Saturday, May 19, 2018

“You are You! That is TRUER Than TRUE!
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

A sacred text of a different sort came to me as a gift recently. The place of its giving became as Sinai in that moment, a place of revelation and delight in the transmission of Torah from generation to generation. In this case, it was the handing of Torah from younger to older, a child unassuming and unaware of the gift transmitted. On a recent trip to Los Angeles to meet our newest grandchild, we went to pick up our eldest grandchild from school, not so little Leo, now six years old. Leo proudly took us on a tour of his school, showing us the playground first, and then the synagogue around which the school is configured, and then the music room, and the science room, so much opportunity, all part of his life and in some six-year old way seemingly appreciated and not taken for granted.

Finally we came to Leo’s classroom. He opened the door and led us in with a great smile, showing us where he sat to read, where he did math, where he washed his hands. He stopped with us in front of a large, brightly colored poster, seeming to know that it would mean as much to his zayde as to him. Of course I realized immediately from its color and illustration that it was a teaching of “Reb Seuss.” His oma Mieke and I held his hands as we read the words together with all the appropriate drama of something important, of a moment to be marked and remembered.

The words jumped from the poster with the timeless cadence of Dr. Seuss, and with the excited voices of grandparents and grandchild reading together, students all:

Of common threads upon the loom of life, the words sing of universal truths in different tones and hues that each one might recognize in their own way the melody that is truer than true. It is the essence of the Slonimer Rebbe’s signature theme: No human is just the same from the day of the human’s creation and onward; and one person cannot repair that which devolves upon another person to repair. Therefore, there is to each person their own task and purpose through which it is upon them to bring repair in their lifetime (Portion Lech L’cha, Gen. 12:1-17:27).

We are each unique in who we are and in the gifts that we bring to this world and its repair. In the essence of who each one is we become part of something greater than ourselves and are yet integral to that greater whole. It is the nature and lesson of the minyan, the Jewish prayer quorum, a symbolic representation of the community and yet counted by ones. Of that which joins us one to another as a community, each of us in our uniqueness, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a beautiful insight, so simple and so profound from the weekly Torah portion B’har-B’chukkotai (Lev. 25:1-27:34). It is a portion that emphasizes human equality and the responsibility of one for another, to be learned through the profound reorganization of society that is experienced every seventh year through the laws of Sh’mita/the Sabbatical year. Fields are to lie fallow and all are to gather food from what grows of itself. Reminded that the land belongs to its Creator, landowner and tenant, stranger and home-born are all equal, gathering together shoulder to shoulder, a reminder of how it is meant to be, none with the upper hand, wealth redistributed and shared by all.

Drawing together all the preceding verses that bring home God’s vision of human society, become again as the Garden that was in the beginning, the Torah says, v’chey achicha imach/your brother’s/sister’s life shall be bound up with you. Rabbi Hirsch takes the word im/with and explains that it is this simple word that makes individuals into an am/a people. The two words, im and am, are formed of the same two letters, ayin and mem, but one small difference of a vowel allowing for the collective blossoming of individuals into a people. We can only be a people when we are with each other. As the people is reflected in the ways of our being in community with each other, so we are joined in all of our uniqueness, each one’s task and purpose needed to bring repair and make us whole.

In the delighted sharing of a child with his grandparents, we learn from a sacred text so brightly colored what each of us needs to know if within ourselves we would be whole and yet be part of a greater whole. It is, of course, that “you are you, and that is truer than TRUE!

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Korean Peace Movement

            Thanks to the reporting of independent journalists like Sarah Lazare, we are learning the real story behind the historic Korean Peace Declaration. Lazare’s conversation with Korean peace activist Christine Ahn was featured in the web only edition of In These Times, April 30, 2018.  (In These Times).  Her report and the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula are the basis of the following story.

            South Korean-born Ahn founded and coordinates Women Cross DMZ ... a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War, reunite families, and ensure women’s roles in peace building. Lazare identifies Ahn and Women Cross DMZ (Christine Ahn - Women Cross DMZ | Ending The Korean War ..).  as one of the key groups that helped oust former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and give President Moon Jae-in a mandate for peace. 

          According to Ahn, international activists and peace movements forced the North and South Korean leaders to release a statement that declares the “new era of peace,” which includes taking steps toward family reunification, denuclearization, and cessation of all hostile acts. She reminds us all that Korea and the Korean people are at the center of the process leading up to the peace statement.

            In her interview with Lazare, Ahn explains that the Candlelight Revolution led to the overthrow of President Park Geun-hye and the election of President Moon Jae-in, who comes from the movement for democracy and human rights. His popularity rating among South Koreans is between 70 and 80 percent.

            Also according to Ahn, in 2016 a white American lawyer, whom she does not identify, showed up at a press conference to accuse the peace movement of being the work of the North Korean government. Now, Ahn says, we have to continue to build an international movement and increase mobilization. More than 20 countries participated in the Korean War. According to one military historian cited by Lazare, during the Korean War at least 18 of North Korea’s 22 major cities were “at least half obliterated.”  When we hear endless stories about the poverty in North Korea this history is seldom told, but is certainly worth remembering as we think about the opportunity of the present and our shared responsibility for the future.

