Friday, December 30, 2022

Life and Loss

 It was like magic! I had just sat down at my desk to write my weekly column about “loss.” That subject choice was the result of a conversation last evening with friends, when we enjoyed extended endorphins, laughing about lost items. The loss in this case was two-fold; a phone and “the self.” The phone finally turned up in a box in a closet (with no clear memory of how it got there). “The self” (a folder with written materials forming a personal history), is still missing.

I’m told that memory loss is a common experience as one ages. That’s comforting, as it’s certainly more real in my life. At least two or three times a week my wife will say to me, “I told you that,” about a commitment we made or an event in the extended family. How I could forget so quickly or how it didn’t register is always a puzzle to me. Just as finding my self upstairs, trying to remember why I came there in the first place, is always a little disconcerting.

But here was the magic this morning! It just popped up on my Facebook page; bio-nutritionals!  It read, “How is it possible to remember our wedding day, but not where we left our glasses? Here’s the deal! The hippocampus part of the brain which transforms memories from short term to long term often becomes inflamed with age. This can lead to short-term memory loss, or frustrating ‘senior moments.’” 

Here was an ad for a nutritional supplement to help my hippocampus just as I needed reassurance all was not lost. The problem is, I’ve been reading Dr. Richard “Rick” Holmes book, “Life’s Final Season: A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace.” He has thoroughly drummed into my head the big three; diet, exercise and sleep. Avoid as much as humanly possible the drugs and supplements. Or at least, he says, consult with your doctor.

Besides, I’m convinced that losing things, being lost, and experiencing loss, are all part of the human condition; whether it’s losing the car keys, struggling to remember the turn-off to your friends’ house, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. I’m not convinced bio-nutritionals will help me with any of these losses.

Losing things can be instructive and force us to be more organized. I’ve always looked with envy and amazement at those people who have a well organized and exemplary tool room. The hammer hangs on the wall over an outline of a hammer. Everything has a place and returns to that place. Some folks have bookshelves arranged like a public library. The reader knows just where to look for that Kent Krueger novel.  

Being lost can also be a learning experience. I look back with some embarrassment on a trip into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I was leading a group of camp counselors on an overnight camping trip, a training exercise so they would be able to provide the same experience for their campers. We came to a split in the trail where we had three choices. We pulled out our map. As three or four of us consulted the guide the consensus was to go left. But as the leader, I was convinced we needed to go straight ahead. We did as I directed. And we spent an extra four hours reaching our destination, much to my chagrin, and setting up camp in the dark.

Of course, being lost on a trail is better than being lost in life. The rise in the incidence of suicide among the young; the use of mind and body numbing drugs and alcohol; increasing mental health concerns in the larger society; all suggest we need to reclaim purpose and possibility for our lives. The cultural mandate of pursuit of profit may not be enough!

Experiencing significant loss can be the key to understanding the fundamental reality of life; nothing lasts forever. We’d like to ignore that reality, or at least have greater control over our life and that of others. We’d like to discover the fountain of youth. We want to hang on to loved ones even when we know they are ready to move on. There’s a certain grasping in our nature that’s hard to release; an openness of the hands it’s hard to offer.

Whether one is Christian or not, there’s a certain wisdom in the passage attributed to Jesus in the gospel of Matthew: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

When one understands this passage as a call to a life of loving service, loss is not loss. Life is being fulfilled; minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Nothing remains to do or be! There’s nothing to lose. Even death comes easy!

Carl Kline

Friday, December 23, 2022

"Don't let the light go out..."

 It is December 23 as I write.  The island is all aflurry with the expectation of high winds, heavy rain and, perhaps a sprinkling of snow.  The overnight weather last night has already produced the predicted coastal flooding -  and odd term for an island that is all "coastal."  At 2:30 PM the sky is already darkening - - not that unusual, after all, we have just witnessed the winter solstice and the days are already giving a bit more light.

That being said, the oncoming storm brings with it a premature darkness.

 Being the religiously "multilingual" family that we are, I have been thinking about the confluence of religious traditions and their embrace of light or enlightenment during this darkest season of the year - at least in the northern western hemisphere.

