Thursday, July 28, 2016


This week’s reading is taking me through a little book titled Reverence -Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by Paul Woodruff.  In a chapter titled “The Reverent Leader” he writes this: Leadership (as opposed to tyranny) happens only where there is virtue, and reverence is a virtue on which leadership most depends.  Public devotion to a lofty goal eclipses the leader’s personal interests, if it is a goal that leaders and followers may pursue with equal fervor.  Reverence gives leaders the power to treat their followers with respect, and the respect they give is returned by their followers.  Tyrants who abuse their followers rapidly lose their respect.  Mutual respect springs from shared reverence.
The philosophical writers  that Woodruff discusses treat irreverence as the plainest clue to tyranny, and they imply that shared reverence is the mark of good leaders and their followers.

As the weeks and months of political campaigning have unfolded and the national conventions are nearing their completion, beyond all else we have been witnessing the failure of those who would lead to exhibit the virtue of reverence.  It follows that they also fail to exhibit respect for those whom they wish to enlist as followers.  And immediately upon this lack of reverence and respect on the part of would-be leaders follows irreverence and disrespect on the part of those who would follow.  
As the toxicity of language and attitude and the pursuit of irreverent and disrespectful rhetoric increases,  the virtues of respect and reverence are increasingly threatened and it appears that the logical outcome will be - and indeed is - an increase in the level of violence that pervades our culture.
At the “grass roots” as a pastor, I encounter a level of unarticulated anxiety and irritability in the folks with whom I minister - - and a subtle degree of sadness and confusion and loss.  They are of a generation which, while it knows government is not perfect,  has at least been able to count on order and sanity.  They feel the foundations shaking in a way they have not experienced  in their lives.  
Nowhere is it possible to identify what is true.  Gandhi wrote: It is because we have at the present moment everybody claiming the right of conscience without going through any discipline whatsoever that there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world.”

For many weeks now, I have been pondering the Jewish notion of l’shon hara, “the evil tongue”.   The tradition holds that speaking ill of another person  damages three people: the one who is being spoken about; the one who speaks; and the one who listens.  As the electoral season progresses, the “evil tongue” will be exercised increasingly to the detriment of us all as lies and twisted words dominate the media.

Jewish tradition also holds that to shame another person is the equivalent of murder as it threatens the life of the soul. As we are subjected to so much irreverence, disrespect, destructive language, and, indeed, shaming of the worst kind, our individual and collective soul receives the “blows.”  This is perhaps the deepest violence of all as it undermines and destroys our capacity to think creatively and to act with lovingkindness and to respond with vigorous, nonviolent energy in our daily lives at a remove from the “platforms” from which all the negativity emanates.

I draw hope and strength from further words of Gandhi: The atmosphere today is so saturated with poison that one refuses to recollect the wisdom of the ancients and to perceive the varied little experiences of ahimsa in action. ‘A bad turn is neutralized by a good’ is a wise saying of daily experience in practice.  Why can we not see that if the sum total of the world’s experience was destructive, it would have come to an end long ago?  Love - otherwise ahimsa -sustains this planet of ours.

So another hazy, hot and humid week begins on this beautiful island.  Whole days stretch ahead filled with opportunities to neutralize the irreverence and disrespect through acts of lovingkindness.  Just for today, may we be blessed to take advantage of every opportunity to be neutralizers of the negative energies that impinge upon us - - and tomorrow, we can begin the discipline again.

Vicky Hanjian

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I got a visual instruction on social media the other day on what to do if I get pulled over by the police. "Get my wallet, ID and registration out before the officer approaches the car. Have it in plain sight on the dashboard. Have both hands on the steering wheel in plain view. If you have to move your hands off the wheel for any reason, tell the officer why before you do it. Don't ask questions." 

As I watched the video, I couldn't help but think of the principle we learned in grade school, "innocent till proven guilty." When did that get reversed? Was it when we started showing defendants on the evening news, telling the world what the charges were and what evidence was claimed, before their day in court? Was it when police choked Eric Garner to death or shot Tamir Rice? What happened to a basic sense of trust in the well intentioned "other."

Maybe I really started to notice the deterioration of trust with the shoe bomber. I still get upset every time I have to take my shoes off to board a flight. One terrorist and everyone is a terrorism suspect. One crazed person and the whole world has to take off their shoes. Even God doesn't get that kind of respect, with the exception maybe at Hindu temples and Islamic mosques.

I'm inclined to think a lack of trust has been slowly eating away at the body politic in this country, at least since the assassination years of the 1960s. Remember when: Kennedy, King, Kennedy? For some reason we still don't know all the secrets of the Presidents' murder!  And there is so much cloudiness in the Pentagon and CIA, in the halls of Congress and on K Street in D.C., it has to eat away at our confidence and trust in government.

