Friday, November 25, 2022

A Dangerous Little Book Part 1


The book of Habakkuk is short. Just three little chapters, that’s all. It has no big words. It’s not hard to read in that sense, but there is so much here that I will divide it into two blog posts.

Scholars generally think Habakkuk lived in Jerusalem sometime between 610 and 587 BCE.  His name means “embracer” or “to embrace” or “one who struggles to enfold.” He is a prophet who embraces his people and all their pain, their struggles and their fears. Habakkuk gives meaning to the word “solidarity.”


As the book opens, he is the voice of a people who have no voice. They are drowning in an ocean of violence. The Babylonian Empire is on the rise and is mercilessly dismantling the old Assyrian Empire. Think of the worst scenes you have seen from the war in the Ukraine or elsewhere and you have an idea of what Habakkuk sees as the sun rises on a new day. It is a scene of violence and death as far as the eye can see.

In 587, just a few years after Habakkuk was written, the Babylonians will conquer Jerusalem and completely destroy it; burn it to the ground. They will reduce the Temple and the whole city to a pile of ashes. Habakkuk can see what’s coming. He calls on the Lord for help:  “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!” and you will not save? How long shall I wait?   “Why do you make me see wrongs and look upon trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”

In a polite version of Chapter 1,verse 4, Habakkuk says, “The law is slacked and justice never goes forth, The wicked surround the righteous, so justice is perverted.” In the raw translation Habakkuk says, “Justice is raped and no one is held accountable. There is no justice.”

 Members of the Supreme Court have lost their moral compass and people in high places are all for sale. In our own time, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “we will perish not for want  of information, but for want of appreciation.” William Sloan Coffin has said that “we have the ability to destroy civilization and make the earth uninhabitable, but not the authority. The madness of war has eclipsed all sense of normality and morality.”

In the 1960’s, during the Vietnam War, Barry McQuire had a popular anti-war song called “Eve of Destruction.” One line of that song says, “the whole crazy world is just too frustrat’n.  And you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

Habakkuk did believe it. He saw what was happening. And he cried out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear my voice? Or cry violence and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongs and look upon trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise…the earth groans. The stones cry out.”

It is really almost too much torment to bear. There is no relief in sight, absolutely none. The mad momentum of war cannot be stopped. Speaking to our time, Coffin writes, “the irrational love of loveless power has gripped our hearts and minds.” It is lunacy to talk of victory. With no place left to turn, Habakkuk calls on God, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

God answers and the news is not good. God tells Habakkuk: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told”...“I am rousing the Chaldeans (aka Babylonians), that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth and take nations to seize habitations not their own. Dread and terrible are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves. . . Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence; terror of them goes before them. They gather captives like sand.”

They gather up captives like sand. It is beyond our comprehension. We hear the words but cannot comprehend what our ears are telling us. God is choosing the Babylonians, and sending them to utterly destroy Jerusalem and take the people into captivity where later they will write in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willow there we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

The Chaldeans, who scoff at kings and make sport of rulers, and laugh at every fortress, and who sweep by like the wind… God is telling Habakkuk that God has loosed this hell on earth. This is God’s will.

Habakkuk refuses to back down. He refuses to become a cynic or a nihilist or a fatalist. He goes up on the ramparts, he takes his place in the watchtower, and he declares before God and everyone else, “I will take my station. I will see what God will say to me.” 

 Before I end this first installment, I need to make a couple things clear. First, according to the text, God raises up the Chaldeans, but God does not excuse Chaldean cruelty. There is nothing in the text that blesses barbarism or war. The text is very clear. Speaking of the Chaldeans, God declares that “their might is their god.” The Babylonian military-industrial-political-homeland security-empire-complex is their pride and joy, and it will be their downfall. Emphatically the text does not condone war or militarism. What the text is saying is that war and all the evils that it visits upon us and all humanity is not accidental. Wars do not “just happen.”

