Friday, April 21, 2017

Altars



I've been reading a small book called "An Altar in the World." It's written by Barbara Brown Taylor, an adjunct faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia and a professor at Piedmont College. I'm told she lives on a farm with lots of animals in the yard.

In one chapter she wonders, "Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go see God? Do we build God a house in lieu of having God stay at ours? Plus, what happens to the rest of the world when we build four walls - even four gorgeous walls - cap them with a steepled roof, and designate that the house of God? What happens to the riverbanks, the mountaintops, the deserts and the trees? What happens to the people who never show up in our houses of God?"

We know what is happening to the earth as altars are confined to sanctuaries. The riverbanks are drying up or overflowing. The mountaintops are loosing their glaciers. The deserts are expanding. And the trees are being logged. Perhaps with Barbara, we need to be more aware of the altars in the world.

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Last August, with a group of people in the Black Hills, one of our members told us we needed to stay up for a meteor shower. It was August 10. Every year, that is the night of the Perseid meteor shower. For some Catholics, this is known as the "tears of Saint Lawrence." Lawrence was a Christian martyr, burnt alive, and the canonical date of his martyrdom is August 10, 258 AD.

Most of us were too tired to stay up watching on a mostly cloudy night. But Barbara Brown Taylor remembers a night when she was seven, when her father came into her room, woke her sister and her up and said, "come on, you have to see this." They took a blanket, laid on a wooden balcony off their parents bedroom and watched the tears of St. Lawrence. For a seven year old girl, the experience was an altar in the world.

Several years ago, my wife and I walked the Cape Cod National Seashore with some young friends. We had our bedrolls and the food and water we would need for the trek. We were walking because we wanted to see the beach up close and personal while we still could. We were fearful of the continuing erosion and attempts at making it a private preserve. When you walk slowly, in spaces where there is no other sign of human intervention, a tidal pool, a distant dolphin, a spectacular sunset, even a misty morning rain becomes an altar in the world.

Usually, we are so intent on a destination, our walks, runs, cycles, or drives, take us right by the altars in the world we might otherwise see. 

I doubt one of the walks on my bucket list will be completed in this lifetime. The Pilgrimage route "Way of Saint James" holds a special fascination for me after seeing the movie "The Way" with Martin Sheen. Even so, I'm told so much of that path is now a paved road, not a pastoral trail, with hundreds, even thousands of walkers with you on a summer day. I'm fearful any altars would be obscured by pavement and people.

Maybe I'll stick to the labyrinth in the yard of the church. It could be my substitute for walking the Spanish pilgrimage route, just as the first Christian labyrinth substituted for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A labyrinth can be a special meditative and prayerful tool. It might even open ones' eyes to the altars in the world.

I've walked the labyrinth before, at a retreat center in Pennsylvania and at the Black Hills Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary. Both sites were in a wonderful natural environment. Although altars in the world need not be huge and ornate in majestic surroundings. The holy is there for us to see in the modest and minuscule as well, if only we open our eyes. Think of the child squatting to examine an insect. 

I may try and join others on May 6, at 1:00 on International Labyrinth Day, when walkers around the globe will walk the labyrinth together, at 1:00, as one.

It's possible we need wilderness to be truly human. The more we exist in man made environments the more we lose touch with Creation and our relationship to all that is. There's a quality to our experience in the remaining wild places, that haven't ben too badly disturbed and damaged by human activity. These places can touch something deep inside us, a place in our being that forces us to recognize the beyond. It might be the slap of a beaver on a misty pond at 5:00 AM on an Easter morning. Or it might be two golden eagles floating together three feet from your nose as you sit on the face of a cliff. Or it might be an angry deer that warns you that you are not God, just part of the Creators' Creation. Even a creek can teach us, through eddies and music and clarity.

There's a new altar in our living room this morning. The smell has started to permeate the room and leak out into the hallway. That smell has been an altar of the holy for me since childhood. Easter lilies are not just for church, but for homes. And who wouldn't be transported to heaven by a whole field of them.

