Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Last year, my good friend came for a visit from India. Some will remember the presentation he gave at the Brookings Public Library on Gandhi and Jesus.

He had been in this country many times before his visit in 2015. When he comes, he often tours, speaking at various academic institutions around the U.S.  His theme is typically nonviolent social change, based on his scholarship with the life of Gandhi and his personal Christian faith. His vocational life has been spent in colleges and universities, as faculty, and at one point as a college President.

Given his person and background, I was troubled at the lengthy and expensive process he went through to be granted a visa last year. He had to travel by train, losing one full day, for an interview at the U.S. Consulate. Upon arriving, without prior notification, his interview had been cancelled. So he had another day and train fare to go back home. When the interview was later re-scheduled, he returned to the Consulate to discover it would take two days. He was fingerprinted and had an eye scan the first day. He had to secure overnight accommodations. The interview took place on the second day.

My friend received a visa. But it's not simple to get into the U.S. these days, even as a traveler with legitimate business, let alone as a refugee.

The World Affairs Council in Brookings sponsored a program on Syrian refugees last week. One of the speakers was Kristyne Walth from Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls. LSS is the primary refugee re-settlement agency in the state of South Dakota.

If I had the means to do it, I would ask Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (the worst offenders, although several governors need to be educated as well) to sit down, keep quiet and listen to Kristyne's presentation. They obviously know little to nothing about the process people already endure to enter the U.S. as refugees.

There are approximately 19.5 million refugees in the world. Many are from those countries where we have been at war or have been enabling others with the weapons of war. They have had no alternative to leaving their homes. Their chances of dying in the bombs and bloodshed or starving to death are huge. So they flee.

Kristyne outlined the process a refugee goes through.

1.First, you live in a country where you are persecuted because of your race, religion, ethnicity, social group or political opinion. You fled when your life was threatened and ran to another country to seek safety.
2.You apply to the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for protection.
3.You are assigned to a refugee camp where you may stay for years before being accepted for resettlement into another country. It may take up to ten years or more.
4.If you are chosen for the U.S., you meet with a U.S. government official to compile personal information.
5.The U.S. government conducts multiple security checks.
6.You interview with the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
7.You may be denied at this point. But if you progress, you will be fingerprinted, photographed and subject to a series of medical checks.
8.After this is completed and approved, you wait for resettlement. The U.S. government assigns you to a refugee resettlement agency like LSS of South Dakota. The United States only accepts a small fraction of the world’s refugee population.
 9.As you wait in the refugee camps for resettlement, you have an opportunity to learn about the country and culture you will soon be joining.
10. You travel to a new land, often with just the clothes on your back."

LSS in South Dakota helps refugees assigned to our state with: orientation to the community; English language training; housing and household needs; interpreter and immigration services; and employment services. Contrary to popular misinformation, refugees are expected to be financially on their feet within several months and re-settlement aid is dependent on an active employment search.

At the World Affairs forum there were other presenters who helped everyone understand better the plight of refugees and the enormous need for a humanitarian response. Shame on those who would help the terrorists spread fear of those forced to flee the ravages of war. Shame on those twice who continue to talk peace while promoting warfare against civilians. Shame on those three times who invest in, lobby for, build and sell the weapons of war, promoting and perpetuating a vicious cycle. And may God bless those volunteers and non profit agencies that are the good samaritans, helping refugees where governments and politicians fail.

Those who honor our U.S. heritage of "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor," and our faith commitment to "liberty for the captives", are themselves honored by the words of M.L. King. “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

Carl Kline

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Light of Life

There are those of effervescent spirit whose laughter and light seem able to raise us up, however low we feel beneath our own burdens of spirit. It is not that such people of blessing to themselves and others never feel the stresses and sorrows of life. It is impossible to live fully and not at times feel the weight of what that means. It is to live with joy for the very gift of life, to be joyful “nevertheless,” as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the verse in Deuteronomy (16:15), v’hayita ach same’ach. This is very different than the theologically difficult challenge to see the good in everything. Recognizing and weeping for the full horror of so much that besets humanity in all of its frail beauty, our challenge is to be joyful “nevertheless,” joyful in our very presence as a thread in the weave of life, grateful for the gift of life and creation of which we are a part.

