Thursday, December 15, 2016

God of the Field

There are some young friends in India who have been working for years among the rural poor. They are development workers at heart. But they are committed to the kind of development that makes sense in that cultural context and coincides with the interests and wishes of the population. 

Going into that rural area for the first time they didn't have an agenda to advance. They didn't have a product to push. They didn't have a PhD in development studies, although they are certainly bright enough to earn one. They simply made a commitment to live with the people and see what it meant to be good neighbors.

The young man comes from a family that chose to live in the largest, most densely populated slum in Mumbai. He grew up believing that it was one's duty to share in the lot of the poor, till no one was poor. His wife grew up in a family that valued an ethic of "enough." They deliberately sought to make their ecological footprint as small as possible, out of respect and concern for those who had even less space or resources. 

The young woman was in South Dakota, before her marriage, for an intercultural education program. The program group was taking an evening off at a cabin on a near-by lake. Many of the group were taking rides on a pontoon, but she declined. When asked why she wouldn't enjoy a ride with the others, she replied she couldn't participate in an activity using fuel for pleasure. She had likely seen too many rickshaw drivers in India measuring gas for their tanks, at truly exorbitant prices, with a plastic measuring cup. She knew the price of gasoline for the world's poor.

For many months I got a modest report from this couple about their work. One experience they shared has stayed with me ever since. They were describing the way the local farmers plowed their fields. Initially, they couldn't understand what  was happening.

Tractors were out of the question in that area. The bullock pulled the plow. Believe it or not, working as if attached at the heart, farmer and bullock can make furrows as straight and true as any John Deere, with lots less compaction of the soil and no fossil fuels. And in this instance, they watched as the farmer finished the rows. Then, to their amazement, the farmer made a furrow stretching from one corner of the field, obliquely, to the other corner. When asked why he did this, the farmer replied, "that's the God of the field."

On further examination, the couple discovered there was also the "God of the house." In building a home, the same oblique line always ran in a contrary direction, plainly visible, one of a kind, lonely in the midst of the other house lines, visually dominant.

Symbols can be significant. There was a time when I was one of the lap swimmers in the South Dakota State University pool. If you've been there and keep your eyes open as you swim, you'll notice that you're following the way of the cross. I'm sure not everyone sees it that way. But for someone who does and finds meaning in that symbol, it can change the very nature of your swim.

In the same way, if you wake each morning to the "God of the house" and work with the "God of the field," you likely begin to recognize the divine in the world around you and it changes your perspective and your behavior. It becomes a symbol, an invitation to the divine to inhabit the place and your consciousness.

Would we had more of the same in our culture; intentional and conscious ways of inviting the divine to reside with and work with us. Perhaps then we would be more like these young people in their service to their neighbors. 

The downright hatred of the poor in some quarters of U.S. society; the branding of the homeless and jobless; the hostility toward any kind of social safety net beyond private charity; the irony of Senatorial millionaires voting down a living wage;  the callousness of withholding medicaid funds out of political spite; the utter selfishness of some who have far more than they need; and the racial and economic discrimination still alive and well; all cry for the generous and caring people we have been and are meant to be.

Are we our brothers and sisters keepers? In another age there was no question! The Biblical injunction and the natural inclination was to help and serve the neighbor. It's a solid and enduring value, one we can perhaps better express in communities like ours, not too big and not too small, where we might actually know our neighbor. 

We all need symbols and value reminders. It's why we go to church, or take time daily for meditation, or visit the sick. So maybe I'll plow a "God in my garden" this summer,  just to remind me who makes it grow and who to offer the harvest.

Carl Kline

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Time to Hope

A Christian Sermon Delivered Nov 27, 2016

Matthew 24:36-44
The reading for today is about the end times. The day of judgment is coming. No one knows when it will be, not the angels, not the Son. Only God knows when this time will come. When we read the text closely, Matthew is careful to avoid making any judgments on the people living in the days of Noah before the flood. There is no judgment on the men working in the fields or the women working in the mill. They are all ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary ways. They are getting married and being given in marriage, or going about their normal every day routines and chores. All Matthew tells us is that the day is coming, therefore, keep away. Stay alert.
In order to understand this text it is helpful to have some historical context and background. After Jesus died there was an explosion of missionary activity in the early church. The followers of Jesus went everywhere to share the good news of the Gospel. Thomas went to India. Peter and Paul were in what is now Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean. Other disciples went to Africa and parts of Europe. As the church spread out new questions arose. One of the central questions was who could be a Christian.
The Romans considered Christianity to be a Jewish sect. The question in the church was whether or not Gentiles had to become Jews before they became Christians, or could they become Christians without first becoming Jews? That question was so important that the leaders of the church convened the first Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35 RSV). The Council decided that Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews. This was a statement about radical equality among all members of the church. It was an important decision that shaped the future of the church.
As the early church grew, leaders had to decide not only who could become a Christian but also how the faith was being shared. Congregations became training centers. It is fair to think of some churches as “mother” congregations that sponsored satellite communities. Schools that we might think of as academies were established. Some of these congregations were predominantly Jewish, some were predominantly Gentile, and some were mixed.
Scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Matthew was written to a largely Jewish congregation and it was written in or around 80 AD (now CE for the Common Era). These two points are important for our interpretation of chapter 24 of Matthew because of what happened in the preceding decades. In 60 CE there was a massive fire in Rome that destroyed one-third of the city. Nero, the Emperor, blamed the Christians and there was a period of severe persecution. The Jewish War in Israel began in 66 CE with the intent of driving the Romans out of Israel. The Romans responded with what we would call a scorched earth policy. They began in the north and moved south destroying everything that represented resistance and killing thousands of people. When they got to Jerusalem they destroyed the city and burned the Temple to the ground. The Wailing Wall is all that is left of the Temple. When people visit the Wailing Wall they are revisiting a site that was destroyed in 70 CE and reliving that history. After they destroyed Jerusalem, the Romans went south to Masada, the last stronghold of the resistance.

It is hard for us to imagine the impact the Jewish War had on Israel. To give you an idea, today in Israel there is universal conscription. Everyone, men and women, serve in the armed forces. At the end of basic training the new recruits visit three places. They go to the Golan Heights in the north, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and Masada in the South. They remember the Jewish War of 70 CE and take a vow, “Never Again.”
Trying to translate the intensity of this history to U.S. experience I imagined taking a day to visit the Twin Tower moment in New York City, then going to Gettysburg and reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address a dozen times and the diaries of soldiers who fought for the South and the North, and then spending a day in Oklahoma City at the Murray Federal Building Memorial. If you have not visited the Murray Federal Building Memorial, I encourage you to go there, spend a day and then say, “Never Again.”

You could also visit the Standing River Sioux Tribe and the standoff in North Dakota. It has not received much attention in the corporate media but what is happening there is being live streamed around the world. People around the world are watching what is happening there as 5,000 to 10,000 people from around the world gather to support and stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I believe this confrontation over the Dakota Access Pipeline will be one of the events that defines the legacy of the Obama administration and it will be the first test of the Trump administration. Mr. Trump says that he wants to heal the nation. I hope he will. This confrontation in North Dakota will be his first test and it will define what happens in the coming years.

