Friday, January 15, 2021

An Exhausting Week

 

An exhausting week.   On Tuesday, January 5, 2021 Rafael Warnock and John Osoff won the GA senate run-off elections thus changing the balance in the senate in DC in history making ways.  The ability to celebrate this potentially transformative election was torn away when, on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the capitol building was stormed and breached by a mob with the intent of overthrowing the senate as it came to voting to accept the electoral college results, state by state.  Sedition, insurrection, 2nd impeachment, all have entered our daily vocabulary as the news keeps unfolding.  There is actual, real time footage of an American president inciting the crowds to march on the capitol.  The result was violence and destruction and chaos and death   People keep  saying “This isn’t us.  This isn’t America” But what if this IS us for all the world to see?


Many years ago I attended a lecture by Marian Woodman, noted Jungian psychologist.  I recall so clearly her take on the "shadow" in the human psyche.  Her wisdom was that until the shadow parts of us that we deny and prefer to keep out of view are brought into the light, eventually embraced and loved and reconciled into the light, that shadow is always in danger of emerging on its own and is capable of "running the show."

 As a nation we have never come to terms with our shadow and now it is running the show in the form of white supremacy, violence, and anarchy. The January 6th assault on the capitol  was just a snapshot of what lies beneath - and not very far beneath the surface.  News analysis reveals that we have not seen the last of it as plans are uncovered for “protests” at state houses across the country.


January 6th is traditionally observed as Epiphany in Christianity.  As has been recognized often in the press, the third definition of “epiphany” in the dictionary is: “showing, appearance, manifestation” in the sense of suddenly seeing or understanding something in a new or very clear way.

For so many of us, January 6 was truly an epiphany - a day on which the dark underbelly, the ugly racism and white supremacy at the heart of this country, the utter violence and disrespect for the orderly transfer of power, was manifested in a very clear way.  Unlike Christian tradition's observance that celebrates the lovely story of The Wise seeking the newborn manifestation of the Divine in humanity enjoyed by religious communities around the world with great music, prayers, drama and a sense of light and renewal, this particular epiphany evokes sadness, horror, confusion, doubt, and outrage...darkness revealed.

We are in the midst of it. It will not go away.  If the year 2020 was an apocalyptic year in which economic and racial inequities were revealed and laid bare by the Corona virus pandemic, 2021 has begun with an epiphany of biblical proportions as we, in one rather spectacularly dark event, suddenly see more - - understand more, in a clearer way.  

The biblical story of Wise seeking the source of greater light is set in the context of an oppressive regime seeking to hold and protect power, intent on removing the threat to power posed by an infant born in a barn.  Instead of cooperating with the oppressive regime, the Wise disregard the order to inform the king of the whereabouts of the infant and return home by a different route.
 

As tyrants are wont to do when they fear the loss of power, the king becomes enraged  and orders that all children 2 years of age and under be slaughtered.  Echoes of the beginnings of the Exodus story shimmer in the story in the gospels. In the sacred texts, power-full kings and pharaohs tend to react this way.  Herod and Pharaoh are cut from the same cloth and history repeats itself.

A few words from the January 7 statement from the leadership of The United Church of Christ illuminate and guide the way forward:

“Our faith calls us to acts of love, kindness and compassion. Our faith reminds us that the power of God aligns with the poor and the abandoned, the weak and the hungry, the oppressed and the marginalized. We call on all people of faith and goodwill to use what we saw on January 6, 2021, as a call to justice and a reminder of what happens when evil goes unchallenged.”
In the end the darkness is revealed and can be understood in a clearer way.
“Our faithful response to this most recent act of white terrorism and insurrection will be to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, free the oppressed, welcome the stranger, love the neighbor, and fill the whole world with the love of our blessed redeemer, Jesus. And, as we continue to do so, we will walk in the courage to denounce and dismantle theologies and systems of oppression and hatred, replacing them with theologies of freedom, peace, justice and love.”


 

Oppressive power is thwarted by nonviolent noncooperation through compassionate acts of justice seeking, lovingkindness, hospitality, and generosity.