There are two ways to deal with the issue of evil in history. One is to blame God, ie It is God’s will that the Babylonians should wipe out Jerusalem and slaughter some of the people and take others captive. This is a fatalist view of history. What can we do? Nations have always been at war with each other. It’s too bad, it’s unfortunate, we wish it were otherwise, but that’s just the way it is. Love is just the driver of the hearse rushing from one tragedy to another. There are whole schools of theology and political theory built around the idea that people and nations are locked in a never ending struggle for power and security and we have to accept that. This is not what Habakkuk is saying. 

 He is saying that our actions have consequences and we have responsibilities. Heschel says some people are guilty but everyone is responsible. This is what Habakkuk is telling us. He shoulders responsibility for his people, because of his unfailing love for his people and an unshakable belief in God. This is why he takes his place on the watchtower. He climbs up on the ramparts and waits for God. O Lord, how long will you not hear me? How long? These are not the questions of a fatalist.

It is worth remembering that in 1940, the Nazi’s banned the book of Habakkuk because they knew it was a dangerous book. The apartheid government of South Africa did the same banning Habakkuk, because they knew it was a dangerous book. People in our time who want to ban books might soon look to Habakkuk and other prophets and try to ban them.

This is a dangerous little book. It is only three short chapters. But in these chapters Habakkuk is telling us that injustice does not “just happen.” War does not “just happen.” It is intentional. It happens because people who have political, and economic, and military power want it to happen, or they are willing to let it happen. President Kennedy was right when he said “If we do not want war to put an end to us, we need to put an end to war.”

Habakkuk stood on the ramparts, he stood in the watchtower, because of his love for God and his love for his people. He stood there because there was no other place for him to stand. He stood there because he could not be a silent witness to the cruelty he was witnessing. He is remembered by history as a witness to resistance to authoritarian governments, and as witness to a world beyond war.  

Rev. David Hansen

Friday, November 18, 2022

"Take up your cross..."


Alvaro Enciso needs help! In order to complete his chosen task, at the present rate of four crosses a week, he will need to live to be 127. And that is only to fulfill the requirements of the past. Each day adds more lives to remember and liturgies to hold.

No, I’m not talking about Ukraine. Although those pictures on the evening news of the host of crosses in among the trees where Russian troops once roamed were horrifying. These crosses are closer to home. I’m talking about our southern border. Alvaro is remembering the forgotten dead of the desert, trying to reach the “home of the brave and the land of the free.” 

Using a GPS tracking device and a database provided by Humane Borders, Alvaro and his companions go to the sites in the desert where those seeking sanctuary have died. They dig a hole in the desert floor, add cement and water and plant a cross. A liturgy is shared! Prayers are offered! The deceased is re-membered!

The database at the time I read Alvaro’s story includes 3,600 recorded deaths. The deaths continue, and will, till we find the will and the way to change our immigration system. Making it more challenging for those seeking to immigrate by building walls, separating children from their parents or busing them to unprepared locations, will not stem the tide. Present policy simply supports the large number of coyotes, semi-truck ovens and crosses in the desert on our southern border.

Then there is the question of immigration from Ukraine. The administration found ways to allow 100,000 refugees from Ukraine to quickly enter this country. More than 22,000 were admitted along the US-Mexico border. It’s a modest number given the millions who have fled the devastation in their homeland. Certainly our borders need to be open to them. But the question remains for many, why this distinction? Many from the global south are also fleeing violence and destruction in their countries.  

One laments how the billions spent on weapons of war destroying Ukraine, might better be spent on making homelands habitable for refugees; making their own countries “homes of the brave and lands of the free.” One laments the backlog of 500,000 immigration cases stalled in the system, unable to shake funding from the weapons manufacturers for the asylum resolvers. But this is a lament, not recognizing many Gandhis in the Kremlin or advocates committed to nonviolent social change in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

A friend on Marthas Vineyard wrote me the other day, as their island was at the top of the news. She remarked: “As you can see from today’s news, we have had a little excitement on the island in the last 72 hours. Most of the folks have been transferred to Joint Base of Cape Cod which is set up for disaster relief support for large numbers of people who are suddenly without resources. The response from the island and beyond was overwhelming. The emergency generosity has set in motion the establishment of a fund that will be used for emergency migrant support going forward. Sadly, this could happen again.”