Carl Kline

Friday, April 14, 2017


The U.S. is not a nation of immigrants
April 14, 2017

     The myth that the United States is a “nation of immigrants” feeds into the national self-image that the United States is both a free society and a land of opportunity. It is a seductive myth because we cherish the well-established fable of American exceptionalism, and the idea that this nation is “a city set upon a hill.” But the myth is more fiction than fact, and it hides a deeper and deeply unsettling truth about our nation’s past and present. We need to stop saying that we are a “nation of immigrants.” The following article explains why.
     The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first US citizenship act. It limited naturalization to free white citizens, thus excluding Native Americans, slaves, indentured servants, Asians and many others. During the following decades and centuries other naturalization laws were enacted, but it was not until 1924 that the Indian Citizenship Act was enacted. 
 Adam Goodman’s article, “A Nation of Immigrants,” which appeared in the October 8, 2015 issue of Dissent Magazine traces the nation of immigrants paradigm to the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century. Goodman says that the paradigm gave European immigrants a privileged place in US society, and allowed them to treat non-European immigrants as secondary actors, while ignoring Native Americans completely.
      The big change came in immigration policy came with the enactment of the 1965 Immigration Act. This Act ended the national-origins quota immigration system that had prevailed up until then, and created new opportunities for people from around the world to come to the United States. The number of immigrants as a percentage of the total population nearly tripled between 1970 and 2015, growing from less than five percent to nearly fourteen percent. The nation of immigrants mythology emerged during this period.
      Importantly, the “nation of immigrants” myth fed into the flawed “Bering Straits” theory of indigenous migration from Asia to the Americas some 12,000 years ago. Accordingly, Indians were the first immigrants. The Anglo settlers and others who came later were simply subsequent waves of immigrants coming in search of a better life. Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz debunked this “Bering Straits” theory. She argues that indigenous peoples were in the Americas at least 50,000 years before the English and other European settlers arrived. Recognition of this history is not permitted by the "nation of immigrants" myth. The plain truth is Native Peoples were dispossessed of their land.
      No president better embodies the federal government's irregular warfare against Native Americans than Andrew Jackson. It is not reassuring that President Trump has moved a statue of Jackson into the Oval Office. In contrast to Jackson Era policies, the Indian Restoration Act of 1934 created a framework for a measure of Native American self-governance. But many issues remained unresolved. After World War II the federal government turned away from policies supporting Native Peoples and turned toward policies that it believed would lead to the elimination of Native Peoples.
       Congress adopted House Concurrent Resolution 108, the Termination Act, on August 1, 1953. The stated purpose of the Termination Act was "free those tribes listed from Federal supervision and control." The termination policy meant that federal trust protection and transfer payments guaranteed by treaties and other agreements would end. That same year, 1953, Congress enacted Public Law 280, which transferred all tribal court jurisdiction to respective state courts. As a result of these acts of Congress, 109 tribes were terminated, approximately 2.5 million acres of Indian trust land was removed from protected status and sold to whites, 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal recognition, and tribal governments lost their right to govern. The termination policy was not ended until 1968. Tribes and individuals harmed by the termination policy have not been made whole for the loss they suffered or fully compensated for the damages caused by the government’s action.
      The myth that the United States is a “nation of immigrants” hides the history of our nation’s anti-Indianism while promoting the notion that this is a land of opportunity founded and built by immigrants. Since many Christian denominations have repudiated the doctrine of discovery they can now take the next step and renounce the nation of immigration myth. This will help clear the way to advance much needed conversations calling for respect of the almost 400 treaties that the United States has with Native nations, ensure protection of Native lands, lend support to the Native American drive for self-governance. 
      The United States is not a "nation of immigrants." It is a settler nation trying to discover its identity  and redeem itself. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Better Late than Never

"Better late than never" is hardly ever an apt description of reality. Instead, it seems to me a rather trite and tired phrase people use to try and make you feel better. I've heard the phrase too often. And I was reminded recently of how "too late" I was with one situation in graduate school.

I'd gone to Union Theological Seminary in New York City in the fall of 1963. The country was entering a time of social and political revolution. There was no one more capable of helping entering students like myself understand the philosophical and moral issues of the day than theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, author of "Moral Man and Immoral Society." But just as I arrived, he retired, conducting only one seminar class for graduate students in his apartment. In my three years in Seminary, I never saw him. I was simply "too late."

A documentary film on Niebuhr has just been released and is traveling the country. The trailer for the film emphasizes the influence he had on several Presidents and others like Martin Luther King, Jr. Even though I never met him, his books have given me a point of view that has survived to this day. It's a point of view that helps me understand better the seeming inability of governments to chart a path to peace, even when that road is paved with gold.

One of the primary contributions he made to my thinking is how moral action becomes more difficult as numbers increase. So perhaps an individual can make a moral choice that satisfies. And it will be easier for a city or state than for a nation. But because of the complexity that comes with larger and larger groups of people, moral choice fades as sin and self interest rises. 

There is some consolation in Niebuhrs' Serenity Prayer, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Still, I'm unable to understand and accept the suicidal inclinations of supposedly rational governments.

With Jesus and Gandhi as our teachers and models, we have a perfectly rational and credible path to peace, where human beings can be as quick to care and forgive as to threaten and kill. Haven't we already seen the fruit of building larger and more sophisticated weapons of war? Must we add another $54 billion of weaponry when we already spend more than the next seven nations combined? Weren't Hiroshima and Nagasaki enough to say "never again?" Weren't Wounded Knee and Sharpeville, Dachau and Buchenwald, enough to keep us from demonizing others? Must we continue to witness mass slaughter and all the additional flags flying in our cemeteries?

One of the reasons we trust force over love is because we haven't learned the alternative. We don't study and take to heart the way of Jesus. We know nothing about a comprehensive strategy for social change promoted by Gandhi, that begins with prayer and ends with self purification and self sacrifice. We say everyone can't be a saint but promote everyone being a warrior. We tend to equate compassion with passivity rather than with passion. We teach our young to compete and our males machismo and relinquish instruction in how to be tough minded but tender hearted. We promote religious and political fanaticism.