So let me turn back to chapter 24 of Matthew. If, as I assume, he is writing to a largely Jewish congregation and he is writing after the Jewish War, he is writing for a community that has lost everything. The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed. The Temple is no more. Leaders have either been killed or taken into captivity. Thousands of people have died. What is to be done?
To answer that question we have to turn back to the first chapters of Matthew. He begins with a “genealogy of Jesus the Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1). It is as if to say that the Jewish War is our context but it does not define who we are or what our future will be. The genealogy of the community goes back much further and its roots are much deeper. Keep Awake. Stay Alert.
Matthew then recalls the angel coming to Joseph and telling him not to be afraid because Mary will conceive and bear a son, whom Joseph is to name Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sin” (Mt.1:21). Salvation is a key theme in Matthew. But pay attention to what Matthew does.
In verse 21, Jesus is to save “his people”—the Jews—from their sin. But then Matthew tells the story of the wise men coming to Bethlehem. They are coming from Persia. They are not Jews. They are probably Zoroastrian. They follow a star that shines so brightly that they can see it day and night. But when they get to Israel, Herod summons them to a secret meeting and commands them that once they find the child they must return to him. This is extraordinary. The star is so bright that the wise men can see it day and night, but Herod is so spiritually blind that he cannot see it. At the end of this episode, the wise men return to their own country by “another way” (Mt. 1:21). In defiance of the explicit order of the king, they go home another way, presumably to let others know what they have experienced, that is to be evangelists.
Stay Alert. Keep Awake. Do not let the Herod’s of this world define what is possible, or what the future will be. “Creation groans” Paul writes in Romans but “waits with eager longing” (Rom. 8:19), or more graphically, “stands on the tiptoes of expectation” to see what the followers of Jesus will do next, to see what we will do next. Amen.
Rev. David Hansen

Friday, November 25, 2016

Race and the Media

Back in the late 1970's, there was a revolution happening in the Central American country of Nicaragua. After forty some years of dictatorship under the Somoza family dynasty and their control of the National Guard, the people of the country had enough. They overthrew the regime and established a communist  government under the Sandanistas. 

During that revolutionary period, I recall watching film on the evening news of demonstrators against Somoza being pursued by tanks through the streets of Managua, the capital city. Shortly afterwards, I was in Mexico for a course on Liberation Theology. Watching the evening news in Mexico we saw film on the same demonstration, with one difference.

In Mexico, the camera was wobbling all over the place. The view was not steady, because the cameraman was running through the streets with the demonstrators, looking back at the tanks. In the U.S., the cameraman was either riding on the tanks or walking with them. His hand was steady.

It was a lesson for me on "point of view." It makes a difference whether you are with the cat or the mouse, with those with weapons or those without, with the powerful or the powerless.

I've been watching the mainstream media coverage of the conflict at Standing Rock. When you compare it to the coverage on social media, it seems like there must be two distinct worlds, not just two world views. It's the difference between prayerful and peaceful water protectors and unruly, rioting protestors. 

And then mainstream media always emphasizes the "3.8 billion pipeline."  Those figures hardly ever come up in social media. The only time money gets mentioned is when camp supporters document how much money the President-elect has invested in the pipeline, or how much is needed to continue winterizing the camp.

A difference between the Nicaraguan revolution and the one in North Dakota is that there were a limited number of cameras in the late 70's. Everyone at the camps in North Dakota has a camera. And pictures can be shared, instantaneously. The whole world is watching and any brutality or injustice can be exposed.

But some will say even visual evidence can be manipulated. So they give more credibility to personal testimony, to the reports of those who are present and experiencing the events. Brookings residents have an opportunity to hear first hand from two women from the Standing Rock Community this coming Wednesday, November 30.

Avis Little Eagle is a journalist and publisher of the Teton Times and has held several offices in tribal government. Phyllis Young is the founder of Women of All Red Nations and is recognized for her work in local government as well as internationally. Both will be present and speaking at 7:00 PM at the United Church of Christ on Eighth Street South Wednesday night.

Lurking in the background or hidden in the fine print of every report from Standing Rock is the issue of race. As a society we still aren't comfortable uncovering our historical baggage. To look at the racial divisions in this country honestly raises questions of responsibility, accountability, guilt and forgiveness. Every time questions of race are raised in a serious way, the dominant culture tries to ignore them or repress them with overwhelming force, rather than facing them with courage and commitment.

It's no accident that many are sharing pictures, side by side, of the hosing of black civil rights protestors in the segregated south to the hosing of Native American water protectors in what is increasingly known as the Mississippi of the north. 

There are other similarities. Both have their outside agitators, who if they would just leave, then things could return to normal. The mayor of Bismarck is pleading with all of the outsiders to just go home for the holidays.

I heard someone say "race relations in this country is like an old house." We live in an old house! Built in 1890 there's something strong and resilient about it. But one small problem can also reveal a deeper problem hiding below the surface. You can paper it over or ignore it but eventually the fundamental issue will have to be treated.

Standing Rock is raising some fundamental questions about our relationship with indigenous people. It's not simply a U.S. problem, it's global. Witness the tribal peoples coming to North Dakota from many different countries and every continent. We will either continue ravaging and consuming the resources of the planet to our destruction, or we will sit at a table with first peoples and learn how we can live well together. 

Carl Kline

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Light in the Dark

In the aftermath of the election with all the sadness and anxiety and grief that it has engendered among so many, it was hard to encounter the disbelief that came with the realization that, overnight, the bedrock of a certain level of civility and dependability had shifted so dramatically.  For so many, our worst fears became a reality.

With the dawning of the Sunday morning immediately following the election results, it was a daunting challenge to preach and to fulfill the task of being pastor to ALL of the flock.  Some were celebrating while many were in shock, grieving, not quite knowing where to turn.  Already, the seeds of distrust and separation and alienation had begun to germinate.   I gave silent thanks for the sacred texts that provide authority to preach.  Having companions like Jeremiah and Jesus with me in the pulpit as guides while running through the thistles made it possible to find the way to hold the flock together while acknowledging how much we had all been damaged, regardless of political affiliation, by the gross disregard for the sensibilities of our souls and our humanity during the campaign.    

Together, we could agree that, as beings created in the Divine Image, we have all been deeply and grievously trespassed upon and that the Divine Image has been sullied by the 19 months of verbal, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse we have had to endure since the campaign began in earnest.

So we sang and prayed and cried and worshipped and embraced together to at least begin to heal whatever fissures might have begun to appear in the life of our community. 

And then a miracle happened.

At 3 PM in the afternoon, a birthday celebration began - the celebration of my husband’s 80th. birthday - - the beginning of his 9th. decade.  Right at 3 o’clock the caterer had the gorgeous fruit and cheese platters in place.  Mulled cider and cranberry punch awaited consumption.  Baked brie with plum jam and walnuts enticed - - and the guests began to arrive - - - and extravagant love began to fill the room.