It is sad! It’s sad that governors will use human beings as political pawns in their commitment to partisan political positions. It’s sad that Congress can’t get its act together on sound immigration policy and enforcement. It’s sad that governors and lawmakers in Texas and Florida and Arizona don’t have a Statue of Liberty in their state. They might be more likely to reflect on who we once were as a nation and what we stood for to others.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And for the Christian:

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say, ‘When I was hungry you put me on a bus, when I was thirsty you booked me a one way plane ticket,’ or ‘when I was a stranger you treated me like cargo and shipped me off for political gain.’” (Author Unknown)

Carl Kline

Friday, November 11, 2022

Prayer For America


Compassionate One, fill our hearts with love and compassion for each other, that in truth we might be one nation indivisible. Bless our country, its government, its leaders, and its people. Bless the vision that is America and help us all to make it real. Help us to be for each other a mirror in which to see the best we are, and when we stray give to each one the courage to remind, speaking truth to power when need be. 

Of qualities that built this land, help us to distinguish between their light and shadow sides, and to know the upright way, that good not be twisted into evil. Take the violence from us, so much part of what has been; and lead us on a new path to the Prophet’s vision fulfilled, of swords turned into plowshares that we shall at last learn war no more. Let not our confidence become arrogance, nor might the measure of right; mature enough in our independence, may we celebrate with all nations the interdependence from which a greater good will come. 


Thirsting for peace, help us to sing an anthem now, not of bombs bursting, but of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties; the beauty of this land we love, your blessing manifest, not of destiny, but of goodness spreading out from sea to shining sea; and not upon us alone Your blessing bestow, but upon every nation and people in the world of Your creation. 

Help us to see that we the people are America the beautiful, in all the grandeur of our colors, and in the symphony of faiths and tongues by which we sing to You and call each others’ names; in the pilgrims’ pride of roots diverse, each one of us from other lands have come, not only of a Mayflower on the sea, but of steerage passage and in chains and through sweltering desert sands, wretched and poor yearning to breathe free; let us be the strength of heart and mind to sustain the hand of she who lifts her lamp beside the golden door. 


In our caring for the earth, the sky and water, may we honor those who first dwelled upon this land, and in small measure so atone for all the wrong done to them. 

With liberty and justice for all, that freedom not ring hollow, help us to insure that health and knowledge, bread and roses, be the birthright of every child born, each one free to be and become, dreams deferred no more. 

Bring near the day, soon to rise, when in rainbow chorus we shall sing, we have overcome. 


Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, November 4, 2022

A Revolution of the Heart

Luke 18: 9-14

In Luke’s gospel Jesus and the Pharisees bump heads at every turn. The gospel writers portray the Pharisees as the foil, the gang that can’t shoot straight. They never seem to be able to do anything right. If there is an opportunity to take the wrong side of the fight, you can count on them to take it.

 Jesus is teaching and healing. People from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem are gathered around him. It’s a big crowd.  Some people who are carrying a paralyzed man on a mat show up. The crowd is great and the only way they can get to Jesus is to climb up on the roof of the house, cut a hole in the roof, and let the man down to where Jesus is sitting.  Jesus sees their faith.  He says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”  The Pharisees and teachers of the law think to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The battle lines are drawn.

Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees begin to ask what they are going to do with this fellow Jesus.  Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites”--religious pretenders. They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk. 

A Pharisee and the tax collector are in the Temple. The Pharisee stands up and prays about himself, “Thank God, I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers, tax collectors.” 

 In reality, the Pharisees are not bad people. We might be happy to have them as our neighbor. They are law-abiding, upstanding, respected members of the community. But in matters of religion, they are more concerned with the law than they are with having a good heart. They wear their religion on their sleeve. Show and tell religion. Religious pretenders. But before we write them off completely, we ought to remember that they were the religious liberals of Jesus’s time. The Sadducees were what we would call the strict constructionists of the Constitution. Original intent is their motto. The Pharisees were the liberals. They admitted to the use of reason and the principle of interpretation of the law. Still, Jesus calls them hypocrites – who stand in the Temple and look askance at the sinner standing over there, and thanking God that they are not like him.

