Monday, August 24, 2015

Breaking the Cycle

A few weeks ago, I found myself preparing a sermon on the story of The Good Samaritan.  It has always been challenging to understand what the familiar story means in the light of ever changing cultural and religious dynamics since the story lends itself well to much religious and cultural stereotyping.

The story is familiar to many.  A man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. He is mugged, beaten, left for dead.  Respectable people pass by on the other side of the road and fail to help him.  Eventually, a Samaritan man stops to help, dresses the man’s wounds, puts him on his own animal and takes him to an inn where he pays the innkeeper to care for the man, promising to return and make up the difference in the cost of the man’s care.

Amy Jill Levine in her book Short Stories By Jesus,  does a thorough explication of the story.  I will be ever grateful for her pointing her readers toward another ancient text in 2nd Chronicles 28:8-15.

In that ancient story of the wars between Israel and Judah, in a particular battle, the men of Israel took captive from their fellow Israelites who were from Judah two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters.  At their homecoming, they are greeted by an irate prophet.   In God’s name, he speaks of the excesses of slaughter during the battle and directs the returning soldiers to send the prisoners back to their homes or risk incurring God’s anger against themselves. 

The men designated by name took the prisoners and from the plunder clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm.  All those who were weak they put on donkeys.  So they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.

Both stories include anecdotes about people from Samaria.  Historically, there was great enmity between the Israelites who were called Samaritans in the north and the Israelites who were called Judah in the south.  Hatred might be a mild word to describe the animosity that existed.  

Still, in both stories, a deep humanity is evoked and the much hated Samaritans exhibit the attributes of God, compassion, kindness, healing.   For me these stories both offer hope when it comes to seeing how to break the cycle of violence and bondage, hatred and revenge.  In our quest for the gentle influence of nonviolence in our lives and, perhaps in the world, it might be well for us to remember that even the worst enemy has within him or her the potential for compassion, for healing, for unselfish self sacrifice.  Perhaps the work begins simply, by not painting every human being in a given group with the same brush.  Perhaps it begins with recognizing that we all are driven by conflicting energies and motivations of either selfishness or generosity.  Perhaps it begins with knowing that each human being has the potential for revealing the face of The Holy or for concealing it.  We are free to consciously choose whether we will reveal or conceal the goodness and the wholeness that supports life in community and on this planet.  We can, indeed, break the cycle of violence and hatred by our own choices.

2 chronicles 28:8
2 Chronicles 28:15

Vicky Hanjian

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Almost unnoticed by major news media, four weeks of negotiations on nuclear disarmament ended with the scuttling of a revised treaty. Apparently the biggest hurdle was a requirement that Israel meet with Arab neighbors to discuss the development of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. 

At least that's the excuse given by the U.S. for our veto. Our representatives blamed the failure of a new agreement on Egypt for including the nuclear free zone idea.

It's reasonable for Egypt to seek such a zone. Israel has an estimated 400 nuclear warheads, which it won't confirm or deny. It simply stonewalls on any questions about their nuclear stockpile, since if they admitted to having them, they might be forced by international agreement to reduce their numbers. 

Egypt warned that the Arab world would take a strong stance as a result of the U.S. veto. There are rumors afloat that Saudi Arabia may go nuclear as they are concerned about Israel and the possibility of a nuclear Iran.

Iran on the other hand, has requested further meetings at the U.N., in the hopes of coming to some new agreement. Apparently, they would prefer to put the world at ease as a non nuclear weapons power if only there were assurances the rest of the middle east would do the same.

At the same time, non nuclear states are upset with Russia and the U.S. because of the slow progress on reducing their nuclear weapons numbers. It's estimated both states have about 8,000 warheads with about 1,500 on missiles ready to launch at a moment's notice. 

But yes, you're right! It happened! Back in 2009 in Prague, the U.S. President declared with conviction, "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." That was then, this is now! So we veto the idea of a nuclear free Middle East. And now the New York Times has reported the U.S. is modernizing their nuclear arsenal and infrastructure, and plan to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years doing it.

How many know the U.S. has recently been sued, along with the other eight nuclear armed countries? The suit by the Marshall Islands is for failing to negotiate in good faith on nuclear disarmament. Instead, the movement is toward modernizing and updating arsenals. And it's altogether appropriate that the island peoples who suffered as nuclear testing guinea pigs for years be the ones to bring suit. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear and thermonuclear tests with an explosive power equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs dropped daily for 12 years in this homeland for some 70,000 people.