As Niebuhr says, "The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism." 

And perhaps the most prophetic statement of Niebuhr for our country, enamored by a sense of entitlement and American exceptionalism, "One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun." 

For many years a group of us took conflict resolution, violence prevention, bias awareness and peer mediation programs into public schools in the northern plains. Feedback was generally positive. Teachers had calmer classrooms. Principals had fewer students in their office. Even first and second graders learned to mediate conflicts between their peers.

I was reminded today of the work friends are doing in India to mediate serious conflicts and train young people in the ways of nonviolence. A good friend in Mexico leaves next week for a remote village in Chiapas to do a training program in nonviolence as a colleague of his in Monterrey continues to bring rival gangs together to sign peace treaties. Brookings is home to the Satyagraha Institute that organizes education and training programs in solving conflicts without resort to force and coercion. Training will take place in three countries in 2017, including Nigeria, desperate for an alternative to violence.

As the world seems determined to prove Niebuhr right; as governments find it difficult if not impossible to make moral choices; individuals, you and I, can still choose. "Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply." 

We can probe deeply. And if we probe deeply enough, especially in the likes of Jesus and Gandhi, perhaps we can at least be saved by hope. Our choice for hope would be better late than never. 

Carl Kline           Friday April 7, 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

Caring For Our Shared Household

By Michael Boover, guest blogger     March 31, 2017

Economics was once described by Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle as “the dismal science.” The term has taken on many shades of meaning since Carlyle first coined it in relation to the promulgation of slavery in the West Indies, a horror he supported in view of his philosophy that people are intrinsically unequal. Thomas Malthus upheld a similar outlook when, in his view, a growing population need be pitted against the fearful reality of limited resources. Lack of economic discipline from the top would surely yield a burgeoning population below that would then predictably outstrip food stores. Perpetual misery would be the result.
Paradoxical abstract economic thinkers like John Stuart Mill argued there was an intrinsic equality in people and that the need was for structural change, not slavery. Mill’s approach spelled disaster in Carlyle’s worldview wherein a financial elite need tenaciously hold the economic reins. When I first came across Carlyle’s descriptive, images of miserly accountants poring over multitudinous ledgers came to mind as did the deft, vivid portrayals of the economically deprived found in the novels of Charles Dickens. These images also have much to tell us about economics being viewed as a dreary discipline, as the sphere of the would-be depressed.
In contrast to Carlyle’s view, still lingering today in keeping states in dependence for the sake of economic growth of the strong, is the economic thought of the beloved Hindu mystic Mohandas Gandhi. His nonviolent actions on behalf of the Indian poor helped free them from the shackles of a religiously rigid caste system fortified by the corresponding ethos of British colonial rule. The Mahatma, much moved by his Hindu faith and much influenced by the life and teachings of Christ, asserted that “there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” This was the quite essential nonviolent economic salvo, the would-be pacific “shot heard around the world.” This Gandhian seed of envisioned equity, if planted and watered in welcome soil in the contemporary West, could instigate a restoration of economic health for those suffering from the affluence, self-interest, indulgence and indifference that have produced negative consequences for our own minorities at home and the subjugation of other peoples abroad. Much progress has been made but too little has substantially changed as to make 19th century scenes out of the Jamaican plantations or Dickens’ London completely things of the past. Who among us would care to take good note of these historical precedents and current realities and do something about them?
My dear late friend, Chuck Matthei, an American adherent of Gandhian economics, did. He taught how elegant, wondrous and exciting the science of economics could be if esteemed also as the art of mutually beneficial relationships, the fruit of which he predicted would be a more just and compassionate exchange of goods and services. Chuck came to this economic vocation very personally — his ancestors were slaveholders, but he, drawn to Judaism’s sense of justice, felt called to atone this misconduct. He got to work on civil rights, peace, anti-nuclear organizing, and proposing and pioneering new models of land tenure. He established loan funds for low-income people and projects and trusts for the protection of threatened agricultural lands. He opposed nuclear weapons and power with a Gandhian fast and encouraged fellow activists (myself included) to persevere in our work with and alongside the poor. Chuck possessed rare gifts of insight and persuasion that won over judges, dignitaries, even critics and opponents of his causes. A convert of sorts himself, Chuck grew expert in drawing others to their own entertainment of generous living in the light of Gandhi’s truth that means and ends are inextricably linked.
          How did Chuck become this gentle and yet uncompromising upholder of cherished principles? Chuck was influenced by the land-reverencing writings of Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry and the philosophical writings of Viktor Frankl. He was a dear friend of Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker movement. Like Frankl, he was motivated by interior conviction. And like Day, he bore social commitments that could not, in good conscience, be put aside. Chuck had the gift and chutzpah to cut through complex economic languages and activities that have generally tended to insulate financial elites from the influence of the non-professional and the needs of the indigent. Chuck grew to be a much needed and celebrated iconoclast, a highly skilled economist serving the economically wounded. Through his witness, a lesson we can learn from Chuck is how not to be so easily intimidated by the attention to minutiae that is part and parcel of economic life, but see there is a larger picture that has a rightful claim to our attention. Such a disposition could elicit the needed creativity and inventiveness to produce and sustain an economics of hopefulness.
   The root meaning of the word economics from the Greek oikonomia is the proper management of a household. It seems that since the first photographs of the Earth were taken and beamed back to us from outer space, we have had the opportunity to view this beautiful blue/green ball spinning around the sun as just as much a household as our personal domiciles. The Earth truly is our shared home, blessed by God and blessed by us too when all of us exercise good management skills! Yet most of us, understandably, prefer to relegate our role as householders of the planet to specialists, thus perhaps abdicating a role we were meant to assume in some form or other. Chuck would encourage us to live in a more blessed relation to our neighbors and indeed to all of creation if we would survive as a species and as a planet.
What if we acknowledged our larger roles as participants in exchanges of all sorts, coming to see for ourselves that economics really is about relationships as Chuck did? Are not all of us economists in fact? The recognition of such can potentially place us in a new context for solving problems thus helping to renew our interdependent lives and replenish the resources we necessarily depend on for our shared well-being. Might we more courageously take up bold initiatives in the direction of sustainability? Might we better honor the rabbinical saying that before each and every person there walks an angel proclaiming: “Make way, make way for the image of God” or adhere more closely to the Gospel mandate to treat “the least of these” as we would Christ himself? What if our economic lives were defined by our belief that we should defend the dignity of each human being by lovingly being each other’s economic keeper?

