Friday, June 24, 2022


     The ancient Egyptians believed in a life after death. They believed that you would return in the same body; the reason for mummification. And just in case the body still decayed beyond recognition, they would include in the burial place a statue of the pharaoh, or the noble man or woman. Of course, only those at the top of the social hierarchy, received the luxury of elaborate tombs and pyramids.
It was also important that the deceased were able to enjoy the same privileges and wealth in the after-life, as they were enjoying before death. In order to insure this royal lifestyle, things of value were buried with them, including servants.

      “Retainer sacrifices” were used to demonstrate the power a pharaoh had during life, and death. The “retainers” might be members of the harem, court officials, or those with the status of slaves. They might be volunteers or were simply slain. Since the pharaoh was viewed as a living God, to accompany him into the next life, in the understanding of some, would raise the status of the servant as well. Many went willingly, believing the pharaoh would become an eternal king and assure them of eternal life as well.
Although we have a tendency to dismiss ideas like “pharaohs” and “retainer sacrifices” as relics of the past, in doing so we miss some fundamental human realities and contemporary similarities.      
I’m thinking, of course, of modern day pharaohs like Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jung Un. They all have inflated egos that put them in the realm of the Gods and allow them to sacrifice others as they deem necessary.
     I’m thinking, especially in light of the revelations from the January 6 Committee, about Mike Pence. Here is a man who was absolutely loyal to the President for four years; until he was asked to relinquish his allegiance to a higher loyalty, the constitution and his oath to protect it. How was his past loyalty to Trump rewarded? He was thrown under the bus! Because Pence couldn’t stomach lying about his authority to stop or stall the electoral count, he was given over to the “proud Boys” and their gallows, with the chant “hang Mike Pence” echoing through the U.S. Capitol. If Trump was going to be buried, you’d better believe there would be some retainer sacrifices.  


The real RINO in this country is Donald Trump. Republicans, at least traditionally, believe the supreme power in government is held by the people and their elected representatives, not by some autocrat in the White House. Mike Pence and Liz Cheney are Republicans in the best sense of the word. They don’t give their loyalty to a pharaoh, but to the people and their founding document. They have the courage of their convictions. One could hope that other Real Republicans would follow their lead, but higher loyalty seems lost in Trumpian fear. In the absence of Republican courage, many in our country seem fated to become retainer sacrifices. They will go with their God-man into the next life, and probably take plenty of others with them.

     Which brings me to a word with my Christian brothers and sisters in the evangelical community; particularly those who seem to believe this former President is somehow a special emissary from God to make us a truly Christian nation. As my grandmother and even my father used to say, it’s in the deeds not the words.
     Donald Trump has left us a bitterly divided country! We aren’t able, together, to discern truth from lies, evidence from falsehood. We are a bitterly divided country! People of color: black, brown, yellow, and red, are increasingly under threat as racism and hate escalates. We are a bitterly divided country! We can’t mobilize to face the challenges of economic disparity and climate catastrophe, as partisan politics and MAGA madness keeps the spotlight. We are a bitterly divided country! The religious right demonizes democrats as antichrist, ignoring the fruit of a satanic spirit in their midst; while more progressive Christians feel unwilling or unable to break the culture wars communication barrier. We are a bitterly divided country! We are on the path to losing our commitment to democracy to a commitment to the assault weapon.
     We would be wise to recognize that in every age there are those who would be King, at any price. They will want to demonstrate their power and position by offering their subjects up to the gallows and taking as many retainer sacrifices with them as possible into the realms of death. At base, their fear of death is so extreme they want lots of company. And unfortunately, many of their subjects are so enraptured they will follow without objection. 

