Friday, May 26, 2017


The Chimera of Multiculturalism
 
          The United States has moved from the notion of being a “melting pot” to becoming a multicultural society. While some people are holding a rear-guard action to protect the values and virtues of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture that shaped and perhaps even defined the US culture since the founding of the Jamestown colony in 1607, the rising tide favors the advocates of multiculturalism as the US becomes an increasingly diverse society. But is multiculturalism the road to the future, or is it a chimera? Webster’s Dictionary variously defines “chimera” as “a monster vomiting flames,” and “an illusion or fabrication of the mind.” I will let the reader decide.
     Multiculturalism emerged as an umbrella term in the 1980s and 1990s, indicative of our changing demographics. Multiculturalism is clearly to be preferred to either a system of apartheid or forced assimilation. And the concept enjoys broad public support. However, there is no standard definition of multiculturalism. A thin definition of the term equates multiculturalism with tolerance of diversity. A somewhat richer understanding of multiculturalism proffers that a multicultural society accepts and incorporates the values, beliefs, and ideas of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. An even denser and thicker definition of multiculturalism suggests that the concept embodies the celebration of diverse cultures and empowers diverse cultural groups to claim a greater measure of equality with others in the public square.
     Because multiculturalism is an umbrella concept the breadth of groups and concerns that cluster under its shelter is breathtaking. Multiculturalism includes all groups protected by the American Disabilities Act, demands respect for all holidays, offers protection against discrimination in employment, encourages the development of educational curriculum that respects racial and ethnic diversity, and much more. For some advocates, multiculturalism is a rights-based concept that applies both to individuals and groups. Accordingly, everyone has equal rights, and society has a moral and legal obligation to respect and protect the rights of each person and group.  
     The concept of multiculturalism has broad appeal in a liberal democratic society—within limits. The rights associated with multiculturalism are civil rights. When the norms of multiculturalism begin to impinge on political and economic rights we often witness increasing tension among diverse groups and popular support for multiculturalism softens. A desire on the part of the majority to maintain the status quo and the appearance of social unity outweighs the urgency of change for the sake of greater inclusion. Multiculturalism has its place, and it must be kept in its place. Enduring poverty in the midst of abundance and recent battles over voting rights witness to a retreat from multiculturalism in these areas of public life.
     The retreat from multiculturalism is due neither to a lack of awareness of the need for change, nor a want of desire on the part of well-meaning citizens to “do good.” Like the myth of the “melting pot,” the impetus for multiculturalism comes from a strong desire to remain true to the creed of E Pluribus Unum. What is missing in this effort to preserve unity is an adequate understanding of our historical context. It is this failure that turns an otherwise noble intent into a chimera.
     Many Native American scholars and historians like David Chang and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz are helping us understand that everything in US history—nation, race, and class—is about the land. Who controls the land and determines how the land is used is a—perhaps the—central theme in US history.
Native Americans, faith communities that have repudiated what Steve Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, correctly calls the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination, and others who are calling upon the United States to honor the 370 treaties between the US and Indian nations, are changing our national narrative and shifting our moral compass in recognition of the importance of land to our national narrative.
      Non-Indian people are beginning to understand that the real history of the United States is defined by settler-indigenous relations. Indigenous Peoples owned the land, the settlers wanted and needed the land, and with the blessing of the church they took the land. Setters invoked the quasi-religious doctrines of Terra Nullius (empty land) and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination to justify Indian genocide. The philosopher John Locke provided the necessary justification for taking the land. He argued that the settlers were defending the superior European civilization and religion (Christianity) against the “pagans” and “wild beasts.” Because the settlers were obligated to defend their superior way of life against the threat posed by the Indians, the Indians were obligated to pay for the cost of the war waged upon them. Taking the land was, in Locke’s view, just compensation paid to the settlers by the indigenous pagans.
       I am not ready to give up on E Pluribus Unum. But if we want to turn this chimera into a viable vision we have to begin with the historical reality of indigenous genocide, exploitation and subjugation. Repudiating the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination opens the way for honoring treaties and giving Indigenous Peoples control of their own land and political and economic future with cultural integrity. Of equal importance, acknowledging our real history is a truth that sets white citizens free from the shackles of historical distortions so that together we can find our way to a future beyond multiculturalism; a future in which interracial justice is normative.

