Friday, April 26, 2019

It isn't big...


It isn't big, but it's a model of what one person and a small town can do to secure the future. This February, Plains, Georgia, began getting half their energy from a small solar installation. Former President Carter leased ten acres on the edge of town for this project. The solar farm will generate 1.3 megawatts of power a year. That translates into 3,600 tons of coal. For the small town of 760 people (in the 2010 census), it's a big deal. And for the climate, it demonstrates what one person and one community can do to ensure we have a livable future.

You may remember that Carter was the President who installed 32 solar panels on the White House. At the time, he said, "A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people." Since his successor Ronald Reagan took the solar panels down, perhaps they are now lodged in one of the Smithsonian museums, an example of a road not taken. The "greatest adventure" still awaits us.

In the same way, Carter was the President who asked us to slow down and use less fuel. Instead, we sped up. He's the same President who at the age of 94 is building affordable housing for those who need it with Habitat for Humanity. He and Rosalynn went to Canada right after their seventy first wedding anniversary for a five day building blitz. They helped build 150 homes across the country. At one point, he became dehydrated and had to be taken to the hospital, only to turn up again for work the next morning at eight. 

There's a pattern here. The former President recognizes the basic needs of people for electricity, clean air and water, a livable climate, affordable housing and he goes to work to make it happen. At 94, and with only personal resources, he can only do so much, but do it he does.

One more thing needs to be said about this longest lived President. He's a man of faith and Christian character. He's been married to the same woman for seventy two years. If you're old enough, you may remember he almost lost the election because he expressed dismay at looking at women with "lust in his heart." In an interview with Playboy magazine (another politically incorrect choice), he quoted the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. "I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery." Then he went on to say he had to confess he had committed adultery in his heart many times. A public that thrives on the salacious was not all that welcoming of humble confession and truthfulness.

Carter teaches Sunday School at the Maranatha Baptist Church. He limits his teaching to twice a month these days since he and his wife have decided they need to slow down a bit. There are usually three or four hundred people who attend, many lining up the night before in order to get a seat. One of the requirements is you have to stay for church. You can't just ogle the former President and then leave.

He's written thirty three books. Many of the books are about his faith. When he left the Presidency and was thinking about what he would do next, he decided he would write. Their peanut farm had taken a serious financial hit in a blind trust while he was President, and went some  $1 million in debt. That was no longer a viable project. He decided against the financially lucrative speaking circuit of other ex-Presidents and he and Rosalynn returned to their $167,000 home in Plains. As taxpayers, we spend less on this former President than any other. He doesn't even have health insurance from the federal government as you need to be an employee for at least five years. They fly commercial when they fly, a little different from a private jet with golden plated bathroom fixtures. He writes from a converted garage. He says he was never interested in getting rich.

     Many remember the Carter Presidency for long gas lines and the hostage crisis with Iran. I remember it as a time where we brought those hostages home without killing thousands or million of people and when we were asked to begin thinking seriously about our use of fossil fuels and alternative energy sources. I remember an emphasis on human rights and the peace accord between Israel and Egypt that helped the President win the Nobel prize. But perhaps the most remarkable virtue of the Carter years was truthfulness. Missing was the misinformation, manipulation and outright lies of political image making. 

In a recent interview Carter called the present occupant of the White House a "disaster." Then he concluded, "the nation's 'moral and ethical values' are still intact and Americans eventually will 'return to what's right and what's wrong, and what's decent and what's indecent, and what's truthful and what's lies.' But, 'I doubt if it happens in my lifetime.'" 

I'd like to see him proved wrong!