            The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula  (Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the ...) was signed by President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea and Chairman Kim Jong-un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at an Inter-Korean Summit Meeting at the “Peace House” at Panmunjom on April 27, 2018. The two leaders declared that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula, and promised “to boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity, and to improve and cultivate inter-Korean relations in a more active manner.         

            The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Koran Peninsula has three main sections.

            The first section begins with a commitment to “reconnect the blood relations of the people and bring forward the future co-prosperity and unification led by Koreans.” It also contains an agreement to hold dialogue “at a very high level” to implement the agreement, and established a joint liaison office. The two sides agree to demonstrate their unity by jointly participating in international sporting events, swiftly resolving humanitarian issues, and proceeding with family reunification programs. The first family reunion will be held on August 15, 2018, National Liberation Day (the anniversary of Korean liberation from Japanese occupation).
            The second section commits both South Korea and North Korea to make joint efforts “to alleviate the acute military tension and practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula.” The two sides agree to transform the DMZ into a peace zone, and agree to hold meetings between military authorities. The first meetings will be held at the rank of general in May.
            The third section reaffirms “the Non-Aggression Agreement that precludes the use of force in any form,” and contains an agreement “to carry out disarmament in a phased manner.” Both North Korea and South Korea agree to enter into trilateral meetings with the United States and quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States, and China, “with a view to declaring an end to the War and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.” It also includes a commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

            Getting the United States and China to sign a peace agreement may be the most difficult part of the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula. Informed advocates in the United States can and will make a difference.

Rev. David Hansen

Friday, May 4, 2018


Once on the Cheyenne River Reservation I had the opportunity to visit with the keeper of their bison herd. It was shortly after one of the worst blizzards that area had seen in a long time. Hundreds of cattle died. The drifts were so high and hard, fences were useless. 

I asked this young man if they had lost any of their bison in the blizzard. He said yes, they had. One of them crossed over the fence on a snow drift, got out on the bridge over the Missouri River and fell to his death on the ice below. It made me realize how well adapted to this climate bison are and how difficult blizzards could be for immigrant cattle. One bison dead; hundreds of cattle.

I also learned about their slaughtering operation. The tribe had ordered a special trailer that could be driven into the field when they took a bison. It was important to take the meat quickly. If there was too much trauma for the animal it produced toxic substances that ruined the meat. So they did their best to fell the animal at peace in the field. Then they would begin the harvest as quickly as possible.               A moveable trailer accommodated this operation. 

Traditionally, in Native culture, one offered prayers of forgiveness and thanksgiving for taking life. Creatures had moral integrity. They were not just there to serve humans but had their own Creator given dignity.

I've thought about this many times as I have reflected on our industrial meat factories. They seem to be filled with trauma. Six states have even found it necessary to pass "ag-gag" laws. These laws aren't passed to prevent animal cruelty but to keep it from becoming public. They protect these factory farms from transparency. Filming the treatment of animals in these confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) becomes a punishable offense. When people see these films, it has severe economic consequences. Watchers don't want to eat meat, or eggs!

Do we really think it's healthy for animals and humans when millions of haggard, featherless hens are crowded into microwave size wire cages? When they can't spread their wings; sometimes laying their eggs on their dead and rotting cage mates. Do we really believe the eggs they lay and we eat are OK?

We've been discussing whether animals deserve moral concern the same as humans in ethics class. My guess is most people in our society follow Immanuel Kant when it comes to animals. "But so far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals … are there merely as means to an end. That end is man." Or perhaps our society is indebted to Thomas Aquinas. "Hereby is refuted the error of those who said it is sinful for a man to kill brute animals; for by the divine providence they are intended for man's use in the natural order. Hence it is not wrong for man to make use of them, either by killing them or in any other way whatever." 

       Or perhaps you might prefer to refer to Saint Bonaventure. A Franciscan, he believed creatures were the "footprints of God." He believed we needed each and every one of them in order to recognize the glory and grandeur of God. To lose even one species was to diminish God's glory. 

We don't know how many species there are on the planet. But  estimates are we lose between 1,000 and 10,000 species a year because of human activity. There are so many species now threatened, especially with a changing climate; think penguins.

Several years ago, I mentioned in a small rural church I had just begun serving, that I was a vegetarian. It was more of an aside, not a particularly relevant point to the sermon. One member heard it loud and clear. After the service I was confronted. He said, "do you know where you are? This is cattle country! You must be courageous or crazy talking about being a vegetarian."

So far it's only red meat vegetarianism. That's been difficult enough in a hamburger crazy society. But fowl will be next and perhaps fish will follow. I'm still working on it. And since nobody knows the content of pepperoni, that will likely be last.

The excuse for my slow process is because the philosophical and theological convictions one holds are hard to implement when temptation and contrary attitudes are rampant. 