By 4 PM there were 65 or 70 of us, old friends, new acquaintances, folks who had grown up on the island but hadn’t seen each other in years, family members, a broad swath of the community we enjoy and love.  Old connections were renewed.  New ones were made.  There were tributes and greetings given to the birthday honoree.  Songs were sung. Our rabbis gave the blessings.  Candles were blown out and cake was enjoyed by all.

At 5 PM the guests began to depart and it was only then that we could take a breath and ask ourselves “What just happened here?!?”  And why was it such a powerfully whole and loving time together?

As we finally took off our shoes and propped our feet up on the coffee table at home, we thought about the amazing array of folks who had shown up.  Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Paganism, Astrology, Shamanism, Atheism, and Agnosticism were all represented.  Gay and straight, able bodied and not-so-able bodied, children and an almost - centenarian rubbed elbows with a person without shelter. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives actually drank from the same punch bowl.  Monetary gifts were given to the local Food Pantry in honor of the “birthday boy.”

We celebrated life - and one life in particular as my husband crossed a major life threshold.  We felt whole.  We felt joy.  We felt our sense of community in spite of the tumult of the previous week.

I couldn’t help but entertain the notion that we had glimpsed the Reign of Peace, AKA “The KIngdom of God” AKA “The Messianic Age” in those couple of hours completely focused on the things that make us who we are - caring for each other - compassion, even when we don’t agree all the time, extravagant willingness to bless one another with affection and kindness - - and an unabashed predilection for  hugging and simply saying to one another “I love you.”

After so much toxicity over so many months, I think we got just the right antidote. We will all continue to feel the ongoing reverberations that come with each new day’s headlines. We have some incredible challenges in front of us as the new administration moves ahead. There will be much pain to be endured, much danger to be confronted, much fear to be countered. What the recent election portends cannot be ignored.  But something happened in our community that assured us all that we will transcend because we know what joy and wholeness are - - we like the way that feels - - and we know how and where to find them - - in one another’s company as we celebrate each other, maintain vigilance in behalf of the vulnerable among us and hold on to the vision of prophets and visionaries of the time for beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

The energy for the work that lies ahead will be fueled by the righteous anger that arises from the strength of loving compassion which we must nurture in community together for one another and all creation in the days to come.  

For many of us, there is another big birthday to be celebrated in the not too distant future.  A birth that heralds the coming of light into the world at the darkest time of the year.  It coincides with the lighting of the first Hannukah Candle this year.  May it be a time of Light Sharing together as we face an uncertain future in unity with one another.

Vicky Hanjian
2 Pictures: Armen Hanjian at the Food Pantry

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moons, Moans and Memories

It's hard to understand the human mind. Sometimes it simply has its way with us. One can be in a totally different world of thought and a memory intrudes, out of the blue. For some reason, I started remembering yesterday I and Thou. It's a book I read years ago by Martin Buber.

Buber believes there are two ways humans have of engaging the world. The way we normally engage is what Buber calls "I-It". It's a subject - object relationship. So if I'm looking for a home or a car, or perhaps even a wife, I collect the appropriate data, analyze and classify it and weigh the attributes. 

This way of engaging the world sees the "it" as something to be utilized, selected for some purpose, a collection of qualities and quantities. The "I" in this kind of relationship is more observer than participant. The "it" can be discarded when it is no longer useful, whether a car, a home, even a wife.

The second way of engaging the world is what Buber calls "I-You." In this mode one enters into relationship with the other in a way that transforms them both. This can happen between humans, like in a marriage, but also with elements of nature or even with inanimate objects. So you can have a transforming relationship with a dog, or a piece of music, water (I'm anxious to get in the shower), or even the moon.

The third way of engaging the world is what Buber calls "I-Thou." Of necessity, this third way recognizes a relationship that is beyond our capacity to objectify it. In this relationship we are not in the driver's seat. We can not control or manipulate the Thou. But if the Thou takes hold everything changes, because we understand the world around us in a totally new way, as endowed with presence that transforms the world, and more importantly, transforms us.

That's the first memory, the Buber book!

But there's also a moan! Because I'm remembering (a second memory) as I write this, we are recognizing Veterans Day today. As a nation we are honoring and recalling the lives and deaths of millions who fought and died in this nation's wars. 

Inherent for me in the day, is the grief I feel for the all too present capacity humans have to turn peoples and places into the "other," to the point where all are expendable. How is it that we still are not able to see those who come from different races, cultures, countries or creeds as a "you," open to mutual relationship and transformation? Why must the other always be treated as an "it?" Are we inherently, perhaps even genetically, frightened that we might be changed?

Buber wrote I and Thou in 1923. Even then he was recognizing how modern society was built on "I-It." He saw all the institutions of the day built on this kind of objectifying of others; economics (especially economics), politics (especially politics), the military (especially the military), education, even the family. 

For Buber, the result of an "I-It" society was eventual alienation, a sense of homelessness, a loss of identity, an existential angst. It results in a pervading sense of meaninglessness, a pervasive feeling of fear and impending doom. 

A second moan! The 2016 Presidential election! Talk about a society in existential angst with a pervasive feeling of fear and alienation. It's the U.S. today writ large! Maybe we need to transform our culture from "I-It" to "I-You," even "I-Thou."

So what to do? I'm going to look for the moon! Monday night will be a "super moon." Because the moon will be full and closer to the earth than at any other time in 2016, it will appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter. It will be closest to the earth since January 26 of 1948. It won't be as close again till November of 2034. I'm hoping for clear skies.

The night sky, if we take the time to look, reminds us of our finiteness. It's all bigger than we are. And if one is able to discard the "I-It" mentality, not try to grasp or use the night sky for a purpose, we might even be exposed to potential relationship with a "Thou."  

Awe always has an aspect of reverence and wonder. Awe can inspire us to new modes of relating. And an "I-Thou" relationship can relieve our moans and enable us together to make new and more beautiful memories.

Carl Kline

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Practicing Nonviolence

Recently in a class I am taking at South Dakota State University titled Peace and Conflict Studies, I read a short excerpt from a book titled "Approaches to Peace", assembled by David Barash. He talks about how people who practice nonviolence must do so with "a willingness to be abused by the authorities and yet to respond nonviolently, with courage and determination, even politeness" (Barash 243). 

I found this notion very intriguing, especially with all that is going on in the United States today. There are many movements and protests, violent and nonviolent, happening all across the country. However, not many of these affect me personally. Living in small town South Dakota, I don't really have to concern myself with these movements unless I want to. 

This piece from Barash got me thinking, if I did involve myself and chose to fight for a cause, is this how I would hold myself- with politeness toward those trying to fight against me? Choosing to fight for a cause that is found to be worth fighting for is a huge decision; it is an even bigger decision to choose to fight nonviolently. 

