Friday, September 29, 2023

The first to be banned...

 There is no doubt or disagreement that parents should be involved in the education of their children. In fact, most teachers I know, are more disappointed with those parents who are never available for a student-teacher conference, than with those who are present and engage difficult issues.

Problems arise though, as parents with a special agenda organize, to promote a certain point of view for “public,” not private, schools. We try hard to function as a democracy in this country, so Moms for Liberty are part of the “public” when we speak about the “public” school. They deserve to be heard. But they also need to listen, as those responsible for the education of our young deserve a platform to engage the conversation too.

In a democracy, if there is no satisfactory resolution, the ballot box is always available. Even the culture wars can be conducted with common sense and nonviolence. (Although one hates to see the education of the young become a political and partisan football.)

There is one segment of this part of the culture wars I would like to address, and believe it has an underlying truth that impacts all the others. A fundamental concern for me is the idea of banning books. I found a passionate letter to the editor by a former Brookings teacher riveting and accurate with a historical reminder. “Book banners have never ended up on the right side of history.”

But if books are going to be banned, then I am convinced that the first one on the list has to be the Bible. I’m willing to wager book banners have children who are given a Bible by their church after graduating from sixth grade Sunday School, or at the end of Confirmation class, or for some other reason, and they are proud parents that their child has their own Bible. Little do they know what is in it.

The violence in the Scriptures is horrendous. You not only have several tribes wiping out another, but you have a God wiping out the whole of life on earth, except for a few. One wonders if a child reading those stories today wonders what God is thinking as he waits on the roof for help from a flood or watches TV while apartment houses explode in Ukraine.

How does a child respond to the idea of rulers killing new born children, totally and indiscriminately, to protect their own place of power, with only one child escaping in the two different stories of Moses and Jesus. Should our children have to read about the slaughtering of children in the Bible when they have to worry about it going to school every day?
Or isn’t it gruesome to hang people on a cross? Is that what happens to good people right along with criminals, if you fall foul with the rulers? And nails! Shouldn’t there be blood dripping from the hands and feet in all the paintings; lots of it?

What about the sex? You don’t hear much about bestiality these days, even in some of the raunchiest things written. My guess is most younger folks don’t even know what it is, so reading the prohibitions in Leviticus they may need to ask mom or dad how that happens. Or would you like a story about incest? You can find it. Or homosexuality? Check out the relationship between David and Jonathan! Read it carefully with an open mind!

Or what about rape and sexual abuse in the Bible! There’s lots of it. What about the story of David and Bathsheba, where lust leads to the death of a husband, so David can take the wife to add to his harem. How about the Levites concubine, raped all night by many and dead in the morning. Not to mention her dismemberment.

As a pastor I want every child to have a Bible. But I also want them to have an attentive and caring parent, a thoughtful and knowledgeable church school teacher, and some grandparents who have lived long enough to know the reason why difficult reading can also be sacred and life changing reading. 

Today, if parents are truly concerned about influences potentially detrimental to their children, it isn’t about books; it’s about cyberspace! It’s hard to get my college students to read a book. They are constantly scrolling. And guess what’s out there? You don’t even want to know!

In the end, children need caring parents, teachers and mentors, who can help them interpret what they read, see or hear, that they might have a healthy and life giving context for whatever comes their way.

Carl Kline

Friday, September 8, 2023

 I’m calling this “the summer that wasn’t.”  It began in mid-July with severe back pain which I attributed to muscle spasms (correctly, it turns out).  Three subsequent visits to the hospital emergency department followed by three days as an in-patient determined that the spasms were the presenting symptom of a "closed wedge compression fracture" in one of my thoracic vertebrae - - subsequently accompanied by an amazingly painful bursitis in my left hip.  

It seems that the medical tool box is somewhat limited.  I went through a succession of  pain remedies that reads like drug encyclopedia - Dilaudid, valium, morphine, oxycodone, Gabapentin and three different muscle relaxants (none of which helped the spasms) - - accompanied by drugs to offset the side effects of all the above - anti - nausea drugs (that made me vomit -go figure!) to combat the effects of the muscle relaxants; laxatives to combat the constipation from the opioids.

In a matter of two weeks I consumed more drugs than I have taken over a lifetime.  None of them particularly effective.  Feeling toxic, at some point I decided  “enough is enough” - and proceeded to “de-tox.”  I substituted acupuncture, massage and physical therapy.  Only now, approaching mid-September, is my body feeling like my own again.  