One hopes nuclear weapons can't and won't be used ever again. Unless of course there's an accident ("accidents happen" is an old and familiar saying … so you probably don't want to read the book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser). Or unless the human capacity for madness escalates (which seems to be the tendency … M.L. King once said, "We have guided missiles and misguided men.") The primary reason for having nuclear weapons is fear and intimidation, though their possession doesn't seem to threaten ISIS as much as it threatens Americans.

Nuclear weapons is a transient power. It's absurd to spend more money on an obsolete system that can't be used and makes us all less safe. What we need is more spiritual power, like that of 85 year old Sister Megan Rice. She was one of those arrested in 2012 for cutting through fences at the Oak Ridge enriched uranium storage facility in a protest of nuclear weapons, because she said, "we had to - we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that's our obligation. We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it (the nuclear weapons industry) and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than $7.2 trillion. The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives - for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons."  

Sister Megan was recently released from prison. She and her fellow Transform Now Plowshares still in prison, represent the strength of heart Gandhi describes. "Power invariably elects to go into the hands of the strong. That strength may be physical or of the heart, or if we do not fight shy of the word, of the spirit. Physical force is transitory. But the power of the spirit is permanent, even as the spirit is everlasting."

Carl Kline

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Universal Uplift

Mahatma Gandhi wasn't just concerned with resisting the English occupation of India. He was also concerned about the self development of the people. For him, it was two sides of the same coin. He once described it as walking on two legs. You wouldn't be balanced with only one. 

The campaign for independence required active nonviolence, what he called Satyagraha or the force of Truth. The self development campaign was aimed at the universal uplift of all strata of the society, self determination and equality for all. It was called Sarvodaya.

Even after Gandhi's death, his followers carried on this idea of Sarvodaya throughout the country. I've witnessed countless cottage industries in practically every state in India where the program spread and brought a subsistence level of living to those who were hopelessly poor and destitute. It might be a weaving industry or an agricultural cooperative or a recycling operation where everything (I mean everything) is repurposed in some incredibly creative way.

One such cottage industry was solar ovens. I recall seeing demonstrations of those low tech operations on visits to India in the 1980's. It was a way followers of Gandhi were bringing development to every strata of society. Rural communities could produce, distribute and use them. One or two responsible people could do the necessary oversight of the construction and training. It was self development at it's best.

It even got exported to other lands as people realized that universal uplift was the pathway to happier and healthier societies. Those of us right here in Brookings have our own incarnation in Haiti Solar Oven Partners. Here is a local cottage industry that has helped bring solar cooking to the people of Haiti for the last 15 years. Now the Partners are in the process of transitioning to new countries and peoples.

If you haven't had some banana bread or chocolate brownies cooked in a solar oven, then you still have a treat in your future. And if you lived in poverty, without access to clean water, boiling water in a solar oven could save the lives of your children.

Lives can be saved; healthier societies can be created; economies of scale can be introduced; if we access even modest resources for the common good, for lifting up all.

I'm thinking about all that free sunshine that blesses us most days in South Dakota, that modest and unclaimed energy resource. Why we couldn't be a leader in solar energy is beyond me. It took us years as a state, watching our neighbor to the east installing wind turbines and profiting from them in myriad ways, to begin accepting the idea in our own wind driven state. Now we continue to sit on the sidelines as solar becomes commonplace elsewhere and cottage industries develop all over the planet.

Even for those who don't accept climate change and aren't invested in the development of all, there's reason to look at solar as an alternative energy source. It's cheaper! "I'm probably the furthest thing from an Al Gore clone you could find," says Jim Briggs, interim city manager of Georgetown, Texas. This small community of some 50,000 people is going 100% renewable in a state best known for it's fossil fuel industry. "We didn't do this to save the world," Briggs says. "We did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers."

Since the Georgetown utility company is a city owned monopoly, in examining their options last year they discovered renewable energy was cheaper. By January 2017, SunEdison (not a cottage industry but a giant multinational) will bring their renewables to 100%. In 2014 they had already signed on with a nearby wind outfit. They'll have sun by day, wind by night. It sounds sensible!

A record amount of solar power was added to the world's grid last year. Total cumulative capacity is 100 times more than it was in the year 2000. Many are convinced the tipping point has now been reached that will allow for the rapid expansion of the technology and the continued descent of the cost.