Carl Kline

Friday, April 19, 2019

At the Southern Border – “A Laboratory of Injustice, A Landscape of Hope”

Part Two: A Landscape of Hope  
(Ed. note - For Part One scroll down to yesterday's post. )

          At the Hope Border Institute, encountering more of the righteous, the tzadikim, we were told of how the border has been a “laboratory of injustice,” but for them it is a “landscape of hope.” Our guide into Mexico was a young man named Diego, someone whose life represents the hope waiting to flower from that place. He grew up in Juarez, just over the border from El Paso. As a child, he would go back and forth for school, as so many did, for school, for work, to shop, to visit family. He spoke of his hope for the area, for the “borderlands,” a place that is one community on both sides of the border. He spoke of the gash formed by the wall that cuts through the region, dividing human beings from each other, people who are meant to be as one in the borderlands. It is a beautiful image for the whole world, human communities that transcend the borders between them. That is part of the teaching that rises from the “landscape of hope.”

As we made our way on foot back across the bridge between Juarez and El Paso, we encountered US guards just before reaching the border itself.
They are standing illegally on the Mexican side of the border, cynically placed there to prevent migrants from stepping onto US soil, from which they would legally be entitled to ask for asylum. From the bridge we could look down through steel grating and see migrants who had been arrested being herded into a makeshift camp, there beneath the bridge. In that moment I so wished that I had superhero powers, my body and soul aching to swoop down and carry them all to safety. I sang the words of Rebbe Nachman to myself as I cried, kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha’ikar lo l’fached k’lal/the whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid at all. I hoped that somehow my singing might help the people below to find courage and not be afraid, even the children.

Standing at the wall that cuts through the heart of the borderlands, I searched for hope in the eyes of the children of Juarez with whom we spoke through the steel slats. With the help of others who could translate for me, I responded to one bright-eyed boy of eleven who asked me my name. When I told him that my name is Victor, he laughed and said, “no, it can’t be, that’s my name.” We laughed and joked for some time. Diego was standing beside me and explained that there is a special relationship between people with the same name. In Spanish, each partner of the same name is called a “tokayo” in relation to the other. I extended my hand through the slats and kept saying to little Victor, “tokayo, tokayo.”

       Just to the side of where I stood with Victor there were photographs taped to the cold steel, pictures of two other children, Jakelin and Felipe, the two children who died while in detention, their memories blessing the borderlands that it might yet become the landscape of hope it is meant to be. Her fingers gently curled around the steel edges of the slats, touching the photographs, a girl-woman of sixteen spoke with us, telling us of her coming marriage. A child-bride, her words carried wisdom beyond her years, words of lament for the suffering of so many, for those who had died, for those who struggle to find hope as they make their way through the borderlands.

In the shy smile of this girl about to be thrust into womanhood, motherhood undoubtedly not far off, I saw the face of Our Lady of Guadeloupe as depicted in the brilliant colors of a mural on a wall of Casa del Migrante, a shelter that we visited in Juarez. A mother blessing her children, the mural makes clear the extreme dangers of the journey, migrants clinging to the roofs of boxcars as the train approaches a tunnel, darkness enveloping the future, but for the reassuring light of a mother’s smile. We were introduced at the shelter to a woman whose arm was in a cast. She had traveled some two thousand miles on foot from Honduras to Juarez with a broken arm, receiving medical attention only once she arrived in the shelter.

In the silent space amid the cracks of my broken heart, I am seeking, searching out the lessons of this journey to the borderlands. It is the silent space from which God calls to us. It is the silent space that we are called to enter in the very middle of the Torah, in the heart of the Torah, the silent space of the borderlands between the beginning and the end, the place where journeys meet as one. In the Torah portion for the week of our journey, Parashat Sh’mini (Lev. 9:1-11:47) we come as migrants to the very middle of the Torah, the silent space that lies between the two words darosh || darash/and Moses diligently searched. So it is for us to search, to seek, to hear God’s call from the very middle of the journey as we seek our way across the narrow bridge, right where the border is. At the very end of the portion, God tells us as we make our way through the desert, ki ani ha’shem ha’ma’aleh etchem me’eretz mitzrayim/for I, God, am the One Who leads you up from out of the land of Egypt. We are one with those who seek the way up from the lands of their suffering, seeking refuge among us. I pray that we shall be as God’s angels, like the tzadikim of the borderlands, helping them to make their way to safety, traversing what might yet be a landscape of hope.