Carl Kline

Friday, June 17, 2022


After work last Thursday we decided to have a take-out meal. I went to get it while my wife secured some chairs and newly purchased flowers in the back yard. We were being warned a storm was coming with some serious wind; the radio said 90 mph was possible. As I left the car to go into the restaurant to get our order, I felt a sizable push from behind. Looking to the south, I was transfixed by the look of the sky; dark as the dead of night but with a leading brown edge that made one think of the dirty thirties. I hurried into the store, got our meals as quickly as possible and hurried home. Almost as soon as we closed and locked the door, the siren sounded and we headed for the basement.

As we tried to find someplace to sit and a table of some kind for our food, we could hear the howling roar of the wind outside. Then, the lights went out! Standing in the dark with your dinner in a bag, with a raging wind outside and the sound of things hitting the house, is not the best way to share a meal. Fortunately, although it was hard hitting, the derecho was also fast moving. As we could gradually begin to see out the window in the cellar door, we made our way back upstairs.

With the help of a few candles and the slowing of the wind outside, we were able to eat our meal together at the dining room table; not in front of the TV watching the 6:00 news.

We were almost 24 hours without electricity. It makes you aware of how dependent we are on that source of energy and light. Our small upstairs bathroom without electricity is like being in a dark closet with the door closed. There was no hot water for my evening tea. There were worries about the food in the freezer as well as the refrigerator. There was no computer! There was no TV! There was no radio! There was no news! There was no indication how long this might last! One battery powered lamp allowed reading; a fitting book, Falter by Bill McKibben.

It wasn’t till the next morning in the light of day that we realized how much damage had been done. Trees were down all over the neighborhood. Too many were resting on damaged homes. So many pines! Looking at the root systems pulled out of the ground when the trees fell, one could understand why they fell. The roots seemed shallow and not very long. In wet soil from the previous rains, it was a wonder so many pine trees survived. Then, pulling sticks out of our yard, some of them shot into the earth as if from a gun, there was further evidence of the strength of the blast.

Two of our neighbors homes have just enough space between them to hold a full grown pine. That’s exactly how it fell. All the way from the boulevard, it dropped across the sidewalk right in that narrow  alley between the homes. That seemed the exception. Many were not so fortunate.

Our 24 hours without electricity reminded me that a good portion of the world is always without electricity; an estimated 13 % or 940 million people. Then there are those places where electricity is irregular. You may have to do your cooking first thing in the morning for the whole day and hope the power stays on till you finish. Or you may have to use the internet at night while most people are asleep.

One of my fondest memories about electric light was the night I stayed with a family in a small rural village on the banks of a draught stricken river in India. We were honored with an evening welcoming ceremony in the dirt-hard center of the little community. They had just been electrified. To their obvious delight, there was one light bulb hanging in the middle of our circle. People clapped and cheered as it was turned on for our welcoming.That was the same poor village where my host family fed me their evening meal (sitting and smiling and watching me eat), and then provided me a cot for sleep in the outer room with the family cow. It’s also the village where the Gods were arranged along the cliff overlooking the dried-up river bed, where they would hopefully encourage rain, enable a crop and ward off starvation.

There is a difference to a life style that rises with the sun and retires when the sun disappears. There is a difference to the way one interacts with the natural world when you are part of it, rather than encased in one of human invention. Perhaps if we voluntarily turned off the lights, and the TV, and the computer, and our phones more, we would see what we are slowly losing.

Once, with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, I lived for a few days with Nicaraguans, refugees in their own country. Driven out of their homes by the Contras they had set up a temporary community close enough to the armed conflict that they had to post security around their living space. Still, several had died, killed by the contra.

We were invited to participate in a prayer service for the dead. We met under a shelter as the rains started, only to find they intended for all of us to walk to the places where members were killed, to offer prayers there. Slipping and sliding in the mud, we walked from place to place. We offered prayers and our bodies to the elements. We were drenched to the bone.

It’s the most meaningful prayer service I’ve ever attended!

In short, weather at its best, or worst, invites us to witness; that we are part of the natural world, try as we might, to escape.