The tax collector is no angel of goodness and mercy. He robs from the rich and the poor alike. He has a license to steal. Like Shylock in the Shakespeare’s "Merchant of Venice," the tax collector calls money his daughter. Greed rules over compassion. Money is the measure of value. But now he is standing here, in the Temple, making his confession and asking for mercy. 

Commentaries on this parable uniformly agree that this parable is about prayer and how we should pray. The contrast is drawn between the self-righteousness of the  Pharisee and the contrition of the tax collector, who is justified before God because he humbles himself. I think this interpretation misses the point. The contrast between false pride and genuine humility is there and it is real, but the parable is also about the weightier matters of “justice, mercy, and faith” (Mt. 23:23), and commentaries often miss this point.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel tells us that the problem of our time is the spirit of our age, the denial of transcendence, the vapidity of values, the emptiness in the heart.  “The central problem is that we do not know how to think, how to pray, how to cry, how to resist the deceptions of the pretenders.” Elsewhere he says that “the source of prayer is not emotion, but insight.”

We don’t know what happened, but something brought the tax collector to the Temple that day. He is in the Temple because he has been given fresh insight into the reality that his wealth is directly tied to the impoverishment of others. The deck is stacked against the poor, whom he exploits with impunity. But now he is asking God for mercy.

In the "Women for Kansas" meeting that was held here yesterday we talked a little bit about Payday Loans. These loans can carry an interest rate of 700 percent. The average interest rate on a Payday Loan is 391 percent. What we learned yesterday is that some of the people who write the laws that allow Payday lenders to charge these rates are also directly benefiting from these laws. This is not true of all legislators but  some legislators benefit from this unregulated market. The loans put money in their purse. People are not poor, they are impoverished. They are made poor by laws like this. And now people in faith communities around Kansas are working in alliance with others to change this situation. We want to put a spotlight on what is happening.

We don’t know what happened to bring the tax collector to the Temple that day. Something happened to make him aware of his complicity in the poverty of others. So he came to the Temple to pray.

Heschel teaches us, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehood. The liturgical movement must be a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” The tax collector came to pray that kind of prayer.

Prayer begins in the heart. But prayer is not an effort to impose our will on God. Our prayers are not instructions to God. We cannot tell God how to be a better God. Prayer begins with a desire not to impose our will on God, but to impose God’s will on us. This is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.  Every week we prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth, that is, in us and through us. 

In the parable the Temple is a house divided. Certainly that is true of the church in our time. It is not entirely clear to me if religion is a source of division in our society, or if social forces are creating divisions within the Christian community. Some of both I suspect. Today we can see the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple, looking askance at each other, saying under our breath, “Thank God I am not like that.” We have to acknowledge that the Christian church is divided today, perhaps more clearly than at any time since the Civil War, when Northerns and Southerns split over slavery and both sides threw Bible quotes at each other. 

One hundred years before the first shot of that war was fired a Quaker, John Woolman, made house calls on Quakers who were slave owners. He did not scold them or argue with them, he just asked them a question: What does it do to your soul to own another human being? These were kitchen table talks. One hundred years before the Civil War began, there were no Quakers who owned slaves.

It is hard for us to imagine such a revolution of the heart today. Yet, as I read the parable, this is what it says. If this parable is really about prayer and  social justice, our task is twofold. We have to be open to having new conversations–sometimes with people we agree with and sometimes with people we don’t agree with, but need to have some new conversations. And we need to keep ourselves grounded in prayer that matters. Prayers that are subversive. Prayers that overthrow oppression and exploitation and systems of injustice.

Prayer: Lord, we pray today for our nation. We are standing on the eve of an important election, poised to decide which way we will go. Our choices will give shape to our future and to the future of new generations to follow. We pray that we may each find ways to lend our voices and our votes to securing a more just and a more inclusive society, a society, a nation that lives up to the vision that all people are created equal. Amen.

 Rev. Dr. David Hansen