When my friend Chuck died, 500 friends and admirers showed up for his memorial service at the Roger Williams Church in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The editor of Sojourners Magazine, Jim Wallis, who published Chuck’s writings on economics, told the assembled that while Chuck never claimed to be a Christian, he knew no one more like Jesus than this man. 500 heads nodded in assent. It was quite a tribute to a man who took nonviolent economics very seriously. In his honor and for our own, might we do the same?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Inclusion




Last Sunday as I sat listening to the bell choir play the prelude at church, I recognized the melody in a medley they were ringing. It was the hymn "Be Still My Soul." I was moved by the music. I realized I was moved because my soul was troubled. It wasn't still. I wasn't at peace.

The soul disturbance continued through the greetings, the singing, the Scripture readings, the children's time. It wasn't till the congregational prayer when I approached the lectern that I realized I had to confess my soul sickness. Before I could pray for others I had to unburden myself.

So I told the congregation how I had heard and then read the news from Kansas City. How a man had shot and killed a man of Indian descent, shot his friend, also an Indian national working in this country, and then shot a bystander who decided to intervene. He yelled at the men from India, "Get out of my country."

India is my second home. I've been in India a total of a dozen times over the last 39 years. I've never been threatened nor felt threatened while there, among the very wealthy or the poorest of the poor. 

The first person who contacted me after 9/11 was a friend from India. He assured me it was an attack not just on the U.S. but on all humanity, including him and his country.

I informed the congregation that Sunday evening was India Night at SDSU. It's a wonderful occasion when the community joins with students from India for a night of food, dance and culture. It's an occasion my wife and I look forward to every year. 

But how was I to face friends and neighbors from India that evening? Another terrorist had done his damage, spreading fear and hatred, simply based on a person's appearance or seeming national or religious origin? 

My heart was heavy Sunday morning and it only got heavier as other news surfaced.

As I wondered how we could assure guests or even citizens in this country of their safety, when every unstable and troubled person carries a gun, I received an unwanted response. As he prepared to lament the killing in Kansas City in the State of the Union address, the President, without any fanfare, chose to repeal a regulation that put the mentally ill in a background check database. It's estimated that will allow 75,000 people with a history of mental illness easier access to weapons.

Also troubling was the response of the grief stricken parents of the dead Srinivas Kuchibhotla. They encouraged parents in India to send their young adults to university in Europe or Australia, not to the United States. For them, there was no longer any assurance they would be safe here. Would there even be an India night in the future?

Then I spoke with my brother and sister-in-law. They were with her family in Chile for the holidays. She shared how she spent 45 minutes in a TSA holding room on their return to the states. No reason was given. There was no explanation for a U.S. citizen who has lived here for 40 years. There was no notification to my brother waiting patiently at the baggage carousel (no cell phones allowed in the holding room).

Then came Tuesday night. The Brookings Human Rights Commission introduced a Resolution of Inclusion to the City Council for their consideration and action. It affirmed our place as an inclusive city that treats all people with dignity and respect. The resolution  celebrated our diversity and reaffirmed our commitment to equality of opportunity and justice for all. It confirmed our intolerance of discrimination and hate or bias motivated activities.

Several persons spoke in favor of the resolution. They represented school teachers, ministers, SDSU, the Inter-Faith Council, the larger community. When those who supported the resolution were asked to rise, the council chambers were filled with those standing.


Speaking to the issue, the Councilors one by one affirmed the resolution. One Councilor summed it up saying she believed in the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The role was called. By a unanimous vote of 7 to 0 the resolution was passed. 