David Hansen

Friday, May 19, 2017

We Need a Little Revelation, Right This Very Moment!
Vicky Hanjian   

      A quick glance at the calendar reminds me that Shavuot and Pentecost are a mere week and a half away.  Having my feet firmly planted in both Jewish and Christian practice makes for a very rich compote for me as these two observances cycle around again, always in close proximity to one another.
      In post Biblical writings Shavuot has come to be known and celebrated as the day Torah was given to Israel.  Through the Kabbalists, a tradition of staying up to study through the night on the eve of Shavuot has been handed down as a way of preparing to receive the revelation of Torah in the morning on the day of Shavuot.
      In the Christian calendar year, the Day of Pentecost follows close on to Shavuot.  It is a day when the life giving energy of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early church in a rush of wind and fire - a day when the Holy demonstrated its power to infiltrate and shape the life of the community.  Both Shavuot and Pentecost are remembered and observed as days of revelation.  

At Mt. Sinai  the revelation came with a quaking mountain, thunder and lightning and thick clouds of terrifying mystery.  The potent drama of creation was the venue for the revelation of the law that would shape Israel’s life as a holy people, wisdom for life in harmony and justice and peace.  Basic wisdom about not setting up false gods and worshipping them; about honoring our elders; about not murdering or stealing; about not envying what our neighbor owns; about not bearing false witness against another.
      

   In a parallel tradition the Day of Pentecost came with rushing wind and fire and the revelation of the gift of the Holy Spirit - the revelation spoken in such a way that all could hear it in their own language regardless of where they came from.
      Christian tradition holds that the Spirit came bringing gifts of holiness for those who could use them.  Gifts like wisdom and knowledge, of faith and the ability to heal, of discernment and the ability to interpret spiritual truths.
      Taken together the two traditions of revelation form a firm foundation for the human community to live in harmony and wholeness - in holiness.  Both traditions have the power to pull us back to center in a time when the wild centrifugal forces of national and global politics send us spiraling away from the most fundamental truths.  Truths like being honest and not lying to or about our neighbors - - ordinances about not murdering -either literally or verbally - - like not stealing or envying what belongs to another.  The revelation on Sinai seems so fundamental - - and yet is so easily ignored and trampled upon at the highest levels of political machination where adequate health care or a sense of safety can be stolen from the most vulnerable at the stroke of a pen. 
       Revelation of wisdom for living is at the heart center of Jewish and Christian tradition.  The thunder, the smoke and the quaking mountain, the rushing wind and the tongues of fire, all caught the attention of our ancient ancestors.
    Our attention has wandered - but we still have the stories and the ritual days that have the power to draw us back to center and to remind us again of the most basic principles for harmonious living.   No fireworks, no exploding mountains, no mysterious smoke and clouds, no rushing wind and flames - - just a silent, ageless whisper of intent: “You shall be holy!!” Now -  get with the program!!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Doubt



A friend and I were talking the other day about what has become known as "fake news" and "alternative facts." We agreed it was harder than ever to know what to believe. Exaggeration has gone viral. Outright lies have become prolific. The determined attempt to misinform, mislead and distract is ever more present. And even the old stand by of image creation and political spin casts us deeper into doubt and mistrust than ever before. We have to depend on things like "fact checker" to try and ascertain the truth. And for those who really care, you have to spend a lot of time checking sources and determining credibility.

This sense of doubt and mistrust has become so pervasive that it threatens the very foundations of our democracy and perhaps even, of future life on earth.
In one of my religion classes I share a picture of Pope Francis in his tall ceremonial mitre, long a part of papal ceremonial dress. In the story with the picture, Pope Francis is thinking about getting rid of this "pointy hat." He expects to catch hell for it but he would rather try something else, like maybe a baseball cap.    I ask my students if they think this story is true. Knowing something of Pope Francis, some are inclined to think it may be true. There is usually a mixed response. When we examine how they might find out the truth, the key lies in the author, a known satirist, who regularly writes almost
believable, and often hilarious material, about well known public figures. The text is from the Borowitz Report, satirical commentator at the New York Times.

In an age of doubt and mistrust of the hard news, many young people get their news from late night comediennes, if at all. At least you know they are joking.

And with a President who calls the media the "enemy of the American people," and only uses sources that are favorable to his point of view (sometimes mistakenly informing his point of view), trust of the fourth estate in this country has descended to a new low. That's a serious danger to democracy. An educated and trusting citizenry is essential to our country's well being. And if only the comediennes, partisan politicians and their corporate interests are "educating" us, we are in grave danger.