Add to the murkiness the fact the present President has a "kill" list, sending drones after often unknown "others." And we have a Congress refusing to accept its responsibility to declare war and for most everything else. So we wander blindly in pervasive and perpetual internal and external conflicts that only grow more severe in targeting the innocent. We can't seem to understand that a culture in which resort to deadly force is the first option, not a last option, is a culture that is inherently unstable and unsafe. We can't trust it!

Or maybe mistrust escalated with the onslaught of vulture capitalism. When people sitting at a computer could flip stocks and become millionaires overnight. When university education changed to making a living, even making a killing, instead of making a contribution. When most politicians began selling their souls to special interests. When banks bundled lousy mortgages and made huge profits selling them to unsuspecting buyers. When corporations in the hundreds avoided paying for the public good by hiding profits overseas while the poorest paid the most. When something like Pokemon Go could raise the price of Nintendo stock by $7.5 billion in a few days but we could hardly afford Toys for Tots at Christmas.

I'm concerned about the loss of "trust" in this country. I'm concerned about how cops and priests and teachers and public servants and neighbors are all becoming suspects. I'm concerned about the rise of scammers and hackers and cheaters and abusers, who trash the public trust. I'm concerned about the simplicity and cultural acceptance of winners and losers, of survival of the fittest, of privatization of public space, of everyone needs a gun. I'm concerned about the reversal of innocent till proven guilty. 

And I'm concerned about the public discourse that spreads mistrust, that divides us by race, religion, gender, party. I'm concerned about public discourse that threatens our basic principles, like freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble and associate with others. 

Now we have a vice presidential  aspirant calling for religious tests for Muslim citizens. Every Muslim becomes a suspect. Some seem intent on sowing distrust and suspicion. So distrust, fear and terror wins! Trust loses!

I read once where the soul and spirit that animates and keeps a society is mutual trust. So thanks to the friend who watered my garden in my absence. He said he would. Thanks to the banker who helped with a problem. I trusted he would. Thanks to the police chief for doing the right thing. He built trust. Thanks for all those who keep their word, their integrity, their faith.

For people of the Book, one finds manifest reasons for relinquishing fear and building trust. And if we could be better grounded in the message on our coins, perhaps trust in each other could come a little easier.

Carl Kline

Friday, July 15, 2016

Guns for All

Now I've heard it all! You should store firearms in your children's bedrooms for easy access, in case of a violent home invasion. At least that's the advice of Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training, a popular firearm instruction company.

He offered that recommendation at a public presentation at the recent National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. For Pincus, this advice only makes sense since the child's bedroom is the first place a parent will go when the invasion happens. And if you're a good parent, you shouldn't have to worry about your kids accessing the weapons without your permission. To hear him tell it, "if your kid is going to break into the safe just because it's in their room, you have a parenting issue, not a home defense issue."

In response to an audience member, he also contended that "hidden," instead of "locked or secured," guns were perfectly acceptable. I guess Mr. Pincus didn't read about the five year old who found a gun under her grandmother's pillow five days before his speech, and shot herself dead in the head.

Or maybe he didn't know about the nine year old boy days earlier who shot himself in the hand with a gun he found on his lawn. Or did he know, or care, that at least 96 child shootings have occurred in 2016, where a minor accidentally shot themselves or someone else? And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, 278 such shootings took place in 2015.

During the three days of the NRA convention, a five year old girl accidentally killed herself in Louisiana playing with a gun in her home. In Illinois, a three year old girl accidentally shot and killed a seven year old girl. Those are the ones that made the news.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that gun owning families keep their weapons locked, unloaded and separate from  ammunition. About 40 percent of gun owning families actually follow those recommendations.

And as to home invasions, the facts are that home burglaries in the U.S. are steadily declining, as is the number of violent crimes during the burglary. The roughly 100 homicides a year are far outnumbered by the accidental shootings by kids. And of course, there are a huge number of accidental shootings by adults.

But Mr. Pincus is not alone in his gun pushing insanity. The Iowa House of Representatives recently passed a bill to allow children under 14 to legally use firearms, with parental supervision of course. One representative was lamenting the need for a militia of toddlers. She claimed the bill would insure it was perfectly legal for infants as young as one year old to handle firearms. 

One father at the NRA convention bragged about how his son had been handling guns since the age of three. He probably expected the seven month old he was pushing in the carriage to start soon.

Sometimes one gets the impression the elder gun owners aren't so concerned about teaching children gun safety as they are making sure their own addiction is passed on to the younger generation. And of course, the NRA, supported financially by the weapons manufacturers more than the hunter members, wants as many guns sold as possible. So they create a new children's market, just like the tobacco companies. If they had their way, we'd probably follow Africa's lead with child soldiers.