We've been lighting Hanukkah candles each evening - mostly on Zoom with our Jewish community - reminding us of the dedication to the struggle for freedom and justice our Jewish ancestors have faithfully endured.  Advent candles have been lighted each of the last four Sundays in church leading up to a candle light service planned for Christmas Eve in celebration of Light coming into the world in the person of Jesus.   

Earlier in the month, the Buddhist community observed Rohatsu, celebrating the Buddha's vow to sit under the bodhi tree until he received spiritual enlightenment.  The observance of Kwanzaa will see the lighting of 7 candles representing the  vision of unity, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, purpose, self determination, and faith.  Wiccan and Neo-Pagan communities celebrate the Winter Solstice and the return of the light of the sun as we pass through the darkest day of the year.

There are numerous other faith traditions that celebrate light in some way at this time of year.  It seems very old in the human psyche to want to move from darkness into light.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: "The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - - on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2) Even taken out of its context, the line carries with it the yearning of humankind for light and clarity, for enlightenment, for a time when justice and equity and peace and lovingkindness will prevail.

2022, perhaps not too different from any other year, has witnessed its own peculiar darkness as the January 6 commission wraps up its work.  The daily and weekly and monthly statistics on gun violence reveal a persistent darkness in our collective ability to create safe gun laws.  Billions of dollars continue to funnel into manufacture of military weapons to be deployed in a war that seems endless in Ukraine.  Peace is elusive. 

The island witnessed the pervasive darkness of a broken immigration system when we unexpectedly found ourselves hosting migrants, lost and confused and afraid, who landed here, courtesy of the Florida governor.

We do still walk in darkness.  But the faith traditions practiced by so many millions of people speak to the hope for the light - - the enlightenment - - that has given hope to the world for centuries.

We sing "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!"   We sing "Don't let the light go out!"  We sing "It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark."  Like the Whos in Whoville transforming the Grinch, we are graced with the gifts of faith, determination, dedication, and with our small candles and our songs of light. So we keep on singing. The commitment to the work of justice and peacemaking, to compassion and lovingkindness, to cooperation and creativity receives a little more breathing room. 

 On Christmas, on the 8th day of Hanukkah, we'll venture out together to view the Christmas lights -expressions of the innate human yearning to dispel the darkness.  The magic of the lighted trees in Ocean Park, the delight of a neighbor's light extravaganza that draws crowds every year,  the lighted hanukkiah in otherwise dark windows here and there all dispel darkness and speak of hope

 In this darkest month of the year there is so much light.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, December 16, 2022

What is Justice? Reflections on Luke 8:1-18


Commonly, this parable is interpreted as a parable about prayer. The widow is an example of the need for persistent prayer and advocacy. I confess that this parable has always seemed to me to border on blaming the victim. The message is that if you just pray hard enough, and long enough, and if you are sincere enough when you pray, your prayers will be answered. What if she had stopped a day sooner? What if she had given up?  It would have been her fault for not praying long enough and hard enough.

 I think we need to approach this parable in a different way. My theory is that after the crucifixion some of the followers of Jesus scattered to various regions of the empire, while others started discipleship schools. The gospel writers were among those who started these schools. The gospel themselves were written as teaching manuals for new Christians. The parables in particular were meant to be discussion starters. I want to offer two possible way for us to interpret the parables in this way today.

In the first instance, consider the situation. This woman is a widow and she is going up against a judge, demanding a favor. The judge has all the power, she has none. Circumstances have put her in a situation where she has no choice. She must appeal to the judge. 

The text does not say who her adversary is, but let’s just imagine that her landlord just increased her rent. Soon she will be paying more every month than she used to pay in six months. And the landlord has threatened her with eviction. If she can’t get the judge to intervene, the sheriff will be at her door any day now and everything she owns is going to be put on the curb and she is going to be thrown into the street. She is in a desperate situation. If she gets evicted, she knows that it will be a long and difficult road back.

To add insult to injury, let’s suppose in her situation that a private company has set up a shelter for the homeless and a meal program, where she can go once a day for a meal. Maybe the company sponsoring these programs is funded by an association of landlords. So for the landlords it’s a double win. They get praise for their humanitarian gesture of providing for the poor, while at the same time benefiting at their expense.

