Friday, January 29, 2021


 If it wasn't clear before, it should be now. We're at a historical turning point in this country. We will either go forward into a new and inclusive future, or we will disintegrate into an exclusionary past, where White makes right. The confederate flag amidst the mob in our nation's capitol was the symbol of the divide. And the insurrectionists with the "Civil War" shirts, spoke more loudly with their visual than any words might have done. What was at stake in the continuation of a Trump presidency is White supremacy. Many refuse to admit this elephant in the room, but unfortunately, White supremacy has taken up way too much room in the elephant.

It wasn't so long ago the Republican party was on a mission to become more inclusive. There was a recognition, especially after the Obama election, that the country was changing, becoming more racially and religiously diverse. The message was that to be relevant as a political party, with opportunities to occupy the White House, the party would have to change too. A Black man, Michael Steele, became Chairperson of the Republican National Committee. That effort only lasted for two years, from 2009 to 2011. Apparently, one Black face at the top didn't didn't mean much at the bottom, devoid of a meaningful platform. Then the inclusive intention seemed to dissolve. Instead of inclusion, the party tried exclusion, with extensive gerrymandering and voter suppression. The crowning event for exclusion was the election of Donald Trump.

Trumps' intention was clear from the very beginning. We knew his history and he was open about his intentions. We knew he lied and spread misinformation, as he did his best to keep the Obama "birther" issue alive. And who could forget his "crooks and rapists" dog whistles, about our southern neighbors during the 2015 campaign.

Once in office: Muslims were banned; the wall was built; dreamers were threatened; refugees were limited; temporary protected status was diminished; Charlottsville had "good people" on both sides; and now, the President "loves" those people who trashed our capitol, threatened the Vice President with lynching and Congress members with God knows what. Wherever he has been able to limit the growth of a population of people of color or encourage White supremacists, he has done it; even separating children from their parents and putting them in detention centers, a morally unspeakable act.

Trump, unable or unwilling to understand racial dynamics, continues to profess his love for Black people. "Well, my message is that I love the Black community and I've done more for the Black community than any other president, and I say with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, and I mean that, with opportunity zones, and with criminal justice reform, with prison reform, with what we've done for historically Black universities, colleges, schools, what we've done. It's nobody's done more. Abraham Lincoln, let's give him the nod, but beyond that, nobody's done more. I love the Black community."

One wonders if the Presidents' love extends to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, or any number of Black Lives Matter marchers? One wonders if he would ever kneel to honor the life of just one Black man? It wouldn't have to be for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Just touching one knee to the floor like a Colin Kaepernick would do.

At the recent meeting of the Republican National Committee, Nikki Haley suggested the party might want to embrace "inclusion" in the future, given the drubbing the party took in Georgia. At the same meeting, Governor Noem said the recently elected Senators from Georgia were "communists." After this President, the Republican party faces a choice and and an uncertain future. But  the choice is clear from the remarks of these women, inclusion or exclusion.

The other party facing a choice is the Christian church, one of the significant supports for the Trump presidency. If the church is not inclusive, it is not the church of Jesus Christ. How you can represent one of the most inclusive and welcoming persons in human history by remaining exclusive is beyond comprehension. If your church community is not racially diverse, welcoming of all sexual orientations, and open to dialogue and friendship with other faith communities, you shouldn't call yourself a "Christian" church. And it doesn't count to make excuses based on location or past  efforts. Change the racist or exclusive infrastructure of the community you are in!  The church's mission is to build the Kingdom, the beloved community.

And please, don't ever tell us again an apostle of exclusion is sent to us by God. That's definitely using God's name in vain.   

Carl Kline

Friday, January 22, 2021

Imagine the Wilderness

The Gospel of Mark begins in this way:

 The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
    Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who will prepare thy way;
    the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he whose mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
 In those days Jesus Came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.”
(Mk 1:1-11, RSV).

When we hear the word “wilderness” some of us may think about the pristine wilderness--an uncorrupted place we can go to on retreat. The wilderness is our own Walden Pond. It is a place set apart where we can go when we want to get away from it all. Others of us may have just the opposite image. We associate the wilderness with a wild and untamed place of danger. Both images have deep roots in our national mythology and storytelling. 

In the Bible the wilderness is a place where miracles happen. In the Hebrew Bible, refugees wander in the wilderness for forty years. When they are hungry manna falls from heaven. When they are thirsty water gushes forth from a rock. In the wilderness the refugees are led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Miracles happen in the wilderness. It is a place where people come to a new experience of the presence of God in their lives.