But there's a second danger to democracy that has reared it's ugly head. Doubt has been cast on the security and reliability of the ballot. It started some years ago with partisan activity. You gerrymander a district to your advantage. Or you "clean up" the voting rolls to leave off some people of a certain color in a certain neighborhood. Or you require identification some people won't have. Or you limit the polling places so lines stretch on for blocks and people can't take off the time from work. Or as just happened in Montana, you outlaw voting by mail because the other political party might gain an advantage.

Now there are new threats. Can we trust voting machines won't be hacked? Have they been?

The President sows doubt about the ballot by saying millions voted illegally in the recent election, keeping him from winning the popular vote. And we have the accusation that bus loads of Massachusetts voters invaded New Hampshire to change the electoral outcome in that state. In one interview with N.H. residents making this claim, when they were pressed by the interviewer, they admitted they didn't actually see "buses," but one of them did see several people get out of a car with MA plates. 

Should we mention Russia? Perhaps the most serious threat to the ballot in our history as a country and we still don't have the answers. How exactly did a foreign government meddle in the election and was there collusion? The very foundation of democracy is at stake in this question and the investigation seems to be disappearing into the woodwork as threats of war and peace take center stage.

Finally, an even deeper threat to our country as well as the future of our children and grandchildren is the doubt being cast about climate change. For those who are able to see the film "Merchants of Doubt," you know how hard some people work to belittle and disparage scientific evidence. With a party in power that has traditionally denied the scientific evidence of a changing and warming climate, and an administration that is solidly in the hands of the fossil fuel industry, our planetary future is seriously at risk.

As the evidence mounts, day by day by day, of serious challenges to democracy and the planet, one can only hope an energized citizenry will dump doubt, and insist on wiser leaders who talk straight and engender trust, in them and our democratic institutions.

Carl Kline

Friday, May 5, 2017

Answering with Our Presence


Presente, Hineni, I am here

It was a raw and rainy day as we gathered in the wind-swept plaza that stretches between Boston City Hall and the JFK Federal Building. Called to be there by the needs of the hour, hundreds of people gathered, drawn there for the sake of three, and many more, the untold and alone. We were there to support Zully, Enrique, and Alex, all undocumented, arrested in the weeks before, seeking “Milk with Dignity” in the Vermont dairy industry, held without bond in a New Hampshire jail. There was something fitting to the harsh weather, a reminder of the struggle itself, so much love needed to punctuate the gray, and so we did. We were the sunshine, warm and bright, basking in each other’s glow, each one’s presence a ray of light to shine upon the way, commitment and hope palpable.

Surrounding an inner circle of huddled masses beneath an overhang of the massive building, a large format photocopy of a petition to release the three we gathered for, rolled out and held up like a Torah scroll, a sacred scroll of names held by loving hands. Among the columns of names unfolding, stronger than the building’s columns of stone, intimations of the weekly Torah portion, God’s voice calling, Vayikra/And God called…, as to each one of us. The desert sanctuary just completed, all its details come together as one. We are the sanctuary, there and then and all across the land, each one counted, each one needed, each one called to say presente, hineni, I am here….

I had the honor to be a speaker, the most important words spoken just before, voice strong and pleading, Lymarie, wife of Alex, “me and my daughter, we need him home.” Her voice made my own tremble as I began to speak. Hers is the timeless voice the Torah heard so long go when it said, you shall not oppress a stranger, you shall not impose restrictions…, for you know the soul of a stranger/v’atem yadatem et nefesh ha’ger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex. 22:20, 23:9). It is the voice heard by Caesar Chavez, whose birthday is today as I write. It is his voice, one with his people, his spirit living among us. I held up a copy of a yellowed and tattered leaflet issued by the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis more than forty years ago proclaiming in Yiddish and English non-union grapes and lettuce to be non-kosher, “if it flows from the oppression it is not kosher.” It is the voice heard today by the Mass Board of Rabbis, heeding the call of those who came before, Vayikra. It is the voice heard by the rabbinic human rights organization, T’ruah, organizing for migrant workers and immigrants throughout the land. Created in the image of God, every human being is documented. Bearing the mark of God in all the ways of its human appearance, wherever we travel throughout this world, there is no such thing as an undocumented human being.  Compassion for those who cross our borders does not deny national sovereignty, but acknowledges a greater sovereignty that encompasses all. Knowing no boundaries, God’s compassion needs to infuse immigration policy and the way we speak of other human beings. From the valleys and vineyards of California, to the tomato fields of Florida, to the Green Mountains of Vermont and the pastures below, we call for freedom and hope for all, for Zully, “Kike,” and Alex.