We applauded! But we were also reminded that the Council is only seven people. It's up to all of us to put flesh on the bones, at the grocery store, on main street, in school, at church and with our other elected officials.

Thank you Brookings! Now my heart is not so heavy. I know that at least in this small community in the heartland, there is still a special welcome for the neighbor. May it always be so.


Carl Kline   March 24, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Friday  March 17, 2017

"Suffer the little children..."
Tomorrow morning,  my husband and I will  board the ferry to leave the island with 14 kids and 2 faculty members from our local high school.  By boat and bus and train we will make our way to Manhattan to participate in a Model UN conference.  Several thousand high school kids from various points on the planet will gather to learn in a simulated UN experience  - participating on committees, hearing position papers, drafting resolutions, making judicial decisions - - working together across language and cultural barriers to create solutions to real world problems.  Immigration issues will be among the topics they will work on.
            Meanwhile, this morning's paper editorializes on the effort to “devise new forms of bureaucratic cruelty for immigrants. The latest policy proposal from the Department of Homeland Security would separate children from their parents at the Mexico-US border if they’re caught trying to enter the country illegally.”  (Boston Globe  “Border policy on kids harsh and ineffective” Tuesday March 14, 2017 p. A8).

            All too often, the morning news represents an  “Alice down the rabbit hole” kind of irrationality.  I have to shake my head in an effort to make sense of what I have just read.  Is this for real? I come from a Christian and Jewish background spiritually.  The revered texts of both traditions hold children as a sacred trust from the Holy One.  Hebrew texts admonish adults to teach the sacred law to their children - - and hold adherence to the law as the way to life.  Recognizing that this is always a choice, the texts also exhort the people to “choose life so that you and your children may live.”
            There is a  scenario in the Christian texts where some of Jesus’ own disciples try to keep children away from Jesus.  His stern rebuke rings in their ears: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  Even more pointed, Jesus teaches “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones......it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the sea.”   The  “little ones” - - young children - - perhaps just “innocent ones” - - perhaps any child or youth or adult who is defenseless against the power wielded against them.
            Even as this country continues to wrestle with what “family” means there are still some norms that remain in our collective consciousness.  One of them is the notion of the value of the family as a social construct that promotes the safety and well being of children.  Stable families tend to give children a stronger start in life.  And yet, there are policies in the making that would destabilize and destroy immigrant families.
            Currently, mothers with children who are caught at the southern border trying to enter this country, seeking asylum, are processed and released together.  The law states that minors cannot be held in detention.  The proposed new policy would separate mothers from their children.  Mothers would be sent to an adult detention center under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security to be processed while their children would be taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Settlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.  (Boston Globe Editorial March 14, 2017 p. A8).

           It is hard to imagine the pain and terror inflicted on families already suffering under the constant threat of violence - so much so that they choose to leave their homes to flee elsewhere. They come seeking safety only to discover that the nightmare continues when they reach the long sought border of the “land of the free” to be separated from one another and virtually imprisoned while strangers with power determine their fate.
            Perhaps Jesus’ words for this age might be  “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name is responsible for seeing to it that the child is safe in the arms of his/her parents and that the parents are welcome too.”  Perhaps he would say   “Get your act together and work this out in the most loving and compassionate way.”  And, of course, he might reiterate: “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones welcomes me.”
            The threat of the “millstone around the neck” was never literal - - but the weight of the  cruelty to children inherent in the proposed DHS policy ought to feel just that heavy on the neck of the powers that be.  Perhaps it might weigh heavily enough to warrant reconsideration;  perhaps heavily enough to warrant a turn in the direction of hospitality and compassion as attributes to be utilized when considering the fate of so many suffering members of the human family.
            Tomorrow we will begin a 4 day journey with 14 teenagers - children on their way to becoming adults.  We will witness them participating in a process that teaches their minds how to cooperate with others to solve problems.   We will watch as their budding consciousness is stimulated and shaped by their experience of seeing life from the perspective of their peers from around the world.   We will also learn more about how we need to protect and nurture the precious resource that the children of the world represent for the future of humanity.   For after all - we have it on great authority that  they are considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and that it is indeed to such as these that the reign of peace belongs.   The sacred texts do not discriminate across social and political boundaries.   They simply tell us that we must not fail the little ones entrusted to us.

Vicky Hanjian  March 17, 2017




Friday, March 10, 2017

It's Time To Reclaim Our Highest Vision: Let's Embrace The Great Turning

      Across the nation, activists, organizers and newly enlivened social change onlookers are hungry for a shared, coherent sense of direction. George Lakey's recent 10-point strategy for nonviolent resistance to the new Trump administration offers an excellent beginning to an absolutely critical conversation about comprehensive movement strategy.