Just before God’s promise to lead us up, at the end of Parashat Sh’mini (Lev. 11:44), we are told, sanctify yourselves and then you will become holy/v’hit’kadishtem vi’h’yi’tem k’doshim. In a very simple comment that goes to the essence of what it means to be holy, the modern Chassidic Rebbe, the Slonimer Rebbe, known as the N’tivot Shalom/Paths of Peace, draws on the classic teaching of the Talmudic sage, Hillel. Offered as a summary statement of all of Torah, Hillel taught: “what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (Tractate Shabbat 31a). We need to imagine ourselves at the border, each as a refugee, asking of how we would wish to be treated.

      As Jews, we know what that has to mean. We know the ultimate consequence for us of doors closed to refugees. We see the shoes, the piles of shoes. We know to what ends the “banality of evil” can lead. Upon arriving for the start of this journey to the border, I walked to the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center. Standing in front of the small, closed building, I wanted to affirm at the start of our journey the Torah’s reminder not to oppress the stranger, meant to be felt viscerally by each of us, to be felt in the depths of our soul, the verse that is repeated some thirty-six times, …for you know the soul of the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt/v’atem y’datem et nefesh ha’ger ki gerim he’yi’tem b’eretz mitz’rayim. What would it mean in the way of knowing the soul of the stranger, and what would be its impact on national policy, if we could see ourselves in every refugee at the southern border, if we could see and affirm our shared humanity?

As we davened Mincha, praying the prayers of afternoon right alongside the border wall, song and prayer wafting through the slats to our young friends, I heard my name called as had never before happened in prayer. My eyes were closed as I prayed the Amidah, touched by fervor, by yearning. In the midst of prayer, I heard my name called by an angelic voice, gentle but insistent, calling over and over again, Veector, Veector, Veector. I began to smile, bursting with emotion, tears of joy and sorrow welling. It was God’s voice calling through little Victor, my tokayo, my friend. So may God’s voice of motherly love be heard in human key, giving succor and hope to all who make their way through the borderlands; giving challenge to all of us who are called to be as the tzadikim, to do the work of Elijah and help turn “a laboratory of injustice into a landscape of hope.”

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Thursday, April 18, 2019

At The Southern Border - "A Laboratory of Injustice, A Landscape of Hope"

Part 1 
“A Laboratory of Injustice"

           I returned recently from El Paso, so much in the news lately. There is an emergency at the border, but not the one trumpeted from the White House. The emergency at the border is the emergency faced by so many suffering human beings fleeing violence and poverty, desperately seeking refuge. It is the emergency faced by those who believe that America still stands behind the words of a Jewish poet emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” It is the emergency faced by all of the caring and righteous people who are doing their utmost to help those who suffer. My mind is flooded with images that come on a flow of tears. My heart is breaking from what I saw in just a few days, traveling to witness and to bear witness with T’ruah, the rabbinic call for human rights, and HIAS, the venerable organization that was founded to help Jewish refugees when no one else would, now an organization that is acting from that memory to help all refugees.

I returned feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, wondering at the physical, emotional, and moral stamina of those who work with migrants every day. Images and vignettes come to me, fragments of thoughts that swirl, some telling of the heartache and some of the hope. In the brokenness of my heart there is a silent space from which I seek to hold and to hope, to search out the ways in which we are called to act in response to a moral emergency.