I spoke recently on a panel as part of a program sponsored by the Refugee Immigration Ministry (RIM), An Interfaith Symposium on Trauma Recovery. Speaking of the ways their own tradition offers response to trauma, the members of the panel included a Muslim, am Armenian Christian, a Sikh, a Protestant, a psychologist who framed the nature of trauma, while also looking to the Buddhist context of Sri Lanka, and myself as the Jewish voice. Painfully aware that I was speaking in the presence of refugees who had witnessed and suffered unspeakable horrors, I asked forgiveness for presuming to speak of trauma at all as one who has known only the “ordinary” traumas that come with life.

Even as I spoke, I learned from the presence of the people whose forgiveness I sought. As I tried to draw from wellsprings of Jewish teaching that might offer response to trauma, I realized that I was drawing on Jewish wisdom for the living of life itself. What allows for survival against all odds is the very way of life on whose path we are guided at all times, whose way enriches the day-to-day, making the ordinary holy. Needing to be built over time, the path of life as a way of affirmation does not appear in one terrible moment, though in the squinting to see a way ahead, we may see what had been there all along. The path of life wends its way through the day-to-day details of living, through the beautifully mundane and recurring. It is in our ability to demarcate the ordinary flow of time that we become part of time’s greater unfolding, part of something that is greater than ourselves, yet rooted within our selves. In celebrating the flow of time, finding respite in the oases along the stream, we transcend time and realize the ultimate meaning of our own lives.

The healing challenge in response to trauma, and one of the great challenges for living a life of wholeness, is to live with awareness of being part of a greater whole in which one’s life matters ultimately. That is what the oppressor, the abuser, the tyrant, the bully seeks to take away, reducing a human being to insignificance, to being nothing more than a fleeting presence whose pain and suffering and absence will pass without notice, without consequence or concern, our lives snuffed out as even that of an insect should not be.

Remaining part of and joined to rhythms of time, of nature, of community as marked by one’s people, we learn lessons for survival in facing the extreme in the lessons of day-to-day living. However far or cut off one may be from life freely flowing, whether the stream be blocked by the external cruelty of another, or by demons that would destroy from within, we are still able to connect, to be held in the very mystery of time’s flow. Aware of time’s simplest markers as reminders of the sacred, noticing the turnings of night to day and day to night, we remain rooted, aware that we are part of something greater than ourselves. We know with surety that we are more than flotsam upon an amorphous flow. In all of the ways of our being on this earth, amidst all the horror and the beauty of the human condition, we each have an inalienable place in the cycle of days, of weeks, of months, of years. We each have a place that is ours in the unfolding of time toward a vision of wholeness in which all shall be free and none abused. Of human sorrows that will yet happen, nevertheless, the greater light of kindness will shine more brightly in a world of greater wholeness.

Of time demarcated, of purpose nevertheless, I shared a story of spiritual resistance, of daily Torah learning in the face of utter brutality. It was in a death camp in the “Kingdom of Night,” a father and son at the moment of separation, a “selection,” the father sent in one direction to his death, the son, still able to work, sent in the other direction. In that moment of being torn from each other, the father called to the son, heint is daf…/today is page…. A program of daily Talmud study throughout the Jewish world, these were the pages of Daf Yomi, a numbering of days, helping us to go on, requiring us to go on, Talmud Torah, the learning and teaching of Torah, is an affirmation of life.

The challenge is to see light in the midst of darkness, to raise up light in the way of our living every day, to be the smile as upon the faces of those whose presence brings such light. It is the simple teaching of the weekly Torah portion called T’tzaveh (Ex. 27:20-30:10), as it begins with the command to bring pure olive oil for the menorah in the desert sanctuary. Unusual words for lighting come to be for each of us, l’ha’alot ner tamid/you shall cause light to go up continually. The trope by which we sing Torah and make it sweet upon our tongues joins the words l’ha’alot and ner, you shall cause light to go up…, and then the word tamid/continually. Unlike the light in the synagogue that is called the ner tamid/eternal light, the ancient menorah burned only from dusk to dawn, not eternally, but continually.