Throughout it all, I kept affirming to myself  “There is meaning in this.”   Only gradually is it becoming clear.

Late in the process, I began reading Pema Chodron’s book, “How We Live Is How We Die,”  each page a gently forceful reminder of the impermanence of all things.  Each page an invitation to  focused awareness on the continued transitoriness of life.

Her thoughtful writing is providing me a positive frame for this strange interlude in my otherwise exceptionally healthy life.  Nothing is permanent. Change and transition are the most dependable reality in life.  The body I inhabit now is not the same body that entered this painful health crisis nearly 2 months ago.  I have been moving through a transition.

Now that pain and the accompanying remedies are no longer fogging my mind so much, I can broaden my perspective a bit.  The first Republican debate of the election year has happened.  Indictments have been handed down.  Many folks have been booked on a variety of charges. Trial dates have been set.  Legal arguments about trial venues are being argued.  No matter how we try we cannot escape the “trump effect” on the news cycle. 

In the broader world, climate activists are hard at work all over the world in their attempts to raise a resistant human consciousness.  Groups like Rabbis For Human Rights continue their work in behalf of  social justice for all human beings in Israel.  Reproductive rights groups  are at work on the ground in behalf of women’s rights to their own bodies.  The increments of progress seem infinitesimal at times given the enormity of the issues - and yet, what we see now as intransigent problems are not solid rock.  All of life is in continual transition. Indeed, if I read Pema Chodron correctly, life IS transition.

Learning to live with the fluidity of constant change, of moment to moment transitions, of using the breath to become aware of how irresistible this transitoriness is - that is the challenge for me these days. 

So - a little illumination comes out of the “summer that wasn’t.”   A summer of relative isolation and almost mind numbing boredom at times - a summer of almost static stillness - a summer of “angelic visitations” in the form of dear friends, of compassionate doctors and nurses, dietary aides and, especially, the kind gentle man who emptied the waste basket in my hospital room, assuring me with thumbs up in mostly Brazilian: “It will be OK!” - -  a summer of wise and devoted care from family - - All of us in transition from one way of being into another - - all in relationship with one another.   Maybe a vision for this world we inhabit together?

With a little more patience, it might actually be exciting!!

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, September 1, 2023

And the Dream Goes On


Sixty years ago on August 27, some 250,000 people gathered on the mall in Washington, D.C. for the March for Jobs and Freedom. When you read the testimony of those who attended, all these years later, they share an experience of human connection across race and class that was extraordinary. It was as if, looking toward the Lincoln Memorial, the civil war was finally ended at heart, and we were one nation again, indivisible.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech that day. It wasn’t simply “his” dream. It was an American dream! It was a dream present in our founding documents (“all men are created equal”). That March and gathering was the energy that soon produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (recently gutted by the Trump Supreme Court).

The gutting action of the Supreme Court illustrates the problem with racial harmony. It seems we constantly take two steps forward and one step back. Or is it one step forward and two steps back? As I write this we have just learned of another racial hate crime, this one in Jacksonville, Florida. The shooter “hated Black people.” Stopped by security guards at the historically Black, Edwards Waters University, he moved on to the Dollar General store where he killed three Black people before taking his own life. He was in his twenties with an assault rifle covered in swastikas.

In another instance of returning to older days, led by a former President claiming election fraud in every American city with large numbers of people of color, we now have states gerrymandering and restricting voters of color at every possible turn. How will that create a more “perfect union?”

A smaller group gathered in Washington over the weekend to remember the original March of 1963. There was more gender equality on the podium. There was general recognition of the continuing challenges. There was a plea for change, especially in the younger voice of 15 year old Yolanda King.
"If I could speak to my grandfather today, I would say I’m sorry we still have to be here to rededicate ourselves to finishing your work and ultimately realizing your dream. Today, racism is still with us. Poverty is still with us. And now, gun violence has come for places of worship, our schools and our shopping centers."

So much unfinished business!

In August of 1974, the CIA issued a report on climate change. The first page of the report informs us that climate change began in 1960, some 60+ years ago. The report warned of: “a new era of weird weather, leading to political unrest and mass migration (which, in turn, would cause more unrest).” There were other warnings from the scientific community and as the years passed, the evidence grew stronger as droughts and floods and fires and weird weather like derechos, became more numerous; and the number of refugees from climate catastrophes increased. And here we are in 2023 with Presidential candidates unable or unwilling to address climate change as they stage a first debate.