May the darkness of this particular epiphany lead us into the light.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, January 8, 2021

Seamless Garment

 This is no time to be a mink! If you thought it was tough being a human amid this pandemic, be thankful you're not a mink. Denmark, the largest supplier of mink furs to the fashion world, has just killed all of their 15,000,000 to 17,000,000 mink. The animals got the Covid-19 virus from humans, proceeded to mutate it, and give it back to their keepers. At last count, there were 214 Danish people infected with the mutated form, enough that Denmark has placed restrictions on seven municipalities and Great Britain has banned entry to their country from Denmark.


 

There are 5.5 million people living in Denmark. Three times that many mink have been placed on the sacrificial altar to protect the human beings in that country; perhaps in the end, to protect all the human beings on the planet who could otherwise be faced with a new mutated virus and no effective vaccine.

Denmark is not alone in "culling" their mink. ("Culling" is the term being used, defined as "selectively slaughtered," even though there is no "selecting," since it's mass slaughter).  Spain, the Dutch and the U.S. are in the same game. Spain "culled" ninety thousand over the summer and the Dutch gassed to death 10,000 mother mink and 50,000 mink pups. Eight thousand mink were killed on a Utah farm in August and 2,000 in Wisconsin. Unlike in other countries, culling of all the animals on a farm is not being required in the U.S. and the federal government is leaving regulations to the states.

Like I say, it's not a good time to be a mink! Or even a cat, as they have tested positive for the virus.

   

I'm still interested in my relationship to pangolins. Pangolins are that interesting anteater like creature found mostly in Asia that may have been the origin of the Covid-19 virus, competing with bats in the minds of some.  There's an amazing article on pangolins and their relationship to the virus in the August  "Annals of Science" by David Quamman. He describes the traffic in pangolin scales, skin and meat. At one point in China, some 150,000 pangolins went to the knife monthly, their meat eaten, their scales used for medicinals and the leather used in making cowboy boots (including for Lyndon Johnson). Quamman describes watching three diners in Vietnam eat a $750 pangolin meal, beginning with the creature rolled up in a sack, beaten with a bat … the rest of the description you'll have to read yourself.

    In 2016, international trade in wild pangolins was made illegal. Still, thousands of pounds flowed from sub Saharan Africa to China and Vietnam. In 2019, an estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked to China for their scales alone. In 2020, the Chinese government stopped the use of the scales in traditional medicine and increased protection for native pangolins.
    

 Perhaps this pandemic will teach us something. Are we related to mink and pangolins? Does keeping animals penned up in close quarters in huge warehouses, like mink, invite disease and suffering? Will trade and profit from wild animals and their parts, like pangolins, endanger us all? Is there an interrelatedness between humans and other creatures that we prefer to ignore, thinking ourselves independent?     


Some of the great Christian saints recognized the glory of God in all of the creatures. Saint Bonaventure, a follower of Saint Francis, wrote about his mentor: that in even the smallest of creatures, Francis saw a reflection of God. The more we find fraternity with the environment, the more we are connected with the Creator. And when we lose even one species, we lose something of the glory of God.


Saint Kateri Tekawitha of the Iroquois nation, is referred to as a "child of nature." She often went into the woods, into the silence away from human noise and activity in the village, to talk to God. She understood the importance of nature to spirituality, of creatures in the natural world and their relationship to us.

And then there is Saint Benedict. His principles are found in the Rule of Saint Benedict. He recommends humility, commitment to improving your local neighborhood and frugality.  He writes, “Frugality should be the rule on all occasions.” If you take more than your fair share and then waste it, that throws off the balance of both the soul and the environment. Like Francis, Bonaventure, and Kateri, Benedict appreciated the beauty of the earth and the way it reflected the beauty and glory of the Creator, and he took every care to preserve and improve it.

It's possible that humility is the highest value in most religious traditions, including for Benedict. It's quite possible the original sin in the book of Genesis is hubris, human pride, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Perhaps the pandemic and the threat of climate catastrophe will help us reign in our egotism and self promotion, and instead cultivate interdependence and relationship with all the creatures. There is no separation. We have been gifted with a seamless garment. Let's mend the tears and wear it with thanksgiving.