         Do animals deserve moral concern? It's an important question as we face the future. Our state government seems intent on pushing CAFOs, especially in our area. We already have our share. They seem to exercise considerable economic and political clout. On the other hand, our farmer's market continues to grow and develop. We can get our eggs from a local farm family. And small scale farming seems ready to make a comeback. 

My question is, is anybody saying prayers at the slaughterhouse, or even at the dining table?

Carl Kline

Friday, April 27, 2018

Nonviolence - A Personal Practice

            Nonviolence is the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. The term “nonviolence is often linked with or used as a synonym for peace, and refers specifically to the absence of violence and is always the choice to do no harm or the least harm. I’m a person who doesn’t like violence or conflict in my life. There are many things going on in  the world that are violent and it hurts me to see that. I’m going to write about having respect for others, to have patience, and to love one another, even if you are enemies.
            The more we respect others, the more effectively we can persuade them to change. Never use humiliation as a tool–or accept humiliation from others, as that only degrades everyone. Remember, no one can degrade you without your permission. Before people say anything to anyone they should think about what they are going to say to that person. They should think, what I’m about to say, is it respectful to this person? Will they get hurt from what I’m going to say.
               I feel if people are respected by you, they will show you respect as well. I also think teaching children at a young age to show respect to their peers will decrease the violence that we are seeing everyday. We can teach them to use polite words, be kind, listen carefully, think first, take turns, be honest, and help others. By teaching kids this, they will have a better understanding of how to respect others as they grow older.
            Next I’m wanting to stress having patience. Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Patience isn’t just about not being angry with others, but also not being angry with yourself. It’s about being able to keep a cool head and proceed whatever the obstacles are. There are many benefits for having patience. They are: being able to control our actions; it helps us to make a calm and effective response to a challenging situation; and prevents others from getting hurt. I feel the last benefit I listed is very important because I don’t like to see people getting hurt. I like to see people happy and comfortable with where they are.
            In the Bible there are a few places where you will see it says to love your enemies. Like in Luke 6:27: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Also in Matthew 5:44: “ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” These two passages are just two examples of many  in the bible about loving your enemies. I feel love is a very strong word and a lot of people have a hard time with it. 
         Why I say that is because there are a lot of people that grow up in this world and are not shown love by their parents or extended family. If they aren’t shown it at a young age they wont be able to show it when they are older. Then they could have many enemies in their life and not know how to deal with those enemies. I think it is important to love our enemies because that is how I was raised and that is what I believe God wants us to do.
            In conclusion , I think if you have these three things I've mentioned in this post; respect, patience and love; then you will live a life with nonviolence. 
Kelsey Hansen
Guest Blogger

Friday, April 20, 2018

That Was Then, This Is Now

              The atmosphere in two of our island faith communities has been charged with challenge and hope and reconciliation and renewal.  Two weeks ago, Christians and Jews, folks on a spectrum of color, gathered to share in a Freedom Seder on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.   It was an evening of recognizing a difficult and painful history, of recognizing how far we have come and how far we need to go in the journey toward wholeness in all our relationships across racial and faith boundaries.  It was an evening of “learning in the presence of the other.”

During the following weekend many members of the  predominantly white Christian congregation engaged in a “Seeking Racial Justice”  workshop over the span of a day and a half, learning more about the internalized social constructs that provide the medium for the growth and nurture of racism - and how we unconsciously perpetuate them. 

Over the weekend of April 13-14-15, an island delegation of white Jews and Christians, intent on building a stronger and healthier working relationship between our two congregations, journeyed together to Atlanta, Georgia, to share in Shabbat services at The Temple, to do community service together, planting a community garden, to worship together at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home church of Martin Luther King Jr. 

The trip emerged out of the deep friendship between the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist and our beloved pastor here on the island and out of the personal friendship between our rabbi and our pastor.  These friendships have become like leaven  in our island faith community as they seek to strengthen the bonds of relationship between  congregations across racial and religious boundaries.

Meanwhile, back at home, in a service of worship in solidarity with the Jewish and Christian contingent in Atlanta, we were exposed to the problematic lectionary text in the Book of Acts 3  where Peter, the  pre-eminent leader of the early Jesus movement accuses his fellow Jews of killing Jesus, holds them accountable for handing Jesus over to Pilate, and calls them to “turn toward God and repent...”

A careful examination of this part of our sacred text demands that  Christians come to terms with the shadow that moves through our scriptures.   It demands that Christians consciously work  at recognizing the  terrible suffering and damage that was set in motion by the texts as Peter’s words were transmitted down through the generations.   Our 1st century  faith ancestors used harsh, ugly, accusatory words against their cousins, brothers and sisters and friends.  They set in motion a devastating legacy that would reach far into the future.  They wrote their words down and the words were passed from generation to generation creating a poisoned soil not unlike the legacy of the poisoned soil of racism we have inherited over the last 400 years. Carried beyond the context of the 1st century struggles for religious identity under  Roman oppression, Peter’s words would become texts of terror for later generations of Jews as the epithet of “Christ killer”  became useful in rallying crusades, expulsions, forced conversions, property theft, pogroms - eventuating in the horror of the holocaust and in the up-tick of anti-semitism we are witnessing world wide today.   It is very hard to come to terms with the shadow side of our own scriptures, but the words are there and cannot be denied.   Relationships between Jews and Christians are still burdened by fear and suspicion, by guilt and lack of understanding. The terrible consequences of portions of our own sacred texts are still waiting to be fully healed.  There is so much repair work still waiting to be done.