Our challenge is not to let the light go out, but to cause light to go up continually as a way of life. To live with hope and recognize that we are part of a greater flow of light, even when we are burdened, and, God forbid, even in the midst of trauma, we raise light even if unable to see its full glow in every moment. It is not about always, but continually, as a process and a way. That is the gift of those whose smile raises light, reminding others of the light within themselves. Offering our hands and hearts to those who have known unspeakable trauma, and in responding to the lesser traumas of life, no less real in the moment, may our lives be in their living an affirmation of life itself. In the glow of Sabbath candles that mark a weekly turning in time, and in the glow of every soul, God’s candle in the world, may we see the light of life.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, April 15, 2016

Good Travels at a Snails Pace

I came across a quote from Gandhi this week: Good travels at a snail’s pace.  Those who want to do good are not selfish, they are not in a hurry, they know that to impregnate people with good takes a long time. (THE WORDS OF GANDHI selected by Richard Attenborough, Newmarket Press  1982).

    I guess they were words I was supposed to read.  It is hard to stay connected with a sense of the process of goodness unfolding in a world where so much energy seems martialed against it.  And still, I sit in morning worship and hear the prayers and concerns of the people and I realize that I sit in the midst of goodness – of simple goodwill and the sincere concern for one anothers well being.  There is nothing bombastic about it.

    There is great patience here in the face of often deep pain and fear-- a grandchild born with hydrocephalus – unable to breathe or eat independently; a mother who is anxious about having all her somewhat alienated children under her roof at the same time; a single mom who literally fights her way through the pain of MS to get to the communion rail; a sister who keeps vigil as her brother hovers near death –rallies – and plunges again in an exhausting dying process; a young father with debilitating heart disease.

    There is unselfishness here.  Other grandparents gather around to support the grandmother who keeps vigil with her infant grandson via hospital webcam; other parents of adult children embrace an anxious mother.  There is an unhurried and loving, and dignified “surround” for the one struggling to make her way to communion.  The children of a compromised young father are “owned” by the congregation.  Constant prayer undergirds the sister who attends her brother’s dying.

    On a blustery April Sunday morning, no one is in a hurry - - there is time for goodness.   So Gandhi’s words take on a human face and hope once again pops up like the indefatigable snow drops and crocus - - breaking through the last of the winter snow.

    With the ugliness of political campaigning so very present, with news of terror attacks in Brussels, with the constant engagement with issues of racism and anti-Semitism and religious intolerance, it is all too easy to slip into forgetfulness about the simple good that keeps working in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

     I find myself feeling deeply grateful for this tiny country church long settled in this farming and fishing community up-island.  I find myself sitting in the companionship of social workers, special needs counselors, artists, substance abuse counselors, corporate executives, people without a home to go to, people who advocate for racial equality, people who are hungry, people who tend to the feeding of others who are lacking, people who search for wholeness for themselves and others.   Here is a stalwart community of people who seem to embody the wisdom of “good.”  No high drama – just the work of impregnating - - no matter how long it takes.

Vicky Hanjian


Thursday, April 7, 2016

From the Silence of Indifference, then to Find Our Voice and Speak

I felt horrified twice on Monday morning when I opened the newspaper to read of yet another slaughter of innocents. I sought to know of the terrorist attack in a park in Lahore, Pakistan on Easter Sunday, needing to know, dreading to know. It was an attack on Christians, yet of the more than seventy victims so many were Muslims, all as one, in death if not in life. And the children, the children, dozens of children killed in a park on a Sunday, not just any Sunday, a Sunday of resurrection in Christian tradition, of rising from the dead. If only, if only, not of one, but of all.