But our many social change movements, which together have begun to comprise the macro "movement of movements" Lakey describes, may have a short window of time to get our strategic ducks in a row. The new administration has demonstrated a determined will to consolidate power, and to do so quickly. Fascistic executive orders; the systematic de-legitimization of existing institutions, checks and balances; unfettered propaganda; and the normalization of bombastic and hateful rhetoric are stark early-warning signs of totalitarian takeover. In this setting, as Lakey argues, the new administration is relying on social change-makers to stay in their customary mode of "playing defense." We're called to be culture-shifting movement builders, but by setting enough fires in enough places, Trump, Bannon and Co. seek to render us firefighters.
      In the face of the new administration's systematic dehumanization, the strength and clarity of purpose needed in order to break free of our defensive posture is going to require us to very thoughtfully and intentionally knit our movements together. This doesn't mean that our emerging movement of movements needs to become a centralized, top-heavy institution. On the contrary, decentralized models of organizing are wholly appropriate right now, and fully in step with the times. But, to move in decentralized concert -- the paradoxical holy grail for movement-makers today -- we need to set our sights on a shared and deeply inspiring beacon.

     Visionaries Joanna Macy and David Korten have popularized the phrase "the Great Turning" as a way to name our collective and diverse efforts to transition from our exploitative and destructive industrial growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society, a shift that they and a growing number of change-makers believe represents a new and pivotal epoch in our human evolution.
     The Great Turning is all-encompassing, giving answer to the great array of our current social and ecological concerns -- from racial justice to indigenous sovereignty, from economic imperialism to murderous drones, from factory farming to fracking, and far beyond. And, by definition, the Great Turning is inclusive of three mutually supportive modes of action: bold nonviolent resistance to the systems and forces of empire, the constructive building up of the alternative society in which we long to live, and a depth of self-transformation, individual by individual, that will enable a critical mass of us to break free of our personal collaboration and collusion with the status quo of the Domination System (a system of which we are a part, if only unwittingly).
     The Great Turning does a magnificent job of meeting our movement of movement's current need for an overarching visional statement, and I encourage us to claim and celebrate it as the spacious, yet exacting umbrella under which our vast constellation of social struggles can now locate themselves.
Some will argue that language such as this, and the high ideal to which it points, is unrealistic, and that the emerging movement of movements should set its sights on lower hanging fruit. This, I argue, would be a potentially fatal mistake. In the face of our existential climate crisis, what has passed as political pragmatism up until now has most definitely become impractical. A great many of our most powerful thought leaders have been going to great lengths to explain this to us in recent years -- perhaps none more persuasively than Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein.
     Movement builders of many stripes have begun to discern the sturdy movement footpath that Alexander and Klein have constructed for us. Alexander's The New Jim Crow, released in 2010, did far more than expose the treacheries of the US system of mass incarceration. The book presented a crushing critique of gradualism and of social change advocates' loyalty to it. The gist of Alexander's argument is that piecemeal policy reform is simply not going to cut it in our age of cultural collapse. What's needed, she says, is a shift in public consciousness that will give rise to a massive social movement with the courage and power to fully transform our economic and political systems.
Four years later, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein followed and expanded on this thesis in a most powerful and instructive way.
     While harmonizing with Alexander's insights about the paralyzing limits of superficial reform, Klein couldn't help but notice, point to and name the elephant standing in the middle of the room: capitalism. Through her monumental and terrifying exploration of the climate crisis, Klein could not escape the conclusion that our society's allegiance and addiction to winner/loser capitalism -- a system that requires by default the two-fold plunder of the earth and poor people -- must be renounced and abandoned, personally and collectively, if we want to see our way to a livable future.
     The Great Turning -- the epochal shift from our extraction-based, plunder-ridden industrial-growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society -- is the natural, inevitable and majestic movement goal to which such prophetic thought leaders are pointing. It's time to rally to this call and to let it serve as the foundation for our emerging strategy for national transformation.

Chris Moore Backman   March 10, 2017
Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission

Chris Moore-Backman is author of The Gandhian Iceberg: A Nonviolence Manifesto for the Age of the Great Turning and producer of Bringing Down the New Jim Crow, a radio documentary series examining the movement to end the US system of mass incarceration.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Decision Making