The great power of the last couple of weeks of focused concentration on the legacy of racism and antisemitism  that burdens our life together has been that we are learning to be together through the pain of truth telling; learning how to consciously do the work required to move from the Egypt of mere tolerance and acceptance through the Wilderness of respect and affirmation into the Promised Land of solidarity and the ability to act and work together in a way that brings about genuine change.

In the midst of everything that threatens to undo us racially, politically, socially, and religiously, it is good to be reminded that the strenuous work of remembering our history, of taking up the burden of the brokenness and pain it has caused, is being done in pockets here and there around the country. Tikkun olam, the healing and repair of the world is in progress.  We all have a role to play as the work continues, however small the increments. Perhaps the work will never be truly finished. However, we are blessed by the compassionate and challenging words from Pirkei Avot (The Wisdom of the Fathers):  You are not obligated to finish the  work, but neither are you free to desist from it.   It is entirely possible that in working together across the boundaries of faith and color, enduring the unpleasant truths and the awkward moments and creating something new together is the way we enter into the Beloved Community.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Upside Down World as a Vision of its Own Better Self

Purim is the day of greatest levity in the Jewish calendar. It is a time to get out of our selves, to let go, to laugh, to engage in good-natured mocking. That is why we dress up, costumes the order of the day for adults as well as children, all indeed as children. Learning to let go, to step out of our self-imposed restraints on laughter and levity, is all part of the Purim theme of turning reality on its head. It is part of the Purim nature of creating an olam hafuch/an upside down world. The upside down world we come into is meant to be the truer, clearer world. The impetus to create a different reality is taught on Purim largely in regard to externals, the trappings of costume, of plumes and pageantry. It is from there that we come to think about the deeper meaning of turning reality on its head, creating a world that isn’t yet, but might be.

When I think of the phrase olam hafuch on Purim I quickly recall a Talmudic story set in a very different context than Purim. In what we might call a “near death experience,” Rav Yosef son of Rabbi Yehoshua was gravely ill and fell into a coma. Regaining consciousness, his father asked him, mai chazit/what did you see in the next world? Rav Yosef said to his father, olam hafuch ra’iti/I saw an upside down world. The ones above in this world are below in the world to come, and the lowly in this world are above in the world to come. R. Yehoshua said to his son, olam barur ra’ita/you have seen a clear world (Bava Basra 10b).

While I prefer to take the vision of what Rav Yosef saw a little further and imagine no one with the upper hand, but all equal in the world to come, the story is deeply telling. The world as we know it, one of pain and strife caused by human inequality and injustice, of violence and greed and hate, this is the upside down world. The vision that we seek to fulfill of a repaired world is the world of clarity, of the vision brought into focus through the lens of time and made real. In all of its craziness and zaniness, this is the deeper message of Purim.

        Our own festivities in my synagogue on Purim night this year helped to draw me out into that place of vision by realizing how much fun we can have together. We danced and paraded in costume and song, a moment ostensibly meant to be for children saw children and adults all gleefully dancing and strutting their costumed selves in gleeful delight. Our Megillah readers graciously chanted as children all but climbed upon the old Scroll of Esther spread out on the low table. Our Purim shpilers, the Purim playmakers who mock and poke good-natured fun, outdid themselves, creating themed lyrics worthy of Broadway, so much heart and love for who we are, all the while gently mocking and making us laugh at ourselves. To learn to laugh at our selves is the best way to learn to embrace each other and others for whom each one is, frailties and strengths woven together as one.

And yet, there is still the challenge of the Megillah, its own lesson found in learning to hold at once all aspects of reality, the seamy and sordid with the sublime and beautiful. There is still such violence in the Megillah, hate directed at us and then our own murderous response when given the chance, tens of thousands of Persians killed at our hand when the genocidal edict is reversed. And as the scroll unwinds, we are challenged to see the turning of the world, wondering as we go which is up and which is down, which the real world, which the one that is upside down, which the inverted and which the one of vision clarified.

Late on Purim afternoon it is my custom to go to a nearby Chassidic community whose kind and joyful spirit consciously infuses my own synagogue. I found it hard to let go amid the joy that filled the room, too rooted within myself and in the world as it is.
Alcohol flowed freely and each one around the table offered words of Torah with greater and lesser degrees of seriousness, interruptions of song and l’chayims throughout. Pressed to share some words, I offered pure Purim Torah, farcical interpretations of words and numbers in the Megillah, playing on Shushan Ha’birah/Shushan the capital become as “Shushan of the flowing beer.”    Forced out of myself, sharing became a way of connection, of opening up, loosening up in a deeper way than the way of alcohol, quietly nursing my own strong drink slowly over time.