If we could just convince the decision makers we need net metering in our state, so rooftop and other smaller solar installations were more economically accessible, we might give our citizens a bit more self determination about their energy sources. And if we could get some sensible local ordinances passed about individual wind energy, it could be comparable to getting a solar oven in Haiti. People have satellite TV receivers on their roofs, why not small scale wind systems?

Carl Kline

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Iran Agreement

In an article in  the Brookings Register recently, Representative Kristi Noem wrote, "A bad deal with Iran will jeopardize the security of America, the safety of our ally Israel, and peace around the world." She makes it clear in the article the agreement negotiated between the U.S., Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany, and Iran, is a "bad deal" in her eyes.

Excuse me, but I keep hearing almost every day, without fail, the security of the U.S. is jeopardized, as is the security of Israel, and there certainly isn't peace all around the world, even without the "bad deal." Honestly, can it get much worse, particularly in the Middle East? Now we have a new war erupting between Turkey and the Kurds. Leave it to the neocons in Washington and the whole region will be in flames, potentially nuclear in origin.

I wonder if our Representative is aware of the enormous pressure being placed on European countries being flooded with refugees from the death and destruction in Syria? Is she aware of the continuing chaos and murder being perpetrated in Iraq as the fruit of our illegal and immoral intervention there? Is she aware of the way we are helping fuel the fires of war with our constant arming of countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, while our drones produce new "terrorists" who have suffered the terror of drone warfare in places like Yemen? And will she take an honest look at the history of U.S. relations with Iran,  including our overthrow of an Iranian government, the installation of the Shah, the weapons the Reagan administration gave them, the way we supported and encouraged the war between Iran and Iraq with enormous personnel losses in both countries?

The U.S. relationship with Iran is spotty at best, criminal at worst. It's not exactly inaccurate for the Ayatollah Khamenei to call the U.S. "arrogant." I mean, here we are with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, refusing to acknowledge our ally Israel has them, and then telling Iran they can't make one. 

Then Representative Noem tells us Iranians in the background started chanting "death to America." The reality is, there are hardliners in Iran just as there are in the U.S. Just watch the hearings with Secretary Kerry testifying about the agreement before the congressional committees. One guesses several of those congresspersons wouldn't care if every Iranian in the world lived or died.

Many of the clips I saw after the "deal" was announced in Iran were of jubilant crowds, mostly young, in the streets of Tehran. Since I don't watch Fox News often I don't know for sure, but my guess would be that's where our Representative saw and heard death chants, not jubilant young.

There are some powers at work behind the scenes on this issue. One is the fossil fuel companies. Already gas prices are lower than Exxon Mobil and Shell and the others would like them. There's a glut on the world market. If sanctions are taken off Iranian oil, it can only take prices even lower. It's already tough to cover the cost of mining Bakken crude in North Dakota and even harder to cover the cost of mining tar sands oil in Alberta. There's a lot of money invested in those oil fields and there's enormous political power in the fossil fuel industry that developed them.

The other powers at work behind the scenes are those who have a vested interest in spreading fear. They include those in the security and weapons industries and media outlets beholden to ideological positions. Since when did this country decry diplomacy as an untenable option to international problems and opt first and finally for force? And aren't the toughest issues the ones we most want diplomacy to attempt?

Much noise has been made around the issue of verification. Listen to the experts! Those charged with determining whether Iran will keep their word, with doing the inspections, are not troubled by a 24 day delay. Representative Noem is. Perhaps she needs some time with the inspectors to learn of the powers of aerial surveillance and the sensitive instruments used to detect radioactive substances even weeks after sites have been "cleansed."

We've given warfare a chance and it's been a dismal failure. Al Qaeda morphs into ISIL morphs into …? Time magazine reports that after signing this "bad deal," Iran is cutting it's ties to Hamas. And there is some suspicion Hamas may be courted by Saudi Arabia, the U.S. friend and supposed ally. Will that make Israel happy?

Instead of unleashing more hatreds in this important and historic region of the world, we need even more intensive diplomacy. Give the State Department and diplomatic missions just one small fraction of the Pentagon's budget! And instead of promising more weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia in exchange for their grudging acceptance of this nuclear deal, we should be working at undermining their insecurities with dialogue and the building of trust across the national, ethnic and religious barriers. 

War is much too easy for the impatient and comfortable, our national nature.

Carl Kline