Carl Kline

Friday, January 1, 2021

Drawing Near


 Va-yiggash…it is an interesting Hebrew word that appears near the climax of the Joseph stories in the Book of Genesis.  It occurs in Genesis 44:18: Then Judah went up…the first words of the part of the story where Joseph eventually reveals his identity to the brothers who had left him for dead in a pit so many years before.   Va-yiggash can also be interpreted to mean draw near or approach.
    When I heard a teaching last week that was focused on va-yiggash, my mind wandered into the lavish Egyptian court where the brothers, who found themselves in Egypt due to famine in Canaan, are confronted by Joseph, who knows exactly who they are, even though they don’t recognize him.  The meeting is fraught with the family’s tragic and painful history - a father who favors one son over the others; a young upstart who annoys both his father and his brothers with his dreams; irritable brothers who decide to deal with the young Joseph in their own way; the presumed death of Joseph; lies, grief and deception and on and on.


    A crisis in Canaan - a famine - no pasturage for the flocks - not enough food to keep Jacob and his sons and their families alive - a long journey down into Egypt to see if food can be obtained there.  So much of the well being and the future of the sons of Jacob depend upon a successful completion of their mission. Both Joseph and his brothers carry within them the family secrets, the memory of what transpired between the brothers and Joseph when they were all much younger.  They have “issues” - - they have “history.”   The tense drama shifts into high gear when “…Judah went up…” when Judah drew near…when Judah approached Joseph - one more step in the unfolding of the story toward forgiveness, compassion and restored relationship in the long fractured family.  The successful conclusion of this part of the great story depends upon Judah’s willingness to go up to Joseph,  to approach, to draw near.
    As 2021 begins, I find myself reflecting on what the story may say to us on the first day of a New Year as we anticipate the inauguration of a new administration in less than three weeks and as we contemplate and wonder whether and how things will  be different.  At this moment, the fractured nature of our collective life in this country seems to determine so much.  We cannot agree on the necessity of simple things like wearing face masks and maintaining a safe distance from one another.  Like lemmings, thousands, maybe millions, flocked to airports to travel over the holidays in spite of danger of surge upon surge as the virus continues to spread.  Congress moves at turtle speed in its attempts to get economic relief to the country, unable to agree on the shape of possible legislation. Federal policies have led to the rapid production of a vaccines, but have not supported the process of getting the vaccines, literally, into the arms of people in the numbers that were anticipated by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, even though there are not food shortages, long lines at emergency food distribution centers attest to the fact that too many Americans are hungry, are having to make the choice between paying rent and putting adequate food on the table.


    An ancient story of famine in Canaan, of a dysfunctional family coming to terms with its history, of one brother drawing near, approaching another may carry a bit of wisdom for us today.  Without Judah’s painful willingness to place himself in the rather awesome presence of Joseph, the second most powerful person in Egypt, the movement of the story would get stuck.  So much depends on Judah’s willingness to draw near, to approach Joseph in behalf of his family.  Equally critical is Joseph’s willingness to engage with the brothers who left him to die in a pit so many years earlier.
 

   As a New Year begins and as a new administration prepares to assume its leadership role, perhaps va-yiggash might provide a guiding light for the future.  Perhaps a new president will be able to approach and draw near to adversaries in a more enlightened way.  Perhaps members of the House and Senate will be able to draw near and approach one another across that infamous aisle - perhaps to  communicate more readily in the service of the unfolding of the greater story.  Perhaps in communities across the country human beings of diverse racial, economic, and political affinities might draw near, might approach one another with the intent of creating a more harmonious future for one another and for the world.
    As the grand cycle of the Joseph stories reaches its conclusion at the end of the Book of Genesis, Joseph offers compassion and forgiveness to his brothers as he reveals his identity to them.  Reconciliation is made possible.  The story can continue.   So much depends on the willingness to approach, to draw near to the other.
    The Joseph story begins with dreams that eventually determine a particular future for the ancient tribes of Israel.  It is never a smooth story and a happy ending is elusive, but the drama keeps unfolding.  May the dreamer in each of us persist in visioning a world that sustains humankind in harmony, justice, equity, peace, and, perhaps, eventually, in joy.  May we draw near, may we approach one another with openness, and curiosity, and interest in the service of creating a story that moves toward wholeness for all humankind.  Let the New Year begin!

Vicky Hanjian