         In the way of the Haggadah, as the rabbis taught, we begin the telling from a place of shame and move toward the praiseworthy, matchil big’nut u’m’sayem b’shevach (Mishna P’sachim 10:4). So we began with a visit to the Otero County Processing Center, a place of shame, a privately contracted prison in New Mexico. The very idea is scandalous and revolting, that a corporation is profiting from the misery of human beings. We were led on a tour of the prison by the warden herself, along with a chaplain and an ICE agent, all clearly wanting to show us how well they do in caring for those incarcerated there, clearly wanting to show their professionalism. We could see men in chains being processed. The warden simply opened the door to dormitory rooms, no knock, of course, no regard for the dignity of those inside. Before leaving one room, I asked the warden to please say in Spanish to the men we had intruded upon that we thank them. She looked at me quizzically, but she did say it to them. We waved to the men we passed, giving thumbs up. I tried to make eye contact with as many as I could, touching my heart, extending my hand.     
             The motto of Otero is “BIONIC,” for “Believe It Or Not, I Care.” I don’t believe it, not for a moment. I was filled with the awful sense of Hannah Arendt’s description of the work done for the Nazi state by “good Germans,” the banality of evil. Hardly a new question, I wondered about those who carry out the cruel policies, the jailers, the judges, the border guards. I wondered how they sleep at night, how they hug their own children. I wondered how buried within themselves is the spark of their own goodness that waits to be called forth.

We saw among these ordinary people, presumably otherwise good people, an amorphous allegiance to the state that blinds eyes and heart to the desperate needs of human beings standing before their very eyes, placed by circumstance into their control. At the same time, in its cynical manipulation of language and policy, referring to “illegal” migrants, illegally moving U.S. border guards onto Mexican soil, we saw how the government itself shows no allegiance to the very laws that are meant to reflect the more humane principles upon which this country’s moral survival depends. I thought often of the challenge set forth by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) in his Torah commentary to Exodus chapter 23, verse 9 on the Torah’s oft repeated exhortation not to mistreat or oppress the stranger: “The treatment accorded by a state to the aliens living within its jurisdiction is the most accurate indication of the extent to which justice and humanity prevail in that state.”

      Approaching Passover, I thought again, and so many times over, of the Haggadah, of our own story of suffering and liberation, of a desert journey to freedom. I thought of the suffering visited upon children in the story, of the children in the Haggadah, of our own children at the Seder table as we visited a privately run children’s home. There seemed to be a genuine sense of caring for the children among the staff, but how to balance caring and the policies that have resulted in the incarceration of children, children without their parents, trauma on their faces, not free to leave, not free to be children? 
            I keep seeing the face of one child, a boy of fourteen sitting in the back of a classroom, soft, shy eyes; short, curly black hair, an unformed question on his lightly pursed lips, as though asking so many more than four questions, why, a hundred times, why? As I try to hold this child’s face, it merges and becomes one for me with the face of a Holocaust child that stares at me weekly from a page in a small book of Shabbos table songs and blessings. I imagined his longing for his parents, of his parents’ longing for him. I wondered, as he must, of their whereabouts; wondering if and when they shall be reunited. I wondered if he would be for me this year the simple child or the child who does not know how to ask.

       Turning the hearts of the parents to the children and of the children to the parents, Elijah’s presence at the Seder tells of the ultimate turning, the flowering of a world filled with peace and justice. In the journey from the shameful to the praiseworthy, we encountered some of the most righteous people I have ever met, people who are doing the work of Elijah. With little time to ask of why or when, they do all in their human power to lovingly assist the thousands upon thousands of people who come seeking asylum, seeking shelter, most of whom will never find a place in America to call home, but who now need a roof, a bed, food, and comfort. The finest of Catholic faith is expressed by these saints, by these people who struggle daily to meet overwhelming human needs. 
We would call them tzadikim/the righteous ones, people such as Reuben Garcia, who has directed Annunciation House for more than forty years.  On the back wall of the room in which we met with Reuben is a large crucifix formed of wire boxes attached to each other. In each box that forms the cross is a pair of dusty shoes. They are shoes that were worn by migrants as they made their way through the desert. Staring at the shoes, I could only think of the piles of shoes stacked in the concentration camps, there where the journey ended for so many of our people.