I think many people are confused by the notion that fighting for a cause must contain violence in order to win or subdue the 'enemy'. Nonviolence is not an alternative to fighting, it is simply a different way of doing so. 

With all that is going on in our country, many groups seem to view their cause as having supporters and enemies. When groups use the practice of nonviolence, they are not only helping their own cause, but they are helping their opposition as well. Rather than having to end with winner and loser, why not end with a compromise or a 'tie'? 

I think people very quickly lose sight of the fact that we are all living here together and can achieve a place of harmony if only we stop viewing each other as being allies and enemies. Facing issues with courage, determination and politeness could change the way the entire country takes on disagreements and movements. By keeping these three things in focus, I think that different groups could successfully work through differences and disagreements without having to incorporate the violent aspect.

Anna Chicoine
Guest Blogger

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where Does It Come From?

It was a beautiful autumn in New York. We decided to take the youth from the church on a Saturday outing to a farm north of the city. One of the church members had this country home on several acres with trees and fields and a stream. It was great weather, a perfect time of year and a terrific location to be out of the noise and concrete of the city.

In my minds eye I see them now. Forty middle school students walking in a pack, close to the country home with a boom box in their midst, turned as loud as it would go. There was no movement into the fields and trees. There was no investigation of the stream. It  was as if this unfamiliar environment was not only foreign but frightening.

I'm certain if one were to ask these young people where their hamburger came from, they would say McDonalds or perhaps the Coop grocery store. They never had the experience of chopping off the head of a chicken on the farm or even watching a live pig turn into pork chops in the SDSU meat lab.

They didn't know the origin of their food, the process through which it arrived on their plate, the people who labored to put it there.

Those in rural areas can smile and even lament the food ignorance of city folk. But when you look more closely, the ignorance of where things come from is pervasive in the whole culture. Do we know where the aluminum in our car originates? There's not much bauxite in the U.S.! Do we realize the health and safety risks some take so there is copper for our wiring? Do we know the sacrifices whole communities make to supply our needs and wants?

A copper mine in Peru is reported back in business after it was halted for ten days by protesters.  They were objecting to the noise, dust and environmental destruction the Chinese owned mine was bringing to their homes and communities. The mine expects to deliver 400,000 tons of the metal a year, producing a fifth of the copper output of Peru. 

The protest ended after police shot and killed one of the protesters with a bullet in the head. Reports from the company say talks are now taking place to try and develop alternative transportation options as the government investigates the killing.

This is not an isolated incident. Oxfam International reports that 2015 was the deadliest year ever for those people struggling to protect their homes and environment from extractive industries. And of the 185 human rights defenders killed around the globe, 122 were killed in Latin America, places like Peru, where the Goldman prize winning environmental activist Mazima Acuna de Chaupe was recently attacked and hospitalized, allegedly by security guards for the gold mining company that wants her land.

And this trend continues. There have been 58 additional murders in the region between January and May of 2016. More recently, a Brazilian environmental official and two Honduran environmental leaders were assassinated.

Huge mining and energy projects, driven by financial speculators and international corporations, are trashing the Latin American landscape. They are forcing the displacement  and loss of land and livelihood for whole populations of rural and indigenous peoples.

In the meantime, governments stand on the sidelines or blatantly support the exploitation, economically dependent on resource extraction for their well being and political stability. Protocols and licenses for doing business are ignored or minimized to provide the companies with easy access and limited roadblocks.

The only roadblocks are established by the people on the land, like at the Peru mine, where the protester got a bullet to the head.

Meeting with people from all over Mexico this past June, from all walks of life, I realized that all of them were confronting mega resource projects in their own back yards. Mines, hydro electric projects, fracking; you name it, they were facing it. As we met over the course of several days, news came of the killing of teachers in Oaxaca, a related struggle. It became clearer and clearer that the common people are quickly becoming disposable. If you are a farmer, anyplace, and there are resources to be exploited where you live, you and your land are in danger. It is called "development." And enormous financial institutions, infrastructure corporations and extractive industries will convince political elites to sacrifice a few "radical environmentalists" or "Indians" for the sake of the many.

Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home, writes: "The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone." One assumes that includes clean, fresh water.

Was I talking about resource extraction and exploitation of the poor in Latin America? Or was it North Dakota? The situation playing out at Standing Rock is a historical and moral disgrace for the U.S. The political and financial enablers should be ashamed. There hasn't been a killing yet, but only through the grace of God, given the stakes. 

Do we know where our water comes from? Out of the faucet, right?

Carl Kline

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Inside Conflicts of a College Student

Growing up you are always told to accept others for who they are, and to not judge them. But often what we are not taught is the inside struggles many go through. The constant questions of whether they are good enough, if what they are doing is right, if where they are is where they are supposed to be, and so many other vital life questions. Often what we do not see are some of the biggest conflicts in a person’s life and often times all these people need is a little bit of encouragement and support but what we give them is a sign of disappointment and disapproval. We as a society need to encourage students to seek help when they are struggling mentally and emotionally.
As a college student many thoughts go through your head. All of a sudden you are pushed out of the nest and no matter how prepared you think you are you can never be prepared enough. All the decisions you are suddenly forced to make: what do you want to do with your life, where are your going to live, and how are you going to afford all of this are just a few of the many life defining questions that are thrown at you. Internally you go through a whirlwind of emotions> You do not know if you are prepared for this. You are suddenly faced with the question, is all this worth what you want to do in your future? All of a sudden it feels as if you are taking on life all by yourself and no one is there to support you.
As a struggling college student all you want to balance out your life is to have a conversation with someone. You want to tell anyone and everyone that will listen about your current life struggles, but a lot of times everyone else is so engulfed in their own lives or studies to just lend an ear. All of a sudden you realize you truly are in this big world all alone, and reaching out is almost impossible. Not everyone is accepting and you do not want to be looked at differently. Almost everyone you encounter tells you to buck it up, you will be fine, and you are just in a slump. The world seems to get darker and darker, you are constantly inflicted with all these internal struggles and you do not know whether to keep trying to push them out and go about life normally or to succumb to the pressures of your mind, to shut everyone out and just pretend you never existed.
As someone who has been in the dark place of their own mind, a simple smile and telling someone you care can do wonders. We need to go away from the stigma that mental health is not something that can be harmful. These internal conflicts can lead to so much struggle within a person and so much damage within a community. Thousands die annually of suicide and this leaves an ever lasting impact on a community. Reach out and help someone, you never know how much that can mean. Just have a normal conversation, you never know what someone is going through and how much that conversation may help someone come out of that dark place even if just for a few minutes. We should all strive to talk to at least one person we do not know weekly, if not daily. Be the ray of sunshine in someone’s life just one day and you will leave a lasting impact for a lifetime.
By Rebecca Urban
Guest Blogger

Monday, October 17, 2016

Creating an Economy of Care

Editors Note: This is an edited sermon delivered by Rev. David Hansen August 28, 2016.