Carl Kline

Friday, June 10, 2022



There was an air of excitement and expectation buzzing as people entered the sanctuary.  The space was filled with hundreds of origami peace cranes floating from the chandeliers and the arching curve of the chancel above the pulpit.  With Covid restrictions relaxing a bit, larger numbers of still masked bodies filled the pews.  With each person’s entry into the sanctuary the buzz of energy grew in intensity.   Pentecost Sunday.

During the past month, preaching themes have been centered in peacemaking - making peace in our relationships, in ourselves, and in the world.  Bible studies on the stories of Joseph and his brothers kept us conscious of how complex the process of forgiveness can be - - how long it may take to come to fruition, how necessary forgiveness is for peace to prevail.

At the center of the service was the offering of a newly revised Beloved Community Covenant, the product of more than a year of focus and concentration as the congregation’s leaders worked to develop a structure for guiding our life together as a spiritual community committed to lovingkindness, extravagant hospitality, food and housing equity, racial justice, and compassionate nonviolent conflict resolution.

Although we did not sing it, the closing phrase from the Doris Akers hymn of the ‘60s kept flowing in my brain: “without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived when we shall leave this place.”  I came away feeling personally renewed, energized for the challenges of living in this terribly stressed world.

Revival - it conjures images of a week-long event, loud, energetic exhortation, hands in the air praise, crowds of worshippers testifying and witnessing, lives changed in an instant, personal transformation.  But that kind of revival doesn’t focus on the communal life of a congregation and its ministry in the world.  The revitalization of a worshipping community doesn’t happen quite that spontaneously.  It takes a conscious and focused effort, rigorous self examination, willingness to expend precious time and energy in behalf of the life of the community, openness to the movement of a Spirit greater than the human effort, submission to the lively guidance of that Spirit in the service of the building of beloved community.  

In the life of this congregation, the coming weeks and months will attest to the effectiveness and power of a dynamic time of worship and a renewed commitment to live as beloved community.

The January 6th hearings have begun.  We watched last night as every major channel except FoxNews put the opening statement of the committee before the American people.  As I reflected on what is required for the revitalization and transformation of a small New England congregation, the profound level of self-examination, the nurturing of the ability to forgive, the willingness seek restorative justice, the herculean effort to route out racial bias, I wondered if uncovering the events of January 6 might have the power to begin the process of renewal in our national politics.  (One can dream, can’t one?)  

For our little congregation, so much begins with truth telling, with coming to the table with authenticity and a desire for a wholeness - communal and individual.  So much depends on our willingness and ability to trust one another, on our willingness to commit to the hard work of living in covenant with each other.

We have lost that in our national politics.

From the covenant document our church is using: “Covenants can create a web of loving relationships, so that how we treat each other becomes an expression of our faith…We strive to be kind and compassionate and to honor the diversity within our congregation, recognizing that any lack of respect for one another can undermine our pursuit of beloved community. In the last few years, white supremacy, racial discrimination, systemic racism, and unconscious bias have been at the forefront of our attention.  They can and do weaken our sense of community…this new covenant recognizes these differences and dynamics and expresses our intention to be accountable to each other in the work of creating and sustaining Beloved Community.  We confess that we err and often fall short of our aspirations.  But we believe we are held together by grace, and uphold the faith that together we can build and rebuild a beloved community today  and for years to come.”

Creative and restorative visions often start out small - - maybe even as small as the one held by a little New England congregation, desiring to live together in a “yeastly way” - - trusting that its efforts will leaven a larger loaf in ways yet unseen. 

Pentecost    “…I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…

Back to hoping and dreaming  again…perhaps carrying a vision…a congress willing to hear and tell the truth; willing to respect one another; willing to keep in front of them the wholeness of a nation; willing to make the sacrifices of ego and power required to begin to build beloved community in a wounded and suffering country.  To paraphrase the old song from" South Pacific: "We have to have a dream.  If we don't have a dream, how are we going to have a dream come true???"