Rabbi Victor Hillel Reinstein 

Ed.note: Part 2 will be posted as tomorrow's blog

Friday, April 12, 2019

This Is Not What You Have Taught Us, Our Teacher

I wasn’t going to go there. I rebelled as it repelled. With much to struggle with in the weekly Torah portion called Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:11-34:35), and much to uplift, I was not going to go to its lowest point of encounter with Torah, with life, with God, with Moshe. It is with Moshe with whom there is the greatest struggle here. I have tried hard over the years to embrace Moshe, having once struggled with him, hard for me at times to seek out the teacher, Moshe as Rabbeinu/our Rabbi/our teacher, to feel at ease with him, comfortable asking questions, challenging him and still loving. And now there is this, anger worse than when he later hits the rock when asked by God only to speak to it, and of greater consequence, at least for others if not for him. 

          It is understandable that Moshe was filled with despair, even anger on seeing the people dancing around the golden calf when he comes down the mountain, the holy tablets held in his arms, as though stone of flesh pressed to the flesh of his body, embraced with all his being. Enraged at what he saw, he threw the precious tablets to the ground and they shattered, shards littering the space between him and the people, between the people and God. Those shards are holy for all time, reminding us of our moments of brokenness. They too are to be placed in the Holy Ark along with the whole tablets for which Moshe will return to the mountaintop. It had all begun so hopefully at the beginning of the portion. There is a census, each of the numbered ones to give half a shekel, the rich shall not give more and the poor not less, equality underscored, each but a half without the other. In the giving, there shall be no dying among them, each one numbered, each one important, each one counting. A census initially for those going into battle, there is atonement in the giving, in the counting, atonement for killing, as though such atonement is possible, yet in the illusion of such atonement an expression of horror for what it means to take a life, even the life of a presumed enemy. We extrapolate from the teaching of the half shekel, opening it up, remembering that all are created in the image of God. Every life counts in our striving to be whole, each one needing the other.

And then we come to the verses that I so wanted to avoid but couldn’t. By going where we don’t want to go, by engaging with challenges we would prefer not to face, in Torah and in life, we learn about both, Torah and life, and about ourselves. After shattering the tablets, Moses called for all of those who are for God to gather around him. The tribe of Levi gathered. Moses commanded each one to put a sword upon their thigh and to go through the camp killing all who had worshipped the golden calf, let every man kill his brother, every man his friend, every man his kinsman… (Ex. 32:27). As the horror ended, in the aftermath of this paroxysm of violence, some three thousand were dead.

       How does such horror unfold? How can people carry out such violence? These are the same questions we ask when we read or hear the day’s news. How? Why? Struggling with these questions in the controlled context of Torah, as we are meant to struggle, we learn to struggle with the same questions as they assault us in the world. 

         Then we come back to the beginning of the verse, when Moses calls the people together and the tribe of Levi gathers. Moses says to them, ko amar ha’shem/thus says God…. And then we look, and we look again, and again, and we realize that God has not spoken of this, that God has not told Moshe to so hideously command the people. And then I realized why I had to go there, to come to this verse that repelled me, precisely in order to rebel, to cry out, to say no, that is not what God said, not then, not now. There are commentators who justify, who see the command as implicit, such killing, God forbid, as a cleansing after the sin of the golden calf. It is not dissimilar to justifying and rationalizing violence in so many realms of our lives today, too often avoiding our own complicity. It is hard not to see the slaughter, as other commentators do, as vigilante justice, as what amounts to extra-judicial killings. 

       Only in entering the “harsh passages” of Torah, as Rabbeinu/our teacher Heschel so aptly calls them, do we learn to wrestle with violence and learn how to transcend violence, first in Torah, and then in life. Bravely entering the places we would prefer not to go, we encounter others who struggle, learning from their wrestlings, joining ours with theirs across time and space, becoming a timeless movement for justice, peace, wholeness, and gentleness, finding with their help our own voice with which to cry out, to challenge.

        The voice of a teacher thunders in disbelief from the school of Elijah, so carried as though to be registered as a cry of protest in the work of midrash called Tana d’vei Eliyahu/A Teacher of the School of Elijah:

I call heaven and earth to witness before me, that the Holy Blessed One did not say to Moshe to stand in the gate of the camp and say, ‘whoever is for God come to me, and let each one put their sword upon their thigh and let each one kill their brother, and their friend, and their relative;’ and he said ‘thus says God, the God of Israel….’ Rather, it was Moshe himself who so judged and said in his heart, ‘if I say to Israel that each one should kill their brother, their friend, their relative, Israel will consider and they will say to me, ‘this is not what you have taught us, our teacher/lo kach limaditanu rabbeinu’ (Tana d’vei Eliyahu, Seder Eliyahu Rabba 4:1).