After I spoke, a dear friend and teacher to many began to teach. I had needed to leave well before this point, or at least I thought I had needed to leave. Hoping to hear Reb Nehemia’s words, our host asked if I would stay if Nechemia spoke next. And so I stayed, and I stayed, song and laughter interspersing deep words of Torah, teaching well beyond Purim and yet rooted in the most difficult places of the world as it is. R. Nechemia taught from the Chassidic teacher, the Ma’or Va’shemesh, Rabbi Kalonimus Kalman Epshtein. I was spell bound as a teaching of violence transformed unfolded at that table, the world as it is turned upside down, nonviolence replacing violence. It became a shining instance of the way Torah opens to reveal a new reality right from within its own “harsh passages,” pointing beyond the Torah’s own places of violence.

Here in the midst not of the Torah, but in the midst of the most violent tellings of the Megillah, the Ma’or Va’shemesh looked at the verse that tells of the Jews slaughtering their would be Persian killers. We are told in the Megillah that many of the peoples of the land became Jews/v’rabim me’amei ha’aretz mit’ya’hadim, for the fear of the Jews was upon them (Esther 8:17). On that verse, the Ma’or Va’shemesh says it was not fear as the terror of being slaughtered, but rather it was fear that came as utter amazement and respect. They saw Mordecai’s wisdom and were moved to the core.        Transforming the slaughter, the Rebbe writes, they became Jews because they understood and recognized the wisdom of Mordecai’s Godliness, and they gave thanks for the faith of   Israel…

In the Torah weekly portion that framed Purim, Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:11), we encounter great wisdom in B’tzalel, the artisan and teacher entrusted to lead the building of the Mishkan. Guided by the light of the Ma’or Va’shemesh, we understand what true wisdom means. As B’tzalel weaves together the gifts of hand and heart as given by all the people, we realize that the true sanctuary he is building is that of a world whose ways reflect the vision clarified, not the inverted world as we know it, the olam hafuch, but the world as it is meant to be, the olam barur. As we hold all of the harsh realities of the world as it is, in the way of Purim that teaches us yet to rejoice, may we dance and sing, children all, as we make our way in costumed parade to the Mishkan of the world as it might be.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein 

Friday, April 6, 2018


The latest issue of The Christian Century had an article about how the Trump Administration is making some of the work of the Christian Church easier. Not that anybody asked. In fact, in this instance, Trump policies are decimating a significant ministry and taking jobs, not creating them. 

Since the church does most of the work of refugee resettlement, the agencies responsible can't do much if there aren't any refugees to resettle. Six of the nine organizations that help settle refugees are religiously affiliated. They include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. The latter, through Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls, is the primary agency for resettlement in South Dakota.

All of these organizations are cutting back staff, offices and/or services. World Relief, another of the six, is laying off more than 140 employees. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is closing two offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. Catholic Charities, the outreach arm of USCCB, expects to close one fifth of their 75 sites across the country. The San Antonio office of Catholic Charities laid off thirty percent of their staff.  

One of the most disturbing facts in the Christian Century article is that in 2017 there were 20,000 cases where refugees had signed statements for resettlement from the State Department and did not arrive in this country. It's heartbreaking to think there are so many languishing in camps around the globe with successful vetting and a broken promise. We know what conditions in those camps are like. We've seen the pictures. It's difficult to give an average length of time for remaining in a refugee camp but it's figured in years, not months, and can vary from two or three to more than thirty.

2018 will not be much better for refugee resettlement as the Trump Administration has slashed the number of refugees to be admitted to less than half. Only a few more than 6,000 had come into the country in the first three months. It's unlikely we will admit the 45,000 allowed by the end of the year at that rate.

           On the other hand, this past Monday I took my Mount Marty class on a field visit to the Multicultural Center in Watertown. The Benedictine Sisters have developed a ministry there to "welcome the stranger" to their community. I wasn't aware that they are now in their tenth year of operation, have satellite ministries in other locations and have provided services to hundreds of people from 20 different countries. 

They offer courses in both English and Spanish. One is called Speedy Spanish and Coffee. It's for those who might want to "taste the language" of this large minority group in the United States. Participants learn how to greet another in their own language or surprise them with a Spanish farewell. Let the grousers who are always saying, "let them learn English" expand their horizons and learn a little Spanish. They serve coffee and Latino cookies or pan dulce. See how easy it is?

The Multicultural Center sponsors cultural enrichment celebrations. They have an office on human trafficking and provide education and organizing events to stop it. They help prepare immigrants for citizenship and offer a summer youth program. One of my students will begin volunteering there in their English as a second language program. All of this takes place because they believe in the idea so prominent in Scripture of "welcoming the stranger."

At the same time the Trump Administration demonizes and limits refugees, church people are stepping up in greater numbers to support refugee programs with donations and volunteers. The volunteer base of Church World Service has quadrupled. Donations to World Relief have nearly doubled in the last two years. Several agencies have rented apartments for resettlement that now stand empty waiting for occupants. Generous donations of furniture and clothing remain in storage.

