can reach the heavens and be like God ourselves. It's a sense of moral and spiritual entitlement (and in the American empire; economic, military, political and racial entitlement). 

Perhaps the fundamental human value in short supply is humility. It's hard to shoot up a church when you're humble. When it comes to race and racism, a little humility mixed with a fundamental commitment to the human race, could go a long way.

Carl Kline

Friday, July 3, 2015


Growing up, I was always aware that there would be consequences for my actions. My father was usually the enforcer. He generally followed the "spare the rod and spoil the child" belief. I still remember some of those spankings like yesterday. They reside deep in my psyche.

As an adult and parent myself, I soon learned that there were other kinds of consequences that could be more effective than hitting. The first was making sure rules and values were clear so the likelihood of misbehavior was minimal. 

The second was a series of choices that the offending child didn't like, including time outs and time consuming chores. But probably the most effective technique was the knack my wife had for distraction, so when the child was just about ready to make a bad decision, she drew their attention to a better choice they actually liked. 

Repeated often enough, this was a learned behavior that I believe helped shape later life. The consequence of a good choice was a good result. So why make a bad choice?

Whatever the style of family discipline, most of us learn there are consequences to our actions in the family. If not there, it slowly becomes apparent in other institutions, like the school, neighborhood or larger community. Maybe the knowledge only comes to fruition for some in prison. All of this is what I call "real time consequences."

Unfortunately, there are also "eternal time consequences." And in a materialistic culture, the long term is often sacrificed for the immediate.

I've always been impressed with indigenous understandings of the importance of thinking about the seventh generation. "We cannot simply think of our survival; each new generation is responsible to ensure the survival of the seventh generation … what we do today will affect the seventh generation and because of this we must bear in mind our responsibility to them today and always." 

I'm saddened by the reality that most decision makers in U.S. society seldom even think about the generation following them. They make "real time decisions" with "real time consequences." So the Public Utilities Commission in South Dakota can rule out any testimony about long term consequences of the Keystone XL pipeline running through our state. And Transcanada could care less about how they've opened up the worst carbon bomb in our history, all of which has to stay in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe.

They seem oblivious to connecting the dots: warmest months in history; heat deaths and floods in Asia; wildfires in Alaska and the U.S. West; drought; torrential rains; melting glaciers. 

So now we're told we face the sixth great extinction. Science magazine recently published a study by several scientists from a number of North American Universities. Even the most conservative estimates show we are killing off species at far higher rates than previous die-offs, as much as 100 times greater, because of human activity such as climate change, deforestation and pollution.

The scientists conclude, if those rates continue "life would take many millions of years to recover,and our species itself would likely disappear early on." Paul Ehrlich writes, "There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead. We are sawing off the limb we are sitting on."

Fortunately, the next generation has noticed these likely prospects for their future. You'll find them at the Possibility Alliance in Missouri, where the only form of transportation they will use is a bicycle or Amtrak. They are off the electrical grid. They use candles.

Or you'll see them in court. In the state of Washington, eight young petitioners won a landmark decision this week forcing the state Department of Ecology to work on statewide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. The petitioners range in age from elementary school to high school. Thirteen year old Zoe Foster said, "I'm not going to sit by and watch my government do nothing. We don't have time to waste. I'm pushing my government to take real action on climate and I won't stop till change is made."

Or you'll see the next generation building tiny houses, establishing bike trails, gardening organically and selling fresh produce at farmer's markets, speaking up at public hearings, encouraging their schools to divest from fossil fuels, working at jobs that could help us create positive "eternal consequences." We all owe these young people an enormous thank you for what they are doing to foster a more sustainable future. We all need to do something, anything, and join them. 

And should I even mention "spiritual consequences?" Many have allocated ideas of heaven and hell to the waste dump. Others are unsure about the idea of a "soul" and if anything continues after "real time." Perhaps that's part of the short sightedness of modern societies. We're too busy with "real time" concerns to even ponder the life of the spirit, and to plan and work for future generations.

If the Genesis story of creation means anything to Christians and Jews, it should mean we're meant to be stewards of this good earth, not plunderers. And the best theology still contends there are spiritual consequences for spiritual apathy.

Carl Kline