Luke 14:1-14

Creating an Economy of Care
It was a long reading today from the Gospel of Luke but I wanted to read the whole passage because what happens in the first part—healing the man with dropsy—holds the key to understanding the second part—and the question of seating at the banquet illustrates the first part. In order to get the full picture, we need the full story.
Dropsy is not a word we use anymore. Today we talk about edema, which is the medical term for what used to be called dropsy. Edema refers to retention of fluid in the body. It is a condition that might have any number of causes and the medical community has a specific name for each type of edema. It can be a very painful condition and may be even life threatening. It is a serious condition.
Tradition teaches us that Luke was a physician. And it may be that he is diagnosing and describing a physical condition that Jesus healed. It could also be that he is diagnosing a spiritual disease.
In ancient times dropsy was a metaphor for greed. Dropsy referred to this insatiable desire to own everything. Perhaps the man’s ailment was spiritual dropsy. The poet e. e. Cummings has a powerful little poem entitled “more,” which describes the condition of dropsy. He says in this poem, “nobody wants much, not to say most, all anybody ever wants is more, and more, and more. What are we all, morticians.” That’s a description of dropsy. It is a deadly disease.
St. Augustine said that God has created the world so that there is enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not enough to satisfy one person’s greed.
I am suggesting that the man was consumed by an insatiable desire to own more, and more, and more. He was greedy. He had forgotten the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.” The man in the gospel thought everybody was his neighbor, and he was entitled to everything they owned.
In a world that is increasingly divided between the have-gots and the have-nots, we are familiar with this condition. Two scholars, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote a book a few years ago entitled Winner-Take-All Politics (Simon & Schuster, 2010) in which they document why there is this growing chasm between the one-percent and the ninety-nine percent. We are aware of the problem. It has real consequences. One in five children in Kansas, the breadbasket of the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, one child in five, a total of 135,000 children in Kansas, live below the poverty line.
I know that poverty is a complex issue and there is no single answer or simple solution. If there were we would have eradicated poverty long ago. But I am thankful that the World Council of Churches has been wrestling in a very serious and intense way with the global economy and questions about poverty and wealth for the last 30 years. The Council has convened meetings with economists, church leaders, scholars, and people from all walks of life in conferences and study groups and they have released a number of studies. In the last few years one of these groups has published what they call “the greed line.” The authors say that if we are comfortable talking about the poverty line, we should also start talking about the greed line. If we are going to put the greed line study in the context of today’s gospel reading, we would talk about global dropsy. Those who have the most have an insatiable appetite to have more.
Like any disease, if you are going to cure it, you need to know how to identify it and diagnose it. The study group came up with four criteria to identify what Luke calls “dropsy:”
The first criteria is when the objective to maximize returns becomes an end in itself. The second is when the social and ecological consequences of maximizing returns are deliberately disregarded. The third criteria is when the pursuit of wealth results in withholding land, goods and capital from the community, and the fourth, when excessive inequality undermines social cohesion and respect for human dignity.
These criteria get played out at the banquet in the second half of the reading for today. The guest arrives with a sense of entitlement that disregards the intent of the host, undermines respect for others in attendance, and usurps the place of honor. The guest has an insatiable desire to be recognized, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Unstated, but I think implied in this parable, is the lesson of Jesus when he told the disciples, “I am sending you like sheep among the wolves. You must be wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves” (Mt.10: 16). Understand the ways of the world, but do not be seduced by the glitter and glamor of the world. Don’t sit at the head table. Don’t take the place of honor. Find another table and sit there.
We often hear this as a counsel to be humble. But humility does not have anything to do with thinking less of yourself. Humility is not about thinking less of yourself. To be humble means to not think less of others. Love one another as I have loved you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is what the Bible means by humility. Blessed are the meek—the people who respect others.

The good news is that Jesus healed the man with dropsy in an instant, and the guest who came to the banquet found another table. It’s going to take us a little longer. We cannot disengage from the world so quickly or easily. It is hard work and it takes time and dedication and commitment. But the love of God is here, and so are the opportunities for us to explore how we can create and expand what I called this morning “an economy of care,” a growing community that values the well-being of everyone who is created in the image of God. The table is set. The invitation has been made. Come, and eat this bread and drink this cup and give thanks to God.

Friday, October 7, 2016

David & Goliath

A rather astonishing and frightening event continues to play out in North Dakota. As Energy Transfer Partners continues to lay pipe for the Dakota Access Pipeline, against the order of a federal judge, those gathered to protect the water and sacred lands are summarily arrested. As the state escalates their response to native peoples with more militarized police, the national guard and trumped up felony arrest charges, the likelihood of a spark to light a conflagration increases. 

Each day of the stand off it grows more and more similar to an older struggle in our country. The comparable events in our history are the struggle against slavery and for civil rights. There are three reasons why this relationship becomes more and more evident to me with each passing day. The reasons are based in economics, the law and race.

Economics! In the days of slavery, especially and most importantly in the south, slavery was an economic engine. The economy of the whole region depended on it. The wealthy were deeply invested in owning other human beings and they were the ones who told the politicians what laws to pass to keep the slaves in their place.

The state of North Dakota made a choice to develop the Bakken oil fields. The state has made an enormous investment. Whole N.D. communities have been transformed by this boom or bust economic engine. Today, with low gas prices, they are looking busted.

But it's not only the economy of the state of North Dakota. There's an enormous economic engine involved in this struggle. Energy Transfer Partners includes some of the largest fossil fuel interests on the planet. They have the support of most of the major banks. Seventeen financial institutions have loaned Dakota Access $2.5 billion. They have also committed huge sums for more infrastructure projects. There's more than $10 billion in loans and credits from 38 banks supporting groups building the Dakota Access Pipeline. These banks will want those loans repaid, with interest!

The law! In the south during slavery the law followed the money. So it was lawful to beat your property, your slave. The law often looked the other way when the plantation owner raped a piece of his property. 

In North Dakota, people can be bitten by attack dogs, children and elders can be pepper sprayed and all manner of young and old can be arrested by standing in the wrong place at the wrong time or not moving fast enough. But Energy Transfer Partners can bulldoze sacred sites, ignore a federal judge and buy the Cannonball Ranch (against  N.D. corporate farming law) and nothing happens.

Then there's the matter of race. In the south during the days of slavery and segregation, the law said some people had to drink at certain water fountains. In North Dakota, the original proposed site of the pipeline was too close to Bismarck. Some worried it might impact their water supply. So the site closer to Standing Rock tribal water was chosen. Let the Indians drink oil.

I met Chas Jewett for the first time last month in the Black Hills. She spoke about her work with Community Conversations in Rapid City. This is an effort for Indians and whites to learn from and listen to each other. From all reports it has been a productive and promising experience for those involved and the larger community. 