As the throng spread out in one great circle of song, round and round in the rain, an impromptu marching band to lead, I made my way with close family and friends of the three to a small federal courtroom in the building. Along with Rabbi David Lerner, president of the Mass Board of Rabbis, and a minister who had come from Vermont, we were to be clergy witnesses for the bond hearings of our friends, and for the hearings of others whom I tried to hold in my heart as well, that at least in spirit they not be alone. It was surreal in the courtroom, none present of those whose cases were to be heard. In turn, they each appeared by video link from the New Hampshire jail, the screen facing only the judge, a glimpse of loved ones denied to family and friends in court. 

We heard the other cases, of human lives announced as numbers, bureaucratic missteps endangering the outcome, the heartbreaking details of a father of four young US citizen children, husband of a legal US resident. The judge scowled at the arrest record, “driving well over the speed limit,” he noted. The lawyer pointed out with all deference that the record actually said the opposite, “driving well under the speed limit.” Amidst the fragile web of details, a glimmer of hope, perhaps, his bond reduced from $5000 to $3500. Another repeatedly answered “no” to whether he had any family ties in the US, no family, no leeway, no reduction of bond, no compassion. Another said he had a brother in the US, their father having been murdered in Guatemala, a carpet layer, arrested in a co-worker’s car; bond reduced from $7500 to $5000, still a small fortune for him. I had to keep remembering that this was just the bond hearing to determine whether each would remain in jail, their ultimate fate held in waiting until the immigration trial yet to come. 

Of our friends, Alex’ hearing was the first of the three, song rising up from the gathering still circling below. To the old labor song, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” words were added, “Free Zully, free Kike, free Alex.” Sitting two rows in front of me, Alex’ wife turned toward the window and smiled at the calling of her husband’s name, stroking her four year old daughter’s hair as the little girl snuggled into her, held between mother and grandmother, trying to make sense of it all. A text message surreptitiously sent, the crowd came alive, aware that Alex’ case had begun. The judge said the sound was distracting, the lawyer smiling in response that they were exercising their first amendment rights. The judge fixed on an earlier arrest for driving under the influence, a case the Vermont courts had dismissed. There was to be no bond and no release for Alex. The court unmoved by the sobbing of wife and mother, by a little girl burying her face into her mother’s lap, by a frail grandmother trying
to hold them all, a recess was called.

As the prosecutor walked past me in that heart-wrenching moment, I wondered how she would be able to sleep that night. I struggled to redirect the anger welling in my heart, to find a place for all the negative feelings, somehow to hold all that swirled. Later, I shared my feelings with the lawyer, and he said with both amazement and respect, “she believes in what she is doing, as do I.”

Each of them so young, all in their early twenties, my struggle continued as Zully’s case was called. The prosecutor urged that no bond be granted, that Zully had left her phone on to record at the time of her arrest, endangering the officers with the possibility of a crowd gathering, pointing then to the window, “like the one here today.” For both Zully and Kike, the lawyer place a large stack of support letters in front of the judge, emphasizing the love and respect for these two in the community. Commenting on the letter from Bernie Sanders, the judge was clearly amazed by the degree of support that surrounded these two, the degree of respect for their efforts to help workers, to improve the lives of others. Noting that he doesn’t usually see such support, the judge referred, without a trace of irony, to the large number of people appearing lately in his immigration court. Zully and Kike’s bond was set at $2500, an amount easily raised. Their release came on the efforts of so many who answered the call, Vayikra, a reminder that each one of us has a role to play and that what we do matters.      