I was horrified twice, once by presence and once by absence. How to remain aware and present in the face of so many horrors, not to become numb and inured to the meaning of each individual life that is lost to so much hate and violence? I was horrified by what had happened yet again, daily, weekly, by the presence of such horror in our world that has become so commonplace. I quickly scanned the front page of the paper, preparing myself to see images of the dead and wounded, of the children. I paused and looked again, slowly now, more carefully. Then I realized that it wasn’t my eyes, there was nothing there to see. The only story about children was a report on an app to make life easier for overwhelmed parents, well intentioned and important, but not in the face of such absence. This was the absent story of children torn away, of parents overwhelmed by grief and horror, parents for whom there would be no ease. I looked down the front-page margin at the index of the day’s stories. At the bottom was a small picture of the park in Lahore, directing interested readers to the paper’s innards. Facilitating avoidance, there was nothing to grab the casual reader on the front page. I was horrified by the story’s absence, by the absence of urgency, an absence that separates us from other human beings.

 It can be hard to feel one with humanity, to feel a real connection with all human beings wherever they are. It is hard to identify with the laughter and tears, the joys, the sorrows, the horrors of people far away. Yet that is what we are called to do as part of the human family. They are all our own, all worthy of the front page. Only the week before, the attack in Brussels was appropriately a front-page story, the major headline, news unfolding through the week on the front page. Why was the Pakistan attack not similarly featured, put right in front of us in all of its horror, the human connection brought home? Did the newspaper reflect an assumption that this is a place where such things happen, that for all of the shock that should be felt, it is somehow not surprising? Were world events scanned through the invidious lens of racism in choosing front-page worthiness? These are people who are not like “us,” as in non-white, as in Muslim, even though Christians were meant to be the primary victims. Absent from the front page, they become more easily absent from our consciousness, and from our assessment of who is important, of which lives matter. When the stories of their deaths are silenced, the stories of their lives are also silenced. It is as though they never were, the children who had barely lived and the parents who cherished them. It is the plea of Holocaust survivors, that the dead not be killed twice, that they not disappear into silence.

On the Sabbath ending that painful week, in its Torah portion and its special theme in the journey to Passover, there was teaching about the power of silence, not the silence of absence and avoidance, but the silence of encounter and embrace. So too, in the comfort of that Sabbath came teaching of death and our responses to it, of horror in the face of sudden death, of the universal reality and ubiquity of death, of the challenge to somehow go beyond and continue on the path of life. In the Torah portion called Sh’mini (Lev. 9:1-11:47) on a day that should have been one of glory and pride, as of a sun-filled day in the park, seeing his sons take up their role as kohanim, servants of God in the Sanctuary, resplendent in their finery, Aaron sees them struck down, dead before him. When Moses offers empty words, barely acknowledging the horror of what has happened, the Torah says, va’yidom Aharon/and Aaron was silent. In response to Moses’ silence of absence, Aaron’s silence thunders in its presence. Soon after, still hearing the echo of Aaron’s fully present silence, we come to the very middle of the Torah. The very middle of the Torah is in the silent space between two words, darosh || darash/search || truly search. In the course of our seeking, we come to that silent space, a place of pregnant solitude in which all is held, all that comes before and all that flows beyond, a place of presence and pause, of possibility.

Of silence and its possibilities, Elie Wiesel speaks of three types of silence. He speaks of “practical silence” as that of indifference: “The world is going to its doom, and mainly because of its indifference…; not so much hate but the indifference to hate…” (“Against Silence, the Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel,” ed. Irving Abrahamson, p. 55). He then speaks of silence that is “a gesture, an act, a deed, a testimony against indifference…; a very eloquent silence, a screaming silence, a shouting silence…” (Ibid, p. 56). The third silence of which Wiesel speaks is a “mystical silence, a poetic silence, …a creative silence, which is a mode of language.” It is through that silence, a silence of awareness that we come to know what needs to be said, what we are called to say. In the newspaper’s silence of indifference that would make us mute as well, we pause to find within ourselves the creative silence that becomes language, then to find our voice and speak.

That Sabbath, a day of resting for inspiration, was also the third of three special Sabbaths that bring us to the month of Nisan, helping us to prepare for Passover, for freedom and its journey. It was Shabbat Parah/the Sabbath of the Heifer. The additional Torah reading (Numbers 19:1-22) tells of the offering of a red heifer, a ritual by which to purify from contact with death. It is real and immediate, a way to acknowledge what is and to go on with each other, holding sorrow and hope as one. 

In the silence of our horror, may we hold every victim equally in the innermost place of our hearts. May the silence of absence and indifference open up to Aaron’s thundering silence and become the voice of all of those whose voices have been stilled. May the memory of all victims be a blessing, their stories told on the front page of God’s telling and our own.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, April 1, 2016


When I was in high school, unless I could come up with some excuse not to, I went home for lunch with my father. His work was just a block from the school and our home was a couple miles away on the south side of town. It wasn't my favorite time of the day. My dad drove slow.

Not only did he drive every day like a Sunday driver, he was also slow about getting me back to school. I would wait impatiently as he finished his lunch or changed his clothes or did something to delay our return.

In retrospect, knowing the crowd I hung out with in high school, he may have been trying to keep me out of circulation for as long as possible. We didn't need a lot of time, a lunch hour would do, nor a reasonable place, to get into trouble. It could happen just about anytime or anywhere.

Although those noon hours were painful experiences of impatience, they probably also taught me the cultivation of patience. There was no escape. I was forced to take a deep breath, count the stop lights and stop signs, and bear it.

I'm thinking about patience this morning. The primary reason is an article in Sojourners magazine by Tobias Winright. Because of a traumatic brain injury, Tobias was forced to change his lifestyle and habits. There were many things he couldn't do. It took three and a half years to heal and as he says, "I resisted having to be patient, but it was as a patient - as blindsided, vulnerable and unprepared as I felt - that I was forced to learn to practice patience."

We live in an instant everything society. My mornings often start with Instant Oatmeal and at least on Mondays, will end with "fast food". Although I'm personally something of a Luddite, most everyone can do everything from anyplace, immediately, with their cell phone.

I'm still pondering what has happened. Several years ago, when I sent a postcard home from India, I'd arrive back home before the postcard. Heaven forbid you'd try a phone call. Even local calls were impossible. Now I Skype friends in India with ease, instantly, as if we were in adjoining rooms. And if the picture freezes or the sound is not too good, I grow impatient.

Is instant gratification a passing fad or the face of the future? Has a faster pace of life offered greater satisfaction or delivered more stresses and deeper impatience?

I'm convinced that patience is a virtue. Winright quotes Tertullian, an early church father, "patience is God's nature," and "the mother of mercy." And Gandhi includes patience as a hallmark of character. "There is no character where there is no patience and truth and gentleness and humility." And it's instructive as to the nature of patience that Gandhi includes it with those other characteristics.

Still, I'm impatient about a lot of things. Let me mention the top 10 ways.

1. Long seasons of Presidential politics, especially as they get more negative and divisive.
2. Racism and sexism and all the other "isms" that devalue the human being.
3. A dysfunctional Congress, half of whom still deny human caused climate change.
4. Perpetual and pervasive warfare when there are tried and tested alternatives.
5. The continuing expansion of the gap between wealth and poverty, the denial and ignorance of the plight of the poor, and the refusal to remove structural and economic violence that denies some the basics of livelihood.
6. Telephone answering machines that keep telling me I'm a valued customer as I wait endlessly for any semblance of a human being on the other end.
7. Television commercials that repeat and repeat and repeat, all in the space of an hour. And you don't understand what they're all about in the first place. And you begin to realize the program is not what's important; it's the profits.
8. Long traffic lights and traffic jams, like the ones we've been in trying to cross one of two little bridges onto Cape Cod, MA. What happens when there's a nuclear emergency at the old and decaying Plymouth nuclear plant? Why are we so far behind other countries in high speed rail?
9. Long waits in doctor's offices where my mental health deteriorates after twenty minutes. And retail establishments where the customer comes second, or third, or maybe doesn't register at all.
10. Long seasons of Presidential politics!

Honestly, I'll work hard to cultivate more patience, especially with those social issues important to me. Only because impatience tends to cast some visible or invisible "other" into the role of the demonic. And agreed, Impatience is not God's nature, nor the mother of mercy.

Carl Kline