She is in a tight spot. So she turns to the one person in her community who has the power to help her - -the judge - - who happens to be a good friend of the landlord. The widow is as smart as she is determined. So she shows up at the judge’s house every night one-half hour after the judge’s children have gone to bed. She starts banging on the door, singing the Psalms, and quoting the prophets: “Woe to you who lie on their beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lamb from the flock.” “Take away from me the noise of your songs . . . I will not listen. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream.” “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” For good measure she throws in Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor person among you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand.”

Her life is a prayer. And she is there every night banging on the door, reading the prophets, reciting the Psalms. And the judge’s kids are asking him: “Who is this woman? Why is she here?” And his wife says, “Honey, you need to do something, and no we are not going to go live with your mother.” And his neighbors are complaining. “Judge, this is a respectable neighborhood. You have to do something, or move to another part of town.”


Yes, this is a story about prayer, but it is also about street theater grounded in prayer. The really interesting part of the story is that Jesus is telling this parable to the disciples. What does it mean to be a follower of this Jesus who came to bring good news to the poor and release to the captive and set the oppressed at liberty? I want to suggest that the woman is a model of discipleship in action. Martin Luther King, Jr., said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The woman in the parable is a follower of Jesus in the tradition of human rights.

That is one interpretation of the parable. Let me try out another. Suppose we identify with the judge instead of the woman. And suppose we imagine that the woman in this story is an indigenous woman–an American Indian. And she and her ancestors have been coming to the judge for 400 years, banging on the courthouse door, asking for her land back. For more than 200 years she and her ancestors have been asking us to honor the almost 400 treaties the US has with Indian peoples. The settler-colonizers have always said: “We own the land. We are the Chosen People.This is our Promised Land. Indians can live on it, but we own it.” That is what the Doctrine of Discovery is about.


As the judge, now it seems we have heard the woman at the door. We recognize the need for a new conversation.

William Faulkner famously said, “History isn’t dead; It isn’t even history, yet.” Our history lives in us, and we live in history. The parable does not tell us what happened to the judge or to the woman after he changed his heart. I think that is part of the parable too. We do not know the future, all we can do is ask what discipleship asks of us today. If we are willing to live with the question, perhaps that’s enough.

Rev. David Hansen


Friday, December 9, 2022

Now is the time...

 There were some sights and sounds that will always stick with me. They enter my consciousness whenever I hear government officials talk about nuclear weapons and their possible use.


The sight was standing in the chapel at Ellsworth Air Force Base and looking up toward the ceiling. There was a sign that would begin to flash to warn of an incoming threat, likely a nuclear armed missile from a Russian submarine off the west coast of the U.S. It meant all those airmen sitting in chapel at worship had about twenty minutes to get in their nuclear armed bombers and get them off the ground for retaliation before the base was decimated.



 The sound was listening to the Commander of the Ellsworth Missile Wing. At that time, Ellsworth was surrounded by 150 minuteman missiles, each with a one megaton warhead. Someone in our tour group of peace people asked the Commander what he would do if it were clear an incoming Soviet missile was headed for the base. I can still hear him shouting, “I will be standing right here and all our missiles will go.” My God! That’s 150 megatons of nuclear explosives, while Hiroshima was only about 15 kilotons (15,000 tons of TNT in explosive power). Try 1,000,000 tons of TNT with those Ellsworth missiles, times 150. I’m sure the Commander knew he would be a shadow in an instant should only a small tactical nuke hit the base. A barrage would create a firestorm all the way to Brookings and beyond.

It’s been estimated by scientists at Los Alamos since shortly after World War II, that it would only take in the neighborhood of 10 to 100 of the types of nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, to destroy the entire planet. That’s an amazing statistic seeing that one estimate is the U.S. in 2021 had 3,750 nuclear weapons; 4,178 with the U.K. and France. It’s estimated Russia has more, perhaps as many as 6,000.

It’s also no wonder that much of the rest of the world is alarmed by these statistics. Many countries have signed the United Nations treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal. The text of the treaty, that went into effect after being signed by fifty nations on January 22, 2021, reads:“Nuclear weapons are, as of now, unlawful to possess, develop, deploy, test, use, or threaten to use.”