It is all contained in the very first word of the Torah portion, in the word Vayikra itself, always written with a very small letter alef at the end, as in VAYIKRA. Taught positively as a reflection of Moses’ humility, it is also taken as a teaching not to diminish our own importance in the struggle for justice, in the collective effort to create a better world. For all his greatness, for all the praise for his humility, the rabbis imagine God becoming exasperated with Moses for stepping to the side, for not acting in the urgency of the moment. Through the lens of midrash, when God calls to Moses now, Vayikra, that exasperation shows, if you do not redeem them, no one else will redeem them. As Moses becomes each of us, God then says, how long will you diminish your self? The hour is waiting but for you/ayn ha’sha’ah m’tzapah elah lach (Vayikra Rabbah, 1:5). In the layers of Hebrew nuance, the call is clear, the times need you; the needs of the hour depend on you.

The needs of the hour depend on each of us. Circling round in the cold and rain, we are warmed in each other’s presence. The bond hearings for Alex, Zully, and Enrique were only the first step, as they are for so many, most all alone and without support. The greater challenge, even as Alex remains in jail, away from his wife and daughter, will be the immigration hearings yet to come. Each of us is needed, becoming all together the sunshine of justice breaking through the leaden skies. Hearing God’s call, Vayikra, we answer with our presence, presente, hineni, I am here.


Rabbi Victor Hillel Reinstein

Friday, April 28, 2017

May Pinkletinks Prevail!


Our beloved island is birthing spring!  Azaleas and rhododendrons are lavishly pink and purple.  Lilac buds are getting ready.  A great blue heron surveys its realm from the shore of  the pond, standing on one leg.  “Pinkletinks”, tiny frogs that inhabit the damp low places, are singing their ecstatic chirping songs.  We open our car windows  as we drive so we can hear their invisible presence and feel the joy.  A pair of fluffy white “pillows” float on the pond - two majestic swans - their graceful heads and necks submerged, grazing the bottom for breakfast. 
            With spring comes the tell tale signs that our quiet winter, our time of rest and restoration and recovery from the previous summer, is gradually coming to an end.  There are more visitors on the weekends.  Once again bicycles share the narrow roads with auto and truck traffic.  The sounds of hammers and saws and the smells of fresh paint and sawdust  abound.  Here and there the signs of “summer anxiety” can be seen and heard.
            For more than fifteen years, a local restaurant has graciously provided an appreciation dinner for the Island Food Pantry and Habitat For Humanity volunteers.  The dinner has provided  a public opportunity to express gratitude for the service that volunteers provide.  It has had a practical business benefit too.  Each year the restaurant employs a number of  temporary seasonal staff from several countries in Eastern Europe. The appreciation dinner gives the restaurant  an opportunity to do a  “dry run” with their new employees before opening for the season.
            The dinner will not happen this year.  Due to  difficulties and delays in the getting visas, the staff that the restaurant depends upon may not materialize this year.  Delays are forcing the restaurant to open a full month later than usual.   Loss of employees and loss of income for an island business make the issue of recent government  immigration policies a reality “on the ground.”   The same story is told by numerous businesses around the island.
            “Summer anxiety” will have an added dimension this year as business owners scramble to find enough employees to keep their businesses open and running smoothly and to meet the demands of  frequently less-than-sympathetic  summer visitors.
            Meanwhile,  our Sunday morning book discussion group is reading  “Reconnecting with Nonviolence”, the 6th chapter in The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings by John Phillip Newell.   Newell reminds us that “There are angels of light and angels of darkness in us all.  One moment we may be preaching nonviolence as the only true energy for real transformation in our world.  The next moment we may be consumed by violence of heart.  Sometimes this is provoked by the most trivial of disagreements and at other times by differences of real substance. But whether or not our violent feelings or actions ever feel justified, that is never the place from which we can effect real change if we are seeking world peace.”
            These are thoughts that our small community grapples with as we prepare to thread our way through  another summer replete with heretofore unknown stresses created by forces and by decisions made in places far beyond the reach of our own control and influence.  In our microcosm we encounter, on a much smaller scale,  the same issues that affect  pretty much every aspect of life in communities and nations around the globe where economic and immigration  policies are determined by those who will be least affected by the outcome of their decision making. 
           So - our summer challenge is to stay connected with one another, to support each other in our determination to give the greatest power to our angels of light, to maintain patience in the face of the frustrating encounters with immigration bureaucracies, to offer gracious hospitality and kindness, to stay conscious of the fact that we are all living under the stress of the unpredictable whims of power, to offer unconditional love to one another - - and to roll down the car windows and listen for the sheer joy of the pinkletinks.

Vicky Hanjian  April 28, 2017
           

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