Vicky Hanjian


Friday, June 3, 2022


 Brandon P. Fleming is the assistant coach of debate at Harvard University and founder of the nationally acclaimed Harvard Diversity Project. He’s written a memoir called Miseducated.  After reading it, my daughter initiated a more focused learning process in her third grade classroom. She decided she had to better prepare her students to communicate their opinions with each other and listen respectfully to those who disagree. Perhaps the difficulty adults have these days, respectfully disagreeing, and discussing and resolving their differences in a respectful way, was a motivating factor for her as well.

One of the classroom “debates” they had recently concerned soccer and kickball on the playground. Three of her students returned from recess angry and upset because the teachers on playground duty chose the teams. They wanted to pick their own teams. So, my daughter suggested they have a class debate and the three students went to work, diligently writing down their reasons for their opinion. The other students did the same. As each one read their opinion, the others listened respectfully, to discover all of the other class members preferred teacher selection, as it was fairer to everyone.

My daughter tells me these third graders don’t argue. They are learning to say “I agree,” and “I disagree.” If only the United States Senate could act like her third graders! When is the last time they lived up to their label as the world’s greatest deliberative body? Most of the time there are only a few senators in the chamber and they aren’t really listening anyway!

Instead of spending her time reading Miseducated, some would prefer my daughter spend her time being “highly trained” with a weapon. Donald Trump recommended it at the recent NRA convention. He believes teachers should conceal and carry. He doesn’t mention that “highly trained” police with body armor stood outside a school where 21 children and teachers were slaughtered for forty five minutes. He also does a disservice to the memory of all those teachers and administrators who have sacrificed their lives for those in their care, in similar shootings. Isn’t it enough, that teachers have to shepherd their children through “active shooter drills” these days? How distressing to children and teachers is that?

Public education is taking political hits as well as bullets. It’s the ban books, ban guns divide. Our South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem, was also speaking at the NRA Convention. She attacked advocates of gun safety legislation. "Let me tell you the truth about the enemies of the Second Amendment,” she told the NRA members. “They are schooled in the ways of Marx and Lenin.”

Her attitude has increasingly been that South Dakota public education, through higher education, focuses too much on the past (genocide, slavery, anything evil and distressing, etc.) and not enough on this country as the greatest in human history. She’s a book banner! I’m sure she’d like to ban some teachers as well. This, as we suffer our 27th  school shooting of 2022. With her sense of threat to students from Marxist-Leninists, it is easy to purchase assault weapons.

Dear Governor Noem, and your mentor Donald Trump: do you realize the AR-15 was made to explode human bodies in warfare? Do you know that DNA samples were sought from parents at Uvalde so authorities could identify unrecognizable children with their parents? The weapon was used in Vietnam, blowing off the heads and dismembering the Vietcong, or making the torso one big hole. Let us all look at the pictures taken inside the Uvalde classroom. Make them Public! If we’re going to have to live with a disturbed 18 year old purchasing these weapons, at least let us see the reality of what they do.

And if you insist on banning books rather than assault weapons, please include the Bible. Maybe you haven’t read it, but there are some very disturbing scenes in it. I think immediately of the Levite’s Concubine. It’s gruesome! What might a 12 year old girl think, reading that account, without a caring teacher helping her understand some of the harsh realities of our patriarchal past? Or, I’m not sure we would want some 10 year old boys learning how to slay their giants with a slingshot. You remember the story of incest, right? And when you think about it, crucifixion is a rather violent and distressing subject, without context and understanding.

“The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law abiding citizens,” so said Donald Trump to the NRA Convention. The existence of evil, for Christians, is the very best reason to arm oneself with the Gospel of peace, following the way of Jesus. The existence of evil is the very best reason to arm our teachers with wisdom, caring and compassion. And if citizens are really law abiding according to the Ten Commandments, why would they even want a gun? Their purpose prepares one to kill; the intention is there! And armed political vigilantes are not good role models for our children. 

Give me a caring teacher, modeling alternatives to weapons, any day.

Carl Kline