And even if God had said it, then as well to remind, “this is not what you have taught us, our teacher!” Fittingly, drawing on an ancient legacy of protest, the midrash from the school of Elijah appears in commentary to the Torah portion Vayera in which Abraham challenges God (Gen. 18) not to destroy the innocent with the guilty in the violent cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, our ancestor’s words amplified by the teacher in the study hall of Elijah and come to us, “shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?!”

        It is, ironically, or perhaps by intent as counter balance to remind, that in the very portion of Ki Tissa God reveals to Moshe God’s true essence: Hashem, Hashem/God, God, Kel rachum v’chanun/God who is merciful and compassionate, long suffering, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth… (Ex. 34:6). Confident in what we have learned, in the spirit of father Abraham and a long ago teacher in the school of Elijah, we therefore say even to God, lo kach limaditanu rabbeinu/this is not what you have taught us, our teacher
           It is from that confidence in what we have learned from God, from Torah, from Moses, from our own experience, that Rabbeinu Heschel speaks of our approach to the “harsh passages,” those “which seem to be incompatible with our certainty of the compassion of God. In analyzing this extremely difficult problem, we must first of all keep in mind that the standards by which those passages are criticized are impressed upon us by the Bible, which is the main factor in ennobling our conscience and in endowing us with the sensitivity that rebels against all cruelty…” (God in Search of Man, p. 268). He reminds us that the “harsh passages” do not represent abiding values, that they are not prescribed as a way of behavior, “that they stand in sharp contrast with the compassion, justice, and wisdom of the laws that were legislated for all times” (ibid). 

         In this spirit, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches: concerning every matter that one rises to do, one needs to discern whether it is good in the eyes of God…; and in all of our deeds, we need to weigh, ‘what is the will of God in this?’ So a person is able to attain and to know in themself in the way of the teaching nishmat adam t’lamdenu/so shall a person’s soul teach them… (N’tivot Shalom, Par. Mishpatim, p. 183-184). Infused by the essence that we have suckled from Torah, and inspired by our teachers when teaching in that spirit, so shall our souls teach us to know and to do what is right and good.

     Through the words of a long ago teacher, there is ironic hope in Moshe’s recognition that the people have integrated the very teaching that he himself would violate. Such is the power of the people to remind leaders of what God most wants when a leader turns from the path of righteousness, justice, and decency. We need to have enough grounding and faith in the very Torah that we learn and love, and so for each people’s holiest books and highest ideals, to know how to challenge from within whatever violates its own ideals and ultimate values. Entering the harsh passages, we learn to struggle and to look deeply at who we are and are meant to be. We look at the values that have shaped us in our core and given expression to the ideals that define us as a people, for which we have been known in the world. We learn from the very sources of our ideals, from our texts and their teachers, to know in our souls when the essence of the sources themselves, and of their Source, is violated. We know from all the way back when God’s spirit is violated, even by God, from that gentle beginning when the breath of God hovered over the face of the waters. In that knowing, so shall we have the courage to say when necessary, this is not what you have taught us, our teacher/lo kach limaditanu rabbeinu.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, April 5, 2019

"Dear Christian American Patriot..."

          I received a piece of mail the other day addressed to "Dear Christian American Patriot." I am all that, but it still seemed a surprisingly unique way of addressing me in a fund raising letter. The appeal came from the Faith and Freedom Coalition. They are intending to register five million "Brand New" conservative Christian voters in the run up to the 2020 election in order to "STOP the Radical Anti-Christian Left from Winning the White House and Control of our Government in 2020 so They Can Destroy America Forever."
         I didn't know the threat was so serious! Here I've been worrying about climate change and a renewed nuclear arms race and the cost of drugs and health care and all the roll backs of environmental regulations and why my friends from Mexico and other people of color are constantly being harassed and sometimes deported or killed,  and why we have a President who seems more concerned about being thanked for a funeral than the flooding crisis in the heartland and the issues of the day, and here I've been ignoring this looming catastrophe that could   "destroy our country forever."