Chas has been at the Standing Rock camp and has shared some videos. One was startling in its simplicity and beauty. She was with a group from the camp who went to the state capital in Bismarck to have a prayer service. As they are arriving, a long line of state police appears and forms a barrier in front of them. Chas is astonished! She can't believe this show of force. People have come to offer prayers. Nevertheless, a sage ceremony to purify the thoughts and behavior of the participants proceeds. Then one individual walks over to the first state trooper and shakes his hand. He moves on shaking the hands of all those in the line. He is soon followed by all those gathered for the prayer service. It's the most exceptional scene of de-escalating potential conflict I have ever seen.

There was a second similar incident just the other day. It was a stand off at a rural road intersection. The same thing happened. Native people offered the hand of relationship.

The image I keep seeing in my mind's eye is that small black girl on her way to an integrated school for the first time.  I saw her again in a video from up north yesterday. She was a different race this time. She was facing militarized police arresting people around her. She slowly moved off to the side out of the picture. I wanted a nonviolent army there to surround her, to protect her, to help move her and all of us into a more just, more human and livable future. 

This is a global struggle. First Nations people were at the N.D. camp recently from Ecuador, where they were left with Chevrons toxic mess. All over the planet indigenous people are struggling to protect their water, their land, their cultures from extractive industries. And they are prayerfully struggling against some of the the most powerful forces on the planet.

Like with slavery and segregation, there are economic, legal and racial challenges implicit in this struggle. It's a David and Goliath situation. I'm praying for a similar ending.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Offering Strength from One to Another

There was a meeting of worlds, not as a violent crashing together as so often happens, but as a gentle touching, a meeting of inner and outer, from one to another. Held in the vessel of one moment in time, there came on seamless flow a meeting of personal pain and heartache and the pain of the world all around. The two became as one, the pain of one person, of all people, and the pain of the world, the world itself and of all within. That is why we were there, gathered at the State House to declare a “higher moral ground,” calling for redress beyond politics of all that besets this earth, of all that hurts people, that chains and embitters the lives of human beings, in this country, everywhere, all as strands of creation indivisible. We sang, we prayed, words spoken to encourage and inspire. There is so much to do, so easy to despair, to heal a feverish world, to lift up from poverty, to fix the justice system, to insure health care for all as a human right, and so education and employment, all the necessities of life, and the right to joy as well, bread and also roses. We heard stories of personal witness and testimony. We were as one, addressing together the challenges that weigh upon us all.

And then we began to spread out in walking vigil around the State House. As we walked, I found myself standing alongside an African American man whose collar told me he was a minister. I held out my hand and introduced myself, and he extended his hand to me.  “Hi, I’m Ron Odom,” he said with a smile. Our hands still clasped, his name took my breath away, for a moment unsure of what to do or say. I placed my other hand on his shoulder, “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m so sorry,” speaking as to a mourner in the freshness of grief, and so it shall always be for him. In the sharing of names, the meeting of worlds, inner and outer, from one to another. We walked on quietly for a moment. I did not want to press him to say more than he might wish to say; nor did I want to ask more than he might wish to hear. Holding all the pain of the world as we walked, he began to share his own pain, worlds become as one.

He spoke of that October day in 2007 when Steven died, his precious thirteen-year old son, shot dead steps from their home. He recounted the details that had been so much in the news, now in his own voice, hearing the shots, rushing outside, Steven’s basketball rolling down the sidewalk and stopping at the tire of their own family car. I cried softly as he spoke, his heart opening to a fellow traveler on life’s journey who was a stranger no more. And then he said with such resolve, “I’m in it, tears and all. Our weakness is our strength.”

A moment in time when all becomes one, I kept repeating his words as we parted, words of prayerful hope for himself, for each other, for the world. I wanted to comfort him, but he had comforted me. With so much hurt in every heart, the only hope is in our coming together. In the meeting of worlds, inner and outer, we hold the world’s pain and our own. It is a teaching that flows beneath the surface of the Torah portion Ki Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19). The portion begins with laws of warfare, seeking somehow to humanize the inhuman, ki tetze lamilchama al oy’vecha/when you go forth to battle against your enemies. Through the lens of Chassidic teaching, the surface meaning is immediately transformed, turned upside down. Enemies are in the plural, but the Hebrew suffix of address is in the singular. So too, the whole sentence is addressed to the individual, set in the second person singular, ki tetze/when you go forth to battle, understood, therefore, as going forth to battle your own personal, inner enemies. There is a meeting of worlds, of inner and outer. The Slonimer Rebbe teaches that your enemies refers to ha’oyev ha’m’yuchad shel’cha/your own unique enemies, and then he adds his signature theme, l’chol adam yesh tafkid m’yuchad she’tzarich l’mal’o/every person has their own unique task to fulfill, u’l’shem kach ba l’olam/and for this purpose they have come into the world. We each have a special task to fulfill in this world. In order to accomplish that task, we must first overcome our own personal demons. In the context of Ki Tetze, inner and outer become as one, and in the meeting of worlds violence is transformed.

Our own bodies and souls are scarred by all the strife and struggle in the world, and we are soothed by so much love and goodness that flows from heart to heart. Seeking wholeness in the world and among people, we seek it for and within ourselves. I thought of Rev. Odom’s name as I read the parasha. In Ashkenazic pronunciation, odom is the human/adam. Odom ha’rishon is the first human, male and female within one, all humanity descended from one. In Jewish mystical thought, before there was odom ha’rishon, there was odom ha’kadmon, the primordial human whose form became a template for all of creation, the world created through the human form, world and human, inner and outer, all as one.

It is made clear in the Torah itself at the end of last week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim, war challenged again from within itself. There, in a context of ultimate violence, another cry rising against violence, against destruction, a warning not to destroy trees for the sake of making war. The Torah says so simply, ki ho’odom etz ha’sadeh/for the human is the tree of the field. A teaching so poignant and powerful, if we are not to destroy trees, how much more so are we not to destroy people, for we are the trees of the field. Walking together for the sake of the world, earth and people as one, we find ourselves hand in hand with a friend, a meeting of worlds, inner and outer, offering strength from one to another.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ambiguous Loss

Over the last several weeks I have been reading  Pauline Goss’ book *Ambiguous Loss.  Its subtitle is “Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief.  She affirms that of all the losses experienced in personal relationships, ambiguous loss is the most devastating because it remains unclear, indeterminate.  An old English nursery rhyme encapsulates the distressing feeling of uncertainty:

As I was walking up the stair. 
I met a man who was not there.
He was not there again today,
Oh, how I wish he’d go away. 

I have thought much about the kinds of loss that permeate the massive population movements as so many individuals and families are uprooted from their homes because of war and violence that make their lives untenable. I have thought much about the communities who either welcome them and try to make them feel secure and at home  and about the communities who say “No” we cannot make a space for you.  I have tried to imagine what it would be like to pack only what I could carry in a blanket or a suitcase and run for my life in the middle of the night -leaving behind all that is familiar - if not predictable and safe.  No matter where I let my imagination wander, there is a universal and profound sense of loss. 