The U.S. has enabled several countries to “deploy” nuclear weapons: Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Since the Ukraine invasion, Poland wants to be included, although the U.N. treaty outlaws the transfer  of nuclear weapons and forbids signatories from allowing any nuclear explosive device to be stationed, installed or deployed in their territory.

The Pentagon calls all these European deployments “defensive” theatre nuclear weapons. They only have 11.3 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. If the U.S. was ready to face Armageddon because of the threat of Russian missiles in Cuba back in the Kennedy era, we must recognize Russians might feel a bit nervous about all those nukes we’ve placed in their neighborhood.

Of course, no nuclear weapons state has signed on to the U.N. Treaty and already since its passage Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons and the U.S. has come close in response. The President recently declared: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. We’ve got a guy I know fairly well. He’s not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons.”

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned that the globe sat at “dooms’ doorstep.” The Doomsday Clock is at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has been to “doomsday” since the creation of the clock in 1947.

The military budget request for 2023 is $813.3 billion. $50.9 billion in the bill is earmarked for nuclear weapons. In 2021, the total budget for the State Department and USAid was 58.5 billion. Obviously, talking, listening, negotiating, working out our differences and aiding those who suffer, is less critical to our “security” than updating our nuclear weapons systems. As Wendell Berry writes, “We should recognize that while we have extravagantly  subsidized the means for war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness.” What if we put our money where our mouth is, when we talk peace?

MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) has been our nuclear weapons policy now for most of my lifetime. Some would claim it has kept us from armageddon. Clearly, MAD has not deterred hot wars in places like Vietnam and Ukraine. MAD has not deterred authoritarian rulers, at home and abroad, from sending a clear message nuclear weapons are acceptable and usable in their ‘defense;” even first use. For myself, MAD has not deterred anything. For me, it is only the grace of a loving God that has saved us from destroying ourselves.

Pope Francis, speaking as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West he was not bluffing about possibly using nuclear weapons, said on Wednesday that thinking of such an act was "madness". “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral.” 

Worse, preparing for and threatening nuclear war is a crime against the spirit of creation and the creator. It’s an invitation to hell on earth; opening the door to the devil incarnate. Nuclear weapons have been declared immoral and illegal. Now is the time to eliminate them!

Carl Kline

Friday, December 2, 2022

A Dangerous Little Book Part 2 "A Prophet, a Rock and a Car"

This is the second of my two part blog on the prophet Habakkuk. We learned last time that he lived in a time of grave danger. The Babylonians would soon descend upon Jerusalem and utterly destroy the city. In the face of this threatening violence, Habakkuk asks the Lord, “How long will you make me look upon this violence? How long must I cry out and you will not hear?”

As the scene unfolds, Habakkuk declares, “I am going to stand my watch. I am going to climb the ramparts, take my place on the watchtower, and see what God is going to say to me.” What will the Lord say about this tidal wave of violence that is going to fall upon us? 

 God tells the prophet: I am going to give you a message, a vision. Write the vision and make it plain. For the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it. It will surely come. The one whose soul is not right will surely fall, but the righteous shall live by faith. Later, in another time of conflict, Martin Luther picks up this phrase during the Protestant Reformation: the righteous shall live by faith.

Going back to God’s message to Habakkuk, the Lord says: The treacherous, the arrogant, shall not abide.Their greed is as wide as Sheol, the home of the dead, like death they never have enough.They are never satisfied.” Then there follows a series of judgments.
Woe to those who plunder many nations, for the remnants of the people shall plunder you for the blood of men and the violence to the earth.
Woe to you who get evil gain for your house, for the stones will cry out from the walls, and the beam from the woodwork will respond.
Woe to you who build a town with blood.
Woe to you who make your neighbor drink the cup of your wrath. Your own violence will overwhelm you. But the righteous shall live by faith.