It's a good thing Ralph Reed and his friends have put together a "Battle Plan." Anyway, although I'm not what Ralph and the Faith and Freedom Coalition call a "conservative" Christian (although I think labels like conservative and liberal have lost their meaning, except for purposes of political warfare), I did take the survey and mailed it in, without a contribution to the $42.7 million goal. The reason I kept my wallet in my pocket is because I don't agree that the "anti-Christian, anti-freedom, anti-America left" … wants to "erase America's borders so we no longer have a country," and "be governed by the United Nations, not our own Constitution."

Honestly folks, can't we have a dialogue in this country anymore, a rational conversation, about our immigration system and how to regulate it? We all know it's broken. No one is suggesting "open borders" and there's no "invasion." Could we stop using emotionally loaded words and get down to the business of solving the problem?

The demonization of political opponents and the way religious groups are going to bed with candidates or political parties is a terrible tragedy. It's led me to think about the future of religion lately, wondering sometimes if there is one, because of the way faith traditions are captured by politics. It's not happening just in the United States but in other countries as well; in India, Israel, Iran. Instead of religious life influencing politics, politics influences religious life.

In a paper Martin Luther King wrote in Seminary on the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, he reflects on how the essence of Jeremiah's teaching is that the prophet must always challenge the status quo. For someone who has a vision of a realm where God dwells, all of our human constructs come up short. Someone needs to point that out, speak truth to power, the role of the Biblical prophet. 

    If Christianity is to have a future in this country, it needs to become more prophetic and less partisan. It needs to become more dialogical and less evangelical. There needs to be more listening and less preaching, more walking and less talking

     If Christianity is to have a future in the U.S. it needs to welcome the whole human family. In the Faith and Freedom Coalition materials it is clear the appeal is primarily to "white" conservative Christians. Implicit in the survey questions and the written material is the imperative of keeping the country safe from the open borders policy of the radical leftists, which will turn us into "a third world country." Really?

I must confess that the most uplifting spiritual experiences of my life have been in sanctuaries where the barriers between human beings are no longer in evidence. The person next to me is a person of color. The person in front has a disability. The person behind me is transgendered. The congregants are diverse, men and women, rich and poor, old and young! All children of the same God and present in all their fruitfulness and failings. For me, that's Christian community at it's finest.
    And rather than demonizing people of other traditions (along with the politicians), the Christianity of the future (if there is one), will welcome dialogue and common service to society with other traditions. 

        Omaha, Nebraska is becoming a hub of inter-faith activity. The Tri-Faith Center is expected to open in early 2020, a campus demonstrating the cooperation of the three Abrahamic faiths. Jews, Christians and Muslims will celebrate there together and use it as an educational resource center for all. In a world where politicians and partisan religionists spread distrust, hate and terror, the Center will point us toward the true relationship between these Biblical cousins.

There are also some values, some virtues, that seem essential for any kind of human future. They guard against the divisiveness and partisanship one finds in the F&FC materials. One is humility, a first requirement for any kind of cooperative decision making in religion or politics. A second is nonviolence in thought, word and deed. And a third is service for the common good. 

There are those working tirelessly to aid those trapped or trashed by floodwaters. Others are helping people stranded at our border fleeing violence and poverty. Still others are taking seniors to health appointments and delivering them meals. While still others do child care for sick moms and foster care for abandoned children. How can people of faith work together to structure our institutions and society to serve the common good? That's the question that needs our attention!

Forgive me, Ralph! I'm going to keep all the titles you gave me, Christian, American and patriot. But I'm not going to join your crusade. The status quo is not my idea of the Kingdom of God!

Carl Kline