In an instant, life as it was disappears when bombs and mortar fire level a home and a family, whether still intact or permanently broken, loses everything.  The grief that pervades life in refugee camps is ambiguous.  Soon it may be possible to return home.  Soon life may be normal again.  Soon a missing family member may arrive on the doorstep.  But in the waiting, grieving goes on and on and on and there is no “normal” resolution.  Everything just sort of hangs in abeyance.  

Even for those who reach a safe harbor, who are welcomed in a strange land, who put down roots in a new culture, who begin to rebuild successful lives  - - even under the best of circumstances, the unresolved losses of home, family, community, culture, the loss of a certain degree of sameness in everyday life,  the loss of a sense of place and belonging is pervasive and the hope for some kind of “return” stays in the spirit.   The losses are devastating because so many losses remain “unclear and indeterminate.”

I listened this morning to a piece on NPR  about one church’s efforts to resettle one extravagantly vetted Syrian refugee family.  Church members talked about the issues involved - the costs in time and energy and labor and support - to help just one family to make the transition to life in this country.  They spoke of the labor of love required. I wondered how the welcoming community acknowledges the depth of the loss that even one refugee family encounters.  I wondered how one keeps hope alive and lives into the future when the losses are so ambiguous at times - so open-ended and without resolution.

So - I thought about a day of mourning in solidarity with all who live and cope with the  “unclear and indeterminate” losses that come not only through  immigration, but also through things like the death of a marriage through divorce; the re-shaping of family relationships when one member is estranged;  the loss of a clear and shining future to the complexity of climate change; the loss of tribal lands to invading forces; the loss of a loved one missing in action.

We humans swim in a sea of  unacknowledged loss and grief.  Perhaps if we could own and recognize it more readily we could be gentler with one another.  Perhaps we could learn to say to one another “We have lost so much.  Come let us sit together and mourn  - and, then, perhaps, find a way forward together.”

 Ambiguous Loss - Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1999.  P.

Vicky Hanjian

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Offending Conscience

Imagine a large piece of prime farmland where your relatives have lived for generations, getting married, working hard, raising up children, worshipping, being laid to rest. These days, the old family graveyard isn’t used anymore. The fieldstone fence surrounding it is tumbledown and overgrown. Most of the gravestones are so weathered you can scarcely make out the names and dates. But the dead who are interred there are still part of you. As one of their descendents, you feel a connection to them, deep in your bones.

On a certain day a very rich farmer from far away comes along without warning and lays claim to some of your family’s farmland. The law, he says, is on his side. Before you can dispute him, he’s clear-cutting trees, digging new ditches, even changing the course of the river. And now he’s getting ready to demolish the family graveyard. He plans to till up the old plot, adjacent to one of his fields, so he can plant it and increase his yield.

You and your relatives pay him a visit, to protest. He’s deaf to your appeals. So you file a legal complaint. Before the judge can hold a hearing, the farmer shows up at the graveyard with a bulldozer. He brings along some of his buddies armed with guard dogs and pepper spray. You call the sheriff to intervene. No patrol cars come.

As you and your relatives yell and gesture in righteous anger, the rich farmer razes the old graveyard. Six of you are bitten by dogs. Thirty more are disabled by pepper spray. In only an hour or two, the final resting place of your ancestors is leveled, and nothing, nobody, will ever be able to put it right again….

This could never happen in America, you might be thinking. It’s a made-up story. But last weekend much of this (and worse) actually played out near Cannonball, ND. Instead of a “rich farmer,” the bad actor was Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead of “you and your relatives,” the burial sites belonged to native people.

I’ve a hunch that if an Indian-owned company had sicced its dogs on white people protecting a white cemetery, the mainstream media would have been all over this story. Lawsuits would already have been filed against ETP. Heads would have rolled at the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office for not protecting the white demonstrators. But as it is, the media has largely been silent about this incident, or it has insinuated that the Indians who nonviolently resisted the desecration were somehow to blame.

Even if I weren’t opposed to DAPL, the events of last weekend would have offended my conscience. And I hope they offend yours. Can we agree that it’s unconscionable for any company to deliberately destroy any burial site for the sake of its own bottom line? Can we agree that it’s unconscionable for any company (or government, or law enforcement agency) to assault citizens who are nonviolently exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and speak their mind?

I hope you’ll join me in doing one or all of the following: 

Call Vicki Granado, the public relations officer at Energy Transfer Partners (214-599-8785), and express your dismay over these abuses. 
Call the Morton County Sheriff's Office (701-667-3330) and remind them of their responsibility to protect peaceful citizens. 
Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (701-328-2200) and ask him to help de-escalate the situation. 
Finally, call the White House (202-456-1111) and urge President Obama to do what he can to ensure that justice holds sway.

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Thursday, September 8, 2016

It's All about Water

It's all about water! Although there has been spotty media coverage, a rather amazing event is unfolding in the fields of North Dakota. Indian nations are gathering and praying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River.

For those who are willing to take the time to investigate, it is quickly apparent that these are not "protesters" but "protectors." For those of us living in a bubble of purchased immunity, we little realize how our most important resource is increasingly at risk. After all, for us the water flows out of the faucet or shower head into and over our bodies and we don't think long and hard about the origins.

We have such short memories. The worst U.S. land based oil spill occurred in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Over a million gallons of diluted bitumen went into the river. A heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands, much of it quickly sank. Thirty five miles of the river were closed and more than four years of clean up followed. Three quarters of a billion dollars were spent trying to bring the river back.

Subsequent investigations revealed that alarms had warned the Enbridge headquarters there had been a pipeline breach. But operators assumed it was a "bubble" in the line and continued pumping oil for eighteen hours. It was also revealed that Enbridge knew of pipe weakness in that area five years earlier, 15,000 defects in the 40 year old pipeline, but decided not to dig it up.

Or I doubt people even heard about the Canadian spill in July. 200,00 liters of crude oil spilled into the North Saskatchewan River. It took officials four days to shut down the pipeline. Communities downstream like Prince Albert were "stockpiling clean water in bathtubs and Tupperware containers." One Canadian official doubted their drinking water would be safe to drink for months.

For those with short memories, please recall the leak from Keystone 1 near Freeman, South Dakota this past April. Even with all the fancy equipment to detect spills, Transcanada had to be contacted by a farmer watching oil pool in a field. And although they first reported a spill of 187 gallons, they had to revise it once they started digging to16,800 gallons. All of that four football fields from a "sensitive environmental source," like a river?

According to Richard Stover of the Center for Biological Diversity, using records from the Pipeline Safety Administration, there have been close to 8,000 "significant incidents" with pipelines between 1986 and 2014. More than 3 million gallons on average spilled in the U.S. each year, an average of 5 incidents a week.

Significant incidents are those "causing injury, death, damages exceeding $50,000 in value, a loss of 5 barrels of highly volatile substances, 50 barrels of other liquids or there was an explosion. There have been more than 500 human deaths and 2,300 injuries through-out that period. The number of plant and animal casualties is far higher. The known property damages are valued at close to $7 billion."