The righteous shall live by faith- the assurance of things unseen. Rabbi Heschel says that “living is what we do with God’s time.” Knowing this,Habakkuk goes up on the ramparts and makes his stand, takes his watch. Violence will not have the last word. He will not surrender to the cynics.He will not join the fatalists or the nihilists.  The vision is not a lie.
Today we need people like Habakkuk because violent winds are blowing strong. We see the rising tide of violence most dramatically in the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. After the attack Speaker Pelosi read Ehud Manor’s poem, “I Have No Other Land.” It reads in part, “I have no other country. Although my land is burning . . ., here is my home. I will not be silent. . .  I will not give up on her. I shall remind her and sing into her ears, until she opens her eyes.”

During election week people went to the polls in record numbers in spite of threats violence. Theywere standing on the watchtower. More than 700 people trained in methods of nonviolence were at polling places in10 key states to protect the rights of votes. When institutions of democracy are under attack, those of us who believe in democracy must counter people who have no faith in these institutions with our own deep faith in democracy.


 Reinhold Niebuhr wrote “Our capacity for justice makes democracy possible, our inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”  He also said that “love is a matter of justice.” Abuse and neglect negate love, care and affirmation are the foundation of love. Love and justice have to walk together. Write the vision Habakkuk. Make it plain. It is not a lie.

Dr. King famously  told us that the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice. In that same sermon he warned that justice does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. We have to want it and we have to work for it.

I just finished a book called The Sum of Us (One Word, 2021).  The author speaks with the voice of the prophets. Her name is Heather McGhee. She lays her hands on a basic contradiction in our soul. It is a contradiction that threatens our well-being. She says there is a part of us that believes the magnificent words enshrined in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted . . . deriving their just powers from the governed.” That is an article of faith for us. That is in our creed. 

At the same time, McGhee says, we harbor the notion that in reality we live in a zero-sum world.In a zero-sum world there can only be winners and losers. More for some of us means less for the rest of us.  These are our two realities–we are created equal, and we live in a zero-sum world.

This is how these two belief systems work and don’t work for us. We recently saw the play, “We Own This Now,” is a play about the doctrine of discovery–the quasi-religious doctrine that says since White people discovered this land, it is our Promised Land and we are a Chosen People who by right of discovery now own it. We are the winners, Indians are the losers. But now we have to ask ourselves, “What does it mean for us to live on stolen land?” How do we reconcile this history with our faith? 

Interestingly, the authors of the play chose to use a car as a symbol for the United States. Both a man and a woman had legitimate claims to the car.The play did not try to solve the problem, only to present it. Using the car as a metaphor, the issue is distilled as being about private property and ownership and rights. But before the play began, we learned about a sacred rock that had been stolen from the Kanza people more than one hundred years ago, and is now being returned to them. We did not talk about the return of the rock in terms of winners and losers. We talked about the rock in terms of restorative justice. It is worth asking why we define economic issues in terms of winners and losers, and cultural issues in terms of restorative justice. Is this the best we can do?
Let me turn back to the book The Sum of Us. Toward the conclusion of the book , McGhee tells the story of what happened on a cloudy June day in the Oregon State Senate that should be a lesson for all of us today, even though it happened in 2019. As she retells the event, the leader of the Senate, a Democrat, was prepared to bring up a bill to combat climate change. Though there was a Democratic majority, they did not have enough members to constitute a quorum. On that day in June, 2019, the Republicans refused to show up. Without a quorum the Speaker could not call for a vote. He asked the Governor to send out sheriffs to find the missing lawmakers and bring them in for the vote.

 A Republican state senator told the governor, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed.. .  I am not going to be a political prisoner in the State of Oregon.” Paramilitary militia groups chimed in that they would storm the Capitol building (p.196). It was a preview of events to come.

That’s zero-sum thinking, the politics of winners and losers. It sounds surreal., “Can this really be happening?” How long, O Lord, will you make me witness this violence?” The Lord answers, “Write the vision, make it plain.” The culture of death begets death. The graves are never satisfied. The stones in the walls cry out, and the beams in the woodwork answer.” The righteous shall live by faith. Write the vision Habakkuk and make it plain. It does not lie.

Now it falls to us to write the vision. Write the vision that we live in solidarity with each other, across lines of color and class and gender and sexual orientation. In this vision we will all experience a new birth of freedom. We will know that when love and justice walk together, when we honor one another as people loved by God, the earth and all the people will rejoice. Write the vision. Make it plain. It is not a lie. 

Rev. David Hansen