Witness the opening verses of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Ps.46:1-3, RSV). Clearly the people are in some kind of wilderness. The foundations of the earth are shaking. Everything is busting loose. But rather than asking, “Why is this happening to me?” to people reaffirm their confidence in God, who is in their midst, “We will not fear, thought the earth should change.”

In the Christian scriptures, Jesus is baptized in the wilderness. He did not go to the temple in Jerusalem. He did not ask a temple priest to baptize him. He went to the wilderness, and there he met a wild man named John who was wearing a coat made of camel’s hair and who ate locusts and wild honey. It is a wild scene, but it was not a riot. This is no picture of mob violence. Jesus is not encouraging people to storm the city of Jerusalem. He is not calling on his followers to attack the priests or march on the temple. He is in the wilderness.

It strikes me that Mark tells the story of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in this way because he wants to put us on notice. If we are going to follow this Jesus, if we plan to walk with this messiah, if we are going to be his disciples, we are going to have to leave the comfort and safety of our familiar routines and surroundings. Change is in the air; and the followers of Jesus are called to become agents of change. That is what it means to follow Jesus into the wilderness.

We have just come from our Christmas celebration. We read the Christmas story. We heard the good news of the gospel: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us) (Mt: 1:23, RSV). This good news is more than an agreeable possibility, a pleasing thought. But cold reason is not easily seduced. If we are going to go into the wilderness, we want to choose the time and the place. Prudence--good judgment, common sense, a careful regard for one’s self-interest--this is how the dictionary defines prudence. Before you go into the wilderness be sure you are wearing clean underwear. Be practical.

I do not think that Mark is encouraging us to throw caution to the wind. But he does raise an important question for us when he tells us that Jesus went into the wilderness. How do we define the wilderness today? What is the wilderness that we face? How do we experience the presence of God? What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

 As I reflect on the meaning of the wilderness, I am thinking of the 370,000 plus people in this country who have died of Covid-19, and the families and loved ones who have been left behind, and who need to find a new way to live. I heard a story just this morning of a man who had a shoeshine business. He said since the outbreak of covid-19 his business has dried up. He has no customers. He is in the wilderness. He said that his new home as four wheels, for as long as he is able to keep his car. He is going to be evicted from his apartment, and he no place else to go. 

I think of people who are unemployed and underemployed going to food pantries and bread lines in this the richest country in the history of the world. We cannot afford to house our fellow citizens? We can’t give people a well-paying job? We can spend billions of dollars on the Defense Reauthorization Act, but we cannot help out people living in this country in their time of need? Where is the church in this wilderness? What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

In the service of baptism we make promises. We promise to resist oppression. We promise to seek justice, love mercy, and walk with compassion for others. We can renew our baptism every morning when we wash our face or step into the shower. How will I live in the power of the Holy Spirit today?   

Mark tells us that Jesus went to the Jordan River. He did not dip his toe into the water. He did not wade in the water. He went into the water. Thinking of this scene, my mind turns to the contrasting image of the disciples who locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. I wonder how long they would have stayed there if Jesus had not come and stood among them.

Mark says that John baptized with the water of repentance, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism signaled the end of one way of life; Jesus’ baptism marked that beginning of a new way of life. The poet W. H. Auden said that we live in the “Kingdom of Anxiety.” We are perpetually and forever worried about what is going to happen next. What is going to happen to us? What is going to happen to me?

When I see this image of Jesus going into the river Jordan, in my mind I contrast that image with the memory of people in Flint, Michigan, who were told that the drinking water was safe for them and for their children. The phrase that comes to mind is “water apartheid,” Ched Myers book coined this phrase in his book, Watershed Discipleship. Myers is a good theologian and a good writer with important things to say. If you are looking for a book to read, get a copy of Watershed Discipleship. If we don’t practice watershed discipleship, water will become the new dividing line between the have-gots and the have-nots, and we will have created a wilderness.

The poet Wendell Berry says in his poem: "What We Need Is Here," “We pray not for new earth and heaven, but to be quiet in heart and in eye clear. What we need is here.” Mark is telling us that what we need is here. He is also reminding us that there are others who are here with us. When Jesus was baptized people from the country side and people from the city were there that day. I can imagine that some people Mark is talking about probably carried others who were on stretchers. There in the wilderness a new community, a new society, began to take shape on the banks of the Jordan River. And it was a very good day. Today is a very good day for us as well, this is the promise of Jesus the Christ. 


Rev. David Hansen

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