The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would not only cross the Missouri River but the Big Sioux south of Sioux Falls. It would impact four Wetland Management Districts in South Dakota: Sand Lake, Huron, Madison and Lake Andes. The pipe is already in the ground in many places, with desperate fossil fuel companies and their political cronies, their very existence in jeopardy, frantic to get it out of the ground before the market completely collapses.

In North Dakota, the Sacred Stone camp is all about water. People there are asking us to care about the residents of Baton Rouge, LA, who saw 21 inches of rain in 24 hours; to care about the business people of Ellicott City, MD, who saw their downtown ravaged by 6 inches of rain in 2 hours; to care about the 80,000 people who have been evacuated in CA because of wildfires and too little water; to care about those all over the world sickened and starving by draught. They are asking us to care about a livable world for our children and grandchildren, facing the likelihood of catastrophic climate change.

So when some try and play a "race" card and suggest it's just unruly Indians at the camp, don't believe it. Many non-Indians are campers and supporters. And when they spread rumors of pipe bombs, know the pipes are peace pipes. And when they say it's not a lawful gathering, be aware it's not natural law being broken nor God's law. 

It's past time to say leave the fossil fuels in the ground. The future is in renewables. And there is no future without clean water.

Carl Kline

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Voices of Women

The voices of women cry out from the weekly Torah portion called Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), giving challenge to patriarchy and offering a new way. At times, even they lose the way, but then it becomes for us to remind and to challenge in turn, all while celebrating the possibility of change even as it unfolds before our eyes, as if in a dream. In the portion of Pinchas, a challenge to power and to the way things have always been is offered by women as a way for all of us, a way that is modeled and meant then to transcend gender, meant to become a new way. 

Unfolding against a backdrop of violence, a zealot more comfortable with the spear than with words, taking the law into his own hands in the way of tyrants, taking no counsel with others, only he to save. At the end of the preceding portion, Pinchas slays Zimri and Cozbi, an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, running them through with his spear. As so often, the Torah sets a context of violence which is then challenged from within, a stream of nonviolence rising up, waters breaking in birthing new possibility, a new way of speaking and challenging, of leading. God makes a b’rit shalom/a Covenant of Peace with Pinchas, painfully ironic, meant to wean him from violence, to offer an antidote, some suggest. Subtle challenge is offered, the Hebrew letter made as a straight line, the “vav” in shalom is broken in two, the only place in the Torah with a “vav,” or any other letter, so written, a broken spear, an incomplete covenant. Of the many challenges to the violence that pulsates in the very name of the portion, in the way of the man for whom it is named, the voices of women lead the challenge.

We don’t always hear the voices of women at first, in Torah and in life. Is it about quality of voice, about trust, about likeability, all standards not applied in the same way to men? The irony is underscored in the portion. Moses is told of his coming death, that he will not enter the land. In a beautifully magnanimous response, his first concern is that the people not be as a flock without a shepherd. Moses pleads, Let God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man/ish over the community. In a portion filled with the voices of women, it is an irony that laughs aloud, that begs for redress. Why not a woman? 

Of women who offer a different way, we encounter Serach bat Asher, a singer of epic songs, a player of the harp. From the Torah itself, we know only of her name and lineage, her character filled out through legend and lore. When Jacob’s sons return from Egypt, having discovered that their brother is still alive, they wonder how they will tell their father Ya’akov, without causing shock, that his beloved Yosef still lives. They see the young Serach playing music and they ask her to sing to their father, preparing his heart with song to receive the good news ever so gently. She who is said to have been received alive into the Garden of Eden is still there to tell Moses on the eve of the Exodus where the bones of Yosef are buried. Charming his metal coffin from the Nile, she allows a promise to be fulfilled, that Yosef’s bones be taken with them in order for Israel to leave. 

We encounter in this portion Yocheved and Miriam, mother and sister of Moses, women who affirmed life in the face of all that would deny it, song and dance the way of this holy sister. When Pharaoh decreed death for all the sons of Israel, couples separated from each other in order not to risk bringing children into such a world. The little girl Miriam told her parents that in their separation from each other they were worse than Pharaoh, who had decreed only against sons, but they against daughters as well. In their coming back together, Moses is born, the liberator emerging. Beyond the parted waters of the sea, now on freedom’s shore, the woman Miriam takes her timbrel in hand and leads the women in dance and song. Having learned her way of life and love, it is for us to remind even Miriam not to offer song upon the drowning of the Egyptians, but only for our freedom to sing. Falling back upon the ways of men, their song of might and power, Miriam’s own way of love and compassion for us to hold and remind.

Central to the Torah’s response to Pinchas, the teaching of another way, the daughters of Tzelophchad arise, central to the telling, teaching the dynamics of sacred struggle. They are five sisters whose father has died without a son, five who bravely stand in the face of all that has been and plead their case to inherit, Machla, Noa, and Choglah, Milkah, and Tirtza. In the openning word of the Torah’s telling of their cause, va’tik’rav’na/and they drew near, we learn an essential dynamic of nonviolent struggle. Drawing near, approaching the other, human connection is made, not to stand at a distance, spear in hand in the way of Pinchas. And then we are told, va’ta’amod’na/and they stood. Even as they draw near, seeking connection, they bravely stand their ground, teaching the way of speaking truth to power. Moved by the strength of their manner and way, Moses takes their case before the Holy One, announcing then to all assembled, ken b’not tzelophchad dovrot/surely the daughters of Tzelophchad speak justly. In that very word dovrot/speak, from the word for word itself, davar, the way of the word is affirmed.

Her cry continuing to rend the heart, every mother’s wail for a son lost in battle, the last of the women we encounter in Parashat Pinchas is the woman we know only as Sisera’s mother. In the midst of the portion are all of the passages that become the additional readings for every Jewish holy day. Of Rosh Hashannah, the New Year, we are told, Yom T’ruah yihiyeh l’chem/It shall be to you a day of sounding the shofar. Looking to the Targum, the Aramaic interpretive translation of the Torah, the rabbis bring us to a place of deeper association and human connection with what we are to hear in the voice of the shofar. So different, the Aramaic says, Yom yabava y’hey l’chon/It shall be to you a day of sobbing. How do we know that yabava means "sobbing," and whose sobbing is it? As told in the Book of Judges, it is the sobbing of the mother of Sisera who waits for her son to return from battle, knowing in her heart that he will never come, b’ad hachalon nish’k’fa va’t’yabev em Sisera/through the window peered the mother of Sisera and sobbed (Judges 5:28). In the broken notes of the shofar, it is simply the sobbing of a mother who has lost her son. That Sisera was a brutal enemy of Israel is never mentioned. In what becomes the least known name of Rosh Hashannah, Yom Yabavah/Day of Weeping, from Sisera’s mother, we learn the way of compassion.

The voices of women cry out from the portion of Pinchas and challenge his brutal way. It will take all of us to shape the path formed of words rather than weapons, all of us to remind when the way is lost. As Moses calls for a man to lead, an irony that laughs aloud, a new day is rising with laughter and tears. The time has come.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein