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

Friday, March 2, 2018


            Ever since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Valentine’s Day massacre, I have been entertaining a fantasy.  I keep trying to discern the level of violence that still functions in my own psyche so that I do not add to the sum total of violence already rampant in this country by putting the fantasy out there.  I’m not sure the fantasy meets my desire for nonviolent responses, but here goes:     In a parallel universe not unlike our own,  in the interest of full transparency, every elected official or person currently running for office, from local town and school boards to county officials to state legislatures to the federal government to the highest office in the land who has received money for any reason from the NRA, is required by law to wear a  clearly visible jacket patch or arm band whenever they appear in public.   That patch or arm band reads “I have taken NRA money in order to get elected."
            In that same parallel universe, said officials must comply with a job description for their office that requires them to appear immediately, at their own expense, at the site of any mass shooting. They are  required to assist with the removal of bodies, helping to zip them into body bags. They  are required to witness the immediate trauma to children and their families. They are required to attend every wake and funeral and memorial service and sit with the families of the victims as they mourn. They are required to throw the last shovel full of soil on the grave of an innocent teenager.   They do this in silence and are required to wear the above mentioned patch or armband in any and all of these situations.
            I awake heartsick in the morning, still burdened by the news of the previous day - certain that it will not be any better today.  The soul of this country is in danger.  No matter where I turn I encounter people who are affected by a kind of gray malaise that infiltrates life at every level - a sense of powerlessness - helplessness to make a difference, to change the direction of public policy, to affect the cynical attitude of a social, political, and even religious stance that believes more guns in more hands in more places will make anyone safer. 
            For several years now, I have had a bumper sticker that reads :  LISTEN TO CHILDREN.  I keep it on a bookcase in front of photos of my beloved grandchildren.    In paying attention to them over the years of their growing up, I have been amazed at the innocent wisdom that emerges from them. I have been challenged by their questions about why the world is the way it is.   As they mature (they are 18 and 16 now) their wisdom is more mature and the questions are far more challenging.   I can listen to them, but I     am often at  a loss to answer them.
            At a recent retreat, I heard the keynote speaker observe that we live in very fear-full times.  He speculated that the fear itself may mean that we are in the process of a great transformation; that, indeed, the  fear and the siren call to protect ourselves with more and more weapons promulgated by the NRA and its devotees, may be a massive resistance to an approaching societal transformation of consciousness that rumbles in the  not too distant future.  Another fantasy??
            It is said that outrage has a shelf life of about one month before it begins to fade or be replaced by the next insult. It is too soon to know whether the angry intelligence of the young people of our country will be the thing that tips the balance in favor of sanity with regard to sane gun control policies.   But what if the malignant attacks by anti-gun control voices against  the young people are a fear response to their articulate grief and rage?  What if the handwriting IS on the wall?     It is fortuitous that high school walk outs  across the country are planned for March 14 exactly one month post massacre;  that a massive demonstration  in Washington DC is planned for  March 24.   The outrage will exceed its shelf life by at least 10 days - - and we can build on that.
            The prophetic words of Isaiah reverberate across the ages: and a young child shall lead them... part of Isaiah’s messianic vision and hope for Israel.  For Christians, the words allude to  expectation of Jesus.  The hope for a sane and peaceful world where justice and compassion are the dominant values is an ancient one.  Every generation has looked for its messianic deliverer.
            Some time ago I bought a book just because the title intrigued me: THERE IS NO MESSIAH and you’re it  by Rabbi Robert N. Levine.  From the back cover: Rabbi Levine offers  “a challenge to each of us  to take personal responsibility for repairing the world.....This fascinating book is our call to see ourselves as the fulfillment of, not the anticipators of, messianic change.”  Our kids are rising to the occasion.   In the real world, it is appearing  to be less of a  fantasy that the children may rise up to lead us into a messianic change.  In the real world it is a sacred task for us to LISTEN TO CHILDREN and to take up their beautiful outrage and anger as our own, to  join them in becoming the change we want to see.

Vicky Hanjian