         Let us be clear! Our diversity as a country is our strength! We are not a melting pot but a rich stew! If we can find a way to live together as a diverse people without betraying our claim to "give me your tired and your poor," and our ministry to "welcome the stranger," the human community has a future. There is no other country on earth with the same opportunity to overcome the barriers of race, clan and creed. May we reach a time when we understand we are brothers and sisters in God's realm and no longer separated by walls of indifference. 

Rev. Carl Kline  

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Trek to Freedom that Is the March for Our Lives

The symmetry is staggering. The Exodus begins tomorrow. And so it did and so does. It was the Sabbath that is called in the Jewish calendar Shabbat Ha’Gadol/the Great Sabbath, the Sabbath before Passover. It is the portal, the starting point of the Exodus. It is the day on which we gather all of the sparks of intention, committing ourselves to the journey. Thoughts and prayers on this day are meant to be stimulus to action, to leaving Egypt. The Exodus is not a cognitive exercise, our lives hang in the balance, and whether we come out of Egypt depends on each one of us. The slavery has never ended because, as the prophet Martin Luther King taught, if all are not free, then none are free. The ultimate liberation, the complete redemption still awaits, waiting for us to act, waiting for us to bring it. Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher, a remarkable 19th century rabbi on whom I wrote a thesis many years ago, many Egypts ago, taught that we are not waiting for the Messiah, the Messiah is waiting for us.

In the very first Chassidic teaching that I ever learned, from my teacher, friend, and mentor, Rabbi Everett Gendler, the Gerer Rebbe, the S’fas Emes, teaches, in every generation there is an exodus from Egypt according to the issue of the generation and all of this was (contained) in the moment of the exodus from Egypt. The challenge is illumined in the light that the S’fas Emes shines on the powerful obligation in the Haggadah, that in every generation a person is obligated to see himself or herself as having personally come out of Egypt. Through the lens of the rebbe’s teaching, the obligation put forward in the Haggadah is clear, as free people we are not free to step back from helping to bring liberation in the face of the the issue of the generation.

The are so many issues today, so many inyanei ha’dor/issues of the generation, so much that threatens, that holds us all enslaved, that holds back the ultimate redemption. We do our best, remembering that none among us can do it all, that none of us can do it alone. I often think of the old song that gave inspiration in those ancient days of “the sixties,” if you can’t go on any longer take the hand held by another….

     And now that hand is extended by young people, the young people leading the “March for Our Lives,” standing up to the idolatry of the gun and of the Second Amendment. Whether on the long march in Washington, or in Boston, or anywhere else across the land, every step that echoed told of the essence of that Shabbat, Shabbat Ha’Gadol. That essence is about the “little child who shall lead,” as the prophet Isaiah teaches, of the children, not so little, leading the way to that time whose coming depends on us, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them…(Is. 11:6-9).

Telling us of the way, of the first steps in the March for Our Lives, we chanted through tears of yearning that Sabbath from the prophet Malachai, Lo, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the great and awesome day of God, that he may turn the heart of the parents back to the children, and the heart of the children back to their parents…(Mal. 3:23-24).

       The symmetry is staggering, of children leading the trek to freedom. In their own words, organizers of the March for Our Lives bring immediacy to the challenge of the Haggadah, reminding us that the time is now: March for our Lives: Boston is created by, inspired by, and led by students across Boston who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings and the gun violence that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March for Our Lives believes the time is now.

Believing that the time is now, as in truth it always has been, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis issued this week a revised version of its statement on gun violence, originally released five years ago. Its introduction draws on the power of Shabbat Ha’Gadol:

Issued in February 2013, the Statement on Gun Violence of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis is painfully incomplete. The list of place names where mass shootings have occurred continues to grow, and so too the list of lives taken daily by urban gun violence. It is equally painful that recommendations made then remain unfulfilled, continuing to be our call today.

There is also reason for new hope today in the leadership of young people, whose courage and commitment the Mass Board of Rabbis honors. Affirming our own continuing commitment, we reach across the generations to help end the plague of gun violence in America. With the hearts of parents turning to the children, and of the children to their parents, with words very familiar to us, we will walk together and say “Never Again.”
            It is hard to keep going, even as we take the hand held by another. On the name of that week’s Torah reading, the portion Tzav (Lev. 6:1-8:36), as it precedes the call of Malachi, the great commentator called Rashi speaks of the word tzav/command and says it is lashon zeruz/the language of encouragement. That is the way of our words to each other now, of our reaching out across the generations, encouraging us all to take the next step, to know that the time to end gun violence is now. Whether physically present together or joined in spirit across the land, wherever we find our place in this great gathering of humanity, may our hearts turn to each other as we begin the trek to freedom that is the March for Our Lives.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Friday, March 23, 2018

Our Climate Future

There was a segment on the news last evening about the draught in Somalia. It is so severe that previously good grazing lands are now parched desert. Humanitarian organizations were predicting famine there in March of last year and it has only worsened since. 

The news segment made clear how those who were once herders have been forced into the cities, without any way to support themselves. The goats and sheep are dead. The earth is unable to sustain them.

There was no hesitation in attributing the cause of the drought to climate change. As the evidence grows daily that catastrophic weather events are no longer hundred-year occurrences; as the evidence grows yearly that the earth is continuing to warm; as the evidence of sea level rise and coastal flooding, of islands going underwater continues to inundate our consciousness; as fires turn forest and homes into ashes and acidic oceans bleach coral reefs beyond recovery; one would think that those who are in denial would open their eyes.

The problem seems to be many of the deniers are blinded. They are blinded by their attachment to the economic status quo and to money and moneyed interests. Fossil fuel corporations are the most economically powerful entities on the planet. They have enormous investments in what is in the ground. It has to come out if they are going to stay economically healthy. And they are prepared to take the people of the earth to hell and back if that’s what it takes to make good on their investment. Oil and gas will be pumped from the earth in record quantities in the U.S. this year, according to the Trump administration. Apparently we’ll worry about the consequences and the increased carbon in the atmosphere when it begins to seriously affect the economic elite.

It’s hard to understand the attitude of those who are plunging ahead with certain planetary destruction. Perhaps they think they can buy their way out of the consequences. Perhaps they believe things won’t get really bad till they are long dead and gone. Perhaps they are convinced space travel will save us from a ruined planet, or technological advancements or a good and gracious God.

Meanwhile, the deniers are already sending people to hell on earth in parts of the world where people are not wealthy enough to weather the climate catastrophes. Like Somalia! One of the herdsmen interviewed on the recent news segment was asked what he might want to say to people in the U.S. He wondered why anyone would listen to him or care as he sat on the ground in front of a makeshift shelter. Then his request was simple. Maybe we could put fewer pollutants into the air. 

         That was the same request made by two girls on the island of Kiribati. In a video about their home in the Pacific, they tell us they learned in their school we have big industries in the U.S. They wondered if we might be able to cut back on the greenhouse gases so they wouldn’t have to leave their island. As it is, each year they have to build the breakers farther and farther back to keep the waves from overwhelming the land. It’s not working. They are slowly sinking into the sea.

      Since it is obvious there are alternative energy sources available to us and proven paths to an alternative, greenhouse gas free future, there is no ethical or moral reason to continue placing such an enormous emphasis on fossil fuel development. This administration has been doing everything in its power to give fossil fuel companies a green light for further exploration and development, off shore, in national parks, wherever the companies wish to go. They have a green light for more pipelines like Dakota Access and Keystone XL. They retain their huge continuing subsidies with fewer and fewer regulations that protect the public health and sustain responsible international relationships.

Do we care about a herder in Somalia or a young girl in Kiribati? Do we care about the people who lost homes to two nor’easters, one after the other in New England?
 Do we care about those who lost homes and livelihood to fire and flood this past year, in unprecedented numbers in our own country and around the globe? Will we care in S.D. when agriculture becomes as problematic as grazing is in Somalia?

Those who are in denial about the seriousness of climate change need to be challenged on moral and ethical grounds. Are we all connected or not? Does what happens here make an impact someplace else? And if we were to ask Jesus today, "who is my neighbor," what would he say? 

        I believe Jesus would tell us our neighbor is the Sudanese herdsman and the girls on Kiribati, the "other" unlike us, like the Samaritan was in the time of Jesus. The world is smaller today. Wealth or not, we're all in this world boat together. We need to be the change we want to see and start caring for God's good creation.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The people who walked in darkness....

The latest storm to hit our island has passed into history, leaving many without electrical power. For many, this also meant living without heat and running water.  We were fortunate on our lane.  The power was restored within eight hours and we suffered little inconvenience as daylight saving time has just come into effect.  We did not have to sit in darkness.

The prior week’s power outage came later in the day, plunging us into a kind of darkness we rarely experience.   Our home is small, so we did a minimal amount of fumbling in the dark to locate oil lamps and candles and matches.  Before long we had enough light to dispel the worst of the darkness and with the luxury of a propane stove with top burners we could light with a match, we were even able to cook a hot meal.  Nevertheless, it was a strangely daunting thing to look out of our windows and not be able to see the lights in the homes around us.  It was VERY DARK.

Then, little by little, a soft glow appeared here and there as our neighbors located their emergency supplies and began to adapt to the power outage - no blazing lights, just the softness of a candle or an oil lamp here and there, visible through the gusting rain.

I’ve been pondering what it means to sit in darkness - - waiting for light.  The line from the prophet Isaiah kept misting through my brain: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - - on them has light shined...

       Then I noticed that “the people” referred to in the text did not SIT in darkness awaiting a light.  They walked.   It seemed to be an appropriate text to reflect upon as I write  today when kids across the country are walking out of school in protest against gun violence and in support of sane gun control legislation.   

CNN has published what their rights and responsibilities are under the Constitution so that they can act responsibly and with freedom.

Religious communities are raising funds to pay for bus transportation to Washington DC so that any kid who wants to be in the national protest on March 24 can go free of charge.

Blankets, snacks, and toiletries are being collected for kids who forget to pack them for the trip.

Grandparents  are having conversations with their grandkids  about massive demonstrations in the past: civil rights, anti war, pro peace, anti nukes, women’s rights, and on and on.

The “people” to whom Isaiah refers were Israel in exile.  And exile is a  darkness that we know about now as we live in a kind of exile from social values and political policies that support harmony, creativity, peacemaking,  respect, mercy, sanity, and lovingkindness.  It is VERY DARK.   And yet, softly lit candles and oil lamps glow from more and more windows. Elections here and there signal the possibility of change, and with each small change comes the possibility of greater ones.   Kids are mobilizing.  Women are speaking out.  Elders are telling their stories.  Preachers are claiming their prophetic role.

At some point during our own darkness caused by a power outage, all the lamps we had left on, forgotten earlier, suddenly blazed into light - startling us with its intensity and evoking feelings of relief and gratitude.   Neighborhood windows began to blaze again through the wind driven rain.   We celebrated  the return of the light.  A power outage became a metaphor for thinking about where we are today as what have appeared to be powerful structures of order seem to be crumbling in front of our eyes - the result of ineptitude, inexperience, corruption, lies. deceit and secrecy and, ultimately, frustration and departure on the part of the few who seem to be unable to tolerate being part of the reason for darkness anymore.

It seems there is less sitting in darkness and more walking happening.   Isaiah’s words for Israel were words of hope and encouragement.   Perhaps, in fleeting moments, we can embrace them for our time and take heart.  The great light may be some time in coming.  But in the meanwhile - we do have those candles and oil lamps!!

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, March 9, 2018


           Walter Brueggemann is a well known and well respected Old Testament scholar. I was listening to him on tape the other day, "Embracing the Prophets." This is a six session study. The session that most caught my attention was titled "Moral Coherence in a World of Power, Money and Violence." It seemed an ironic but appropriate theme on a day Congress was about to raise caps on spending, and add an additional $80 billion dollars a year to the war budget. 

When the bill to fund the government was finally passed, it was over the objections of one lone Senator. Senator Paul wanted a vote on an amendment about removing those spending caps. He objected. For him, adding billions of dollars more to the national debt was not in the best interests of the country. He took considerable heat from his Republican colleagues. But he saw many of them as hypocrites, since they had earlier hollered bloody murder over Obama administration spending.

Speaker Ryan and the President praised the passage of the bill as assuring support for our service members and a strong U.S. military. One would hope so! We already spend more on our military than the next seven countries combined: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France and Japan. We continue as the number one supplier of the weapons of war in the world. The words of those Old Testament prophets reverberate in the U.S. today. Talk about "Power, Money and Violence!"

The heart of the prophetic tradition is the conviction of a covenantal relationship. God will be the God of the Hebrew people if they will worship only him and follow his commandments. Time after time the Hebrew people fall away, worship false Gods (like "Power, Money and Violence"), and reap the consequences. The word Brueggemann uses again and again, quoting from the prophets, is "therefore." Worship of false Gods, "therefore," exile and destruction. God is not doing it out of anger or maliciousness. The people are doing it, the natural consequence of bad behavior. 

       We seem to understand there is an intimate connection between an action and "therefore" a reaction. How is it that we are not able to recognize the connection between a huge and constantly growing war budget and "therefore," the perpetual prevalence and pervasiveness of military engagements all over the globe? How is it we are not able to understand the connection between our war making and "therefore," refugees, poverty, death and destruction in many lands? How is it that we can't see that when 60% of the new money allocated by Congress goes to the military, it "therefore" robs the poor, the sick, the homeless, the indebted, the elderly, the young? How is it we don't realize no spending caps means the $20 trillion government debt will "therefore" grow significantly, especially with a $1 trillion plus tax cut? Do we care? Do we care Congress has already raided the $2.6 trillion social security trust fund? If the debt ceiling were not raised, checks might not go out. What is the "therefore" associated with gross debt?

One of the difficulties with hearing the prophetic message these days is the Prosperity Gospel is preached in so many Christian churches. It's a message of entitlement. It doesn't include a "therefore." It doesn't require Jesus behavior, simply Jesus belief. It has been uplifted as the public persona of Christianity in this consumer driven and materialistic society. You hardly ever hear the prophetic dimension of the Christian faith in the public square. One supposes Jesus needs to return again and drive the money changers from the temple.

         Christians should be clear. The prophets are clear. If the choice is between offering weapons or water, the prophets would choose water. If the choice is between the homeless in L.A. or the hosted at Mar a Lago, the prophets would choose the homeless. If we are faced with choices between generosity or greed, between the powerless or the powerful, between peace and war, reading the prophets will help us understand the will of God for his people. Depending on our choices, there are consequences. They are as natural as the sun rising in the day and the moon following at night. There is always a "therefore" in God's world.

Carl Kline