The gun lobby also create new furniture companies, like Secret Compartment Furniture. How about a coffee table with a secret sliding drawer compartment where you can hide your handgun? Or what about an armoire where the top flips open to access your rifle?

It's lamentable that more respectable NRA members don't rein in their leadership and support reasonable gun controls. It's also lamentable how crazy the concealed weapon movement has become. If you drive, don't make a mistake driving. If you teach, don't offend a student. If you preach, don't make a parishioner angry. It's getting to the point where you have to be careful about looking at someone walking down the street, in the restaurant or any public place. What if they think you're giving them the evil eye? 

It's also lamentable that every other day there seems to be an advertisement or a front page article pushing guns in our own local paper. One would think the only happening at the Nature Center was target practice, for seniors or kids. It's like, let's engender a little more fear in the most vulnerable populations and teach them how to "defend" themselves.

Let's be honest. Anyone who conceals a gun in order to "defend" themselves is already prepared to kill another. It's that simple. And given one's mental or emotional stability, age or fear level, that other could be a spouse, a neighbor, a child, less likely an intruder.

The NRA and their apologists like to project a brave and "tough guy" image. On the contrary, it's their fear or anger driven cowardice, that makes them pack a pistol in their pants or even their child's bedroom.

Carl Kline

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Invitation Not Indoctrination

Flying home from Mexico last week, I sat next to a woman from Florida during the Atlanta to Sioux Falls flight. It started well enough. We engaged in small talk as we waited on the tarmac. I discovered she was heading to a family reunion with her husband and youngest son. She learned I was a retired clergy and teacher. As we were airborne, we both read for a while. Halfway through the flight, I made the mistake of asking about her reading material. I'd seen the word "God" on the cover.

She was reading a Bible study. And she had her red letter Bible handy to look up the appropriate quotations. She told me all about the author and how she was well known in women's circles. The more she talked the more agitated she became. The easy phrases of a convinced Christian rolled off her tongue and required my response. Unconvinced of her convictions, I asked her to dig deeper; to look at Biblical passages in context; to recognize that according to the Rabbis there were at least seven layers of meaning in every Biblical passage and they required serious study. She responded by reading passages to me, emphasizing her important points, as if I had never read the Bible. 

Soon she was looking at me as the heretic I suppose I am. She was especially offended when I told her we had to love our enemies. That it wasn't enough to say "we believed" for salvation. We actually needed to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Regrettably, the conversation became heated. She must have been convinced there was no salvation for this poor soul, full of the devil as I was. And I was increasingly aware of how disturbing our raised voices must have been to those around us, including her husband across the aisle. I eventually surrendered. But not before two things happened.

Maybe Bishop John Shelby Spong was more responsible than I for my eventual rejection. While it was still a conversation, I was able to tell her about Spong's non-theistic understanding of God.

Spong rejects the idea of God as this supernatural being that intervenes periodically in human affairs and human lives. Instead, he understands God as the God of Life, Love and Being. So for him, a person worships God by living life fully, loving wastefully and being all you are meant to be. 

For those seekers in this generation, not captured by fundamentalist purveyors of sin and salvation, Spong makes sense. In a scientific age, he offers an understanding of a relationship to divinity that invites relationship without denying intellect.

For instance, as a pastor I've attended many death beds. Those die hardest who have regrets, not so much about what they did with their life, but rather with what they failed to do. Those die easiest who have lived life to the full. If God is the giver of life, as most world religions affirm, then we honor that gift by living life to the fullest.

India taught me over several visits that I'm a banker, with a large savings account. The demands of adjusting to the climate, culture, etc. were so extreme I banked energy, conversation, chocolate, everything. I needed a savings account to make sure I would survive. Only over time did I realize risk was rewarding. My limits were almost infinite. I didn't need the savings account. I could live and love wastefully. Usually when one thinks they are "wasting" love on the unloveable, on the untouchable, that is when it truly begins to approach the divine. "When you do it unto the least of these …"

And what does it mean to truly be me? It's a huge philosophical and theological question. At least if we ask the question we have a chance of perhaps discerning the answer. And since God for Spong is Being with a capital B, being who we are meant to be is our most intimate identification with the divine.

Well, I didn't say all that in the conversation on the plane. Even the basics of a non-theistic God stirred the emotions and forced a torrent of Biblical quotations and doctrinal statements. Then the second thing happened. We began our descent and my ear plugged. Usually I'm able to yawn or do something to alleviate the pressure. But this time nothing seemed to work. With each passing minute the pain got worse and the ear more plugged so I couldn't hear at all in that one ear.

As my seat mate continued trying to save my soul, I had to tell her that the ear toward her was so badly plugged I couldn't hear a word she was saying. I want you to know that's the honest to God truth. It was only the ear toward her. 

Convinced Christians, take note! The Christian faith is an invitation not an indoctrination.

Carl Kline