     Some years ago I worked closely with an international peace organization that has now been in existence for 35 years. We have always been organized into country groups with active support networks in at least a dozen nations. These country groups recruit, train and support volunteers for the projects. 
     We have supported projects in several countries around the globe where we were invited to offer protection for human rights defenders, who often put their lives on the line defending human rights in dictatorial and repressive regimes. Projects have taken place in El Salvador, Nepal, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, N. America, Haiti and Kenya, to name a few.
     The first project was in Central America, where mothers of disappeared husbands and sons were politically active. The mothers were seeking knowledge of their loved ones, oftentimes with gatherings in public places with signs and speeches. The mothers were being targeted by repressive forces, in many cases the same ones that had disappeared their family members. Because of their activity, some of the mothers and their remaining family members were receiving death threats.
     Peace Brigades International (PBI) was asked to send volunteers to accompany the mothers and their families with unarmed peacekeepers, drawn from the different PBI country groups. These volunteers are people trained in nonviolence and the culture and language of the people requesting them. They give six months or longer of their lives in virtual war zones to accompany these brave defenders, who are risking all for basic human rights. The work day of a PBI volunteer might mean observing at a parade. Or it might mean walking a child to school in the morning and sitting outside the school all day, making sure the child is not kidnapped.
     Non- partisan in approach and visually identifiable by their clothing, these PBI volunteers speak with all the different parties to each conflict upon arrival. Their mission is to simply accompany human rights defenders. Testimony about the effectiveness of this accompaniment has been consistently positive, with gratitude expressed by human rights defenders in all of the countries where projects have taken place. 
     PBI is governed by an International Council. Attending one of the annual meetings in Switzerland, I was introduced to how decision making is supposed to work. PBI from the beginning has been committed to consensus decision making. Everyone has to agree before a decision can be implemented. You can abstain, but one person can also block the decision of the whole group.
     At this International Council meeting, we were some sixty persons, from all the various countries and projects, using three languages. Some of the decisions to be made had people lined up on opposite sides. Disagreement was heated. Feelings were intense. Individuals were adamant. Consensus seemed impossible, especially in three days. But without decisions the organization would be left it limbo.
     Experienced facilitators were appointed. Intense meetings with the most invested persons followed, often late into the night. By the end of the gathering we had made our decisions as an organization by consensus. No one's opinion was ignored. No one abstained or blocked. Everyone prepared to move the organization ahead as one body.
     Afterward, I wished our Congress could witness what happened. Democrat and Republican principles are no more polar opposites than opinions in that PBI gathering. Yet, for some reason, our government has descended into a wrestling match with no end in sight. Could it be that the primary commitment in Congress is not to democracy? Could it be that the primary commitment in Congress is to "my way or the highway?" Why can't we seem to elect our representatives based on their willingness to work with others to move us forward together?
     Now we are faced in this country with the most politically and racially divided nation we have seen in my lifetime. Even the sixties, an era of the civil rights struggle and an unpopular war in Vietnam, didn't have the explosive potential of our present historical moment. Thousands have been marching for Immigrants, for Muslims, for Refugees, for Black Lives Matter, for Standing Rock and No DAPL. And we will soon see millions of women striking on International Womens Day and perhaps a million more gathering in Washington, D.C. for the climate in April.
     In the meantime, we have a President who doesn't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. He thinks he is  just following up on his campaign promises. He seems oblivious to the fact that he was elected by one quarter of the electorate after a divisive, sometimes hateful campaign. He seems puzzled he should have to move the country forward with communication, consultation and some kind of consensus.
     In a country this large and diverse, consensus won't always happen. But if our ultimate commitment is to the democratic process, we have to try. Can you hear Senators, Congresswomen? Can you hear SD State Legislature? Can you hear Mr. President? Could you try?

Carl Kline    

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Stranger In The Kitchen


    Over the last twenty years or so, it has become the custom of the various congregations on our island to offer free hot meals to all comers during the winter months.  Currently, all seven days of the week are covered.  The meals vary from a fixed menu of lasagna and salad for lunch on Sundays to a chef catered dinner on Saturday evenings to a grand potluck on Wednesdays.  Our little congregation provides home made soup and casseroles and dessert on Tuesdays. 
            The suppers draw from a varied population.  Some folks are homeless.  Others are young families struggling to make ends meet.  Still others are alone and in need of the social contacts.  Many are seniors who don’t enjoy cooking for one person.  The one thing all the community suppers hold in common is that they are open, welcoming places for members of the community to gather throughout the gray winter months regardless of what draws them.
            Last Tuesday we served spaghetti with meat sauce and a salad augmented  by a corn chowder and a rice and bean casserole contributed by two of the guests.  Following the meal, the clean up has also become a community thing.   Guests bring their dishes to the kitchen.  Some volunteer to scrape.  Others to load the dishwasher.  Still others put the folding chairs away and store the tables until the next time.  Often a sense of joy and “family”  floods the atmosphere.
            After dinner one of the guests joined me in the kitchen, eager to scrape dishes for me to rinse prior to loading  them in the dishwasher.   A three day stubble, multiple layers of clothing, and a sweet uncertainty about whether he had a place at the table hinted at his possible life circumstances.  He remarked about his gratitude for a hot meal.  I told him I was happy that he had enjoyed it and that I was glad he had come.
He said he had traveled around a lot and eaten in a lot of places, but he had never felt  welcomed until he  decided to try out the community suppers.  He innocently marveled at how kind people were, and how they made him feel at home.  He said he didn’t always know that churches were places where he would be welcome, but he thought that there was something in the Bible about being kind to strangers.  I had to turn my attention to the dishwasher so he wouldn’t see tears welling up.
Over and over again the charge of our sacred texts is to welcome the stranger.  We are admonished over and over again: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)  Both the command and the rationale are given in the same sentence.  We have all been strangers at one point or another in our lives.  The importance of remembering what that feels like needs to be connected with our compassion for the stranger we meet at any moment. 
            Out of curiosity, I consulted Webster for the meaning of  the word “estrange.”    It means to remove from customary environment or associations; to arouse enmity or indifference where there had formerly been love, affection or friendliness. 
            So much of our global public discourse these days has to do with the question of “what to do with the stranger?”   Even on a small island with a relatively intact sense of community we cannot escape the challenges that come with stress-filled movements of  so many human beings who have literally been estranged - removed from their customary environments by war, persecution, hunger, threats of slavery , poverty, or homelessness - and now by increased rigor in enforcing immigration laws, and by the threat of deportation.   The less than compassionate response to the stranger is fear, indifference,  and increasingly, enmity.   We have become strangers who estrange others.
            The ancient text of Genesis tells us that the patriarch, Abraham, was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day when three strangers approached him.  He offered them water, saw to it that their feet were washed and ordered that a feast be prepared for them.   There is a tradition that Abraham’s tent was open on all four sides so that a stranger would not have to search for the entrance in order to find hospitality.  The stranger was not to be feared and rejected, but welcomed and made to feel at home. 
            I had to reflect awhile on the meaning of the tears I felt welling up when I heard my new dish-washing partner wonder at how welcome he felt in our little church.  I wondered why he was surprised; wondered why he couldn’t just take it for granted that he would be welcomed in a church.  I don’t know where his travels have taken him or what he encountered along the way,  but it was clear to me that he had not always encountered hospitality from some of those most responsible for offering it freely. 
            I went to bed with a little prayer of gratitude.  Maybe it was only spaghetti with meat sauce, a bit of laughter and fellowship around the table, a little shared labor in the kitchen after dinner - - but at least we were doing something right.

Vicky Hanjian 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fathers



I'm thinking about fathers. I just finished a short story by a writer who was disappointed by his father. His father was abusive and died young from too much alcohol. Years later, the son was contacted by one of his father's war time buddies wanting to know about his father's life. They began a correspondence. Soon a picture arrived of the four Navy buddies at a bar with the son's dad smiling boyishly in the middle of the pack. Eventually the correspondence led to a meeting with the three remaining war time buddies; three seniors around a kitchen table with the one middle aged son. In the reunion picture shared with the story, the son took the father's place in the line-up. The story ends, "And I am in my father's place."

Are we sometimes destined to do that as sons? Do we take our father's place?

I've considered myself fortunate as I've had several father figures in my life, male mentors that were there at the time I needed them. They weren't a replacement for my father, but they modeled a different way of being male in the world that could be integrated with early family experiences and personal genes.

There was Randy and Ken, who both taught me how to find the words I needed and to speak with confidence. There was Ed, who helped me learn how to respect rather than conquer a mountain top and Richard who showed me what  patient and untroubled crisis management looked like. There was Bob, who modeled how to balance joy with pain, laughter with suffering and be a truly welcoming neighbor. There was Harivalah, who instructed me in what justice and service looked like and Ramachandran who showed me the color of wisdom. There was a second Bob, who always had my back, even when I probably didn't deserve it. And there was Narayan, who made me recognize the dignity and integrity of Truth.
They were all my elders, like my father. They were all instrumental in shaping who I would become. When I think about it, I really have taken their place in a world that needs what my father and each of the others had to offer. I've tried to integrate a piece of them into my own space in life. Most of them are gone now, so someone has to take their place, don't they?

How fortunate for me! How privileged to have so many male models when many young men have none. It makes me wish that all men could be elders and mentors, as well as parents, to younger men. Whether it's volunteering as a big brother, coaching a sports team or working with a church youth group; young men need male role models, beyond the primary one at home. And they need the kind of father figures who can share the best of what it means to be male with them.

Another wish I have for men is that they could be more involved in the birth process. It is so intimate for mothers and usually so distant for fathers. It makes one wonder if that's why the male parenting role is often the distant, authoritarian one ("Just wait till your father gets home."); with the mother alone for nurturing and comforting the children.  

And it makes me wonder if the absent birth father from the creation of life, might also be a reason for the seeming male ease with the taking of life. Men simply don't know, intimately and physically, what it takes to create life. Usually the male role is finished quickly. Maybe it takes nine seconds, not nine months.    

My major research paper in Seminary was on "Human and Divine Fathers." It was a study of Jonathan Edwards and William Adams Brown. My interest was to see if there was a fatherly resemblance. Does one's human father influence one's conception of God, the divine father? There weren't any clear conclusions from the paper, although Edwards was fertile ground for further exploration. Consider his well known work, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Without certain evidence, I'd still make a generalization. Most authoritarian human fathers help create authoritarian conceptions of God. You need especially loving and nurturing mothers or lots of father figures to balance the scales and give God a bit of grace, a bit of forgiveness, some humor and love. And authoritarian males like not only sons who obey and Gods who have strict codes of discipline, but also rulers who carry a big stick. Compassion is not their forte and punishment is understood as justice.

Unfortunately for sons and nations, confined to authoritarian father conceptions of divinity, they don't know that God is so much larger and glorious than those limited realities. All our Godly metaphors pale in comparison to: "When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars set in their place by thee, what is man that thou shouldst remember him, mortal man that thou shouldst care for him?" Or, as 1 John says so well and simply, "God is Love."

Carl Kline