When asked by the moderators about climate change, Governor DeSantis was the first to speak up, essentially avoiding the question and giving all the rest of the candidates an opportunity to avoid it as well. Only Vivek Ramaswamy addressed it clearly, calling climate change a “hoax” (like our former President). He ventured to say more people had been harmed from climate change policy than from climate change. I wanted him to stand in front of grieving fire families on the island of Maui, or the starving survivors of draught in Sudan, and justify his claim. The whole earth is experiencing record heat, Vivek! Wake up!

The good news is that young people won their climate court case in Montana. They had argued the state failed to protect their right to a clean environment by continuing their use of fossil fuels. In 2021, the fossil fuel industry supported more than 28,000 jobs in Montana, with oil and gas production taxes of $121 million paid to the state. Legislators did their best, trying to exempt the climate problems of fossil fuel extraction from litigation, without success.

I find that court case hopeful, especially the courage and tenacity of the young people who brought it. Like Yolanda King, they are exhibiting the vision of dreamers, as so many of their aged elders have gone to sleep, believing nightmares are all there is. May the dreamers help set us back on the road to our ideals of harmony, equality and a livable earth.

Carl Kline

Friday, August 25, 2023

Working Alternatives


As I write this, I’m looking at a box pulled from the cubby hole under our eaves marked PBI (Peace Brigades International). It is full of paper from my time working with this international peacemaking effort. We must have used up a forest, as I was only one of many digesting all the paperwork: minutes of meetings, proposals for future work, reports from projects, budgets and newsletters. The box is packed with all of it. Eventually, of course, the paper was replaced by internet folders and files.
It was my experiences in India that led me naturally to PBI. Gandhi had experimented with the Shanti Sena in India, a “peace army”. When there was conflict and violence in the country, the Shanti Sena volunteers would appear as a nonviolent, non-partisan presence. They would make themselves known to the major players on both sides of the conflict and place their bodies between those who might do violence.

It seemed to me the Shanti Sena idea had international potential. Unknown to me at the time, others felt the same way and were beginning to take steps toward development and implementation. One of those original founders I knew personally from my time in India, Narayan Desai, son of Gandhis’ personal secretary. I met another founder on a campus ministry trip to California, when he encouraged me to join a preparatory gathering coming up in Canada. The founding meeting was held at Grindstone Island in 1981. I was unable to attend because of work responsibilities but was encouraged and excited by the outcome and initial organizing.

When they began looking for a person to begin organizing PBI in the U.S. in 1986, I applied. A second candidate also applied. We were both invited to meet with others to evaluate the need and determine who might be the best candidate to direct this new venture. It was a new hiring process for me, not competing with each other, but all of us together determining the best fit. We mutually decided I would be retained part time as a Field Associate.

This began a several year commitment to the support and development of this international peace making effort. After my initial short-term work as a Field Associate, I served on the Directorate for PBI-USA for several years. Toward the end of my active relationship with the U.S. country group, I served as a U.S. representative to the International Assembly; having watched PBI grow from a few founders to a vital, engaged, international organization, with active projects in several countries.

When invited by Human Rights organizations in a country, PBI would evaluate whether they were able to be an asset in that country, and if the answer was yes, they would send volunteers to “accompany” human rights workers and their family members. Governments were informed, in person, of the PBI presence. This way, those who might do violence were aware the world was watching, through the eyes of those international volunteers. In the meantime, should those present need support, an emergency response network was available to send messages to appropriate authorities at a moments notice from many PBI country groups.

In all of the work PBI has done, in projects all over the globe, they have not lost a volunteer to violence and they have protected human rights defenders who surely would have lost their lives without these international volunteers. PBI has become a model for pro-active peacemaking and violence prevention on an international scale.

My attendance at the General Assembly in Switzerland was an experience in conflict resolution. Representatives were present from every PBI country group and all of the Projects active at the time. We were being asked to make decisions about the future of PBI that impacted all of those disparate parts in different ways. It was obvious from the first day, there were some dramatic differences of opinion about the way forward. Positions were passionately held. It occurred to me it might be a long and torturous gathering. But since the organization had always held consensus as a hallmark of the PBI decision making process, all present had consensus experience. 

The most passionate persons with differing opinions volunteered for a working group, and with the help of experienced facilitators (peace-makers and proficient in 3 languages), helped the group come to consensus on recommendations by the final day of the meeting, with unanimous support for their work from the gathering. I thought, “if only, if only internationals in conflict would try this, instead of quickly reaching for weapons and violence.”

PBI was soon followed by the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Using some of the ideas and personnel developed by PBI, the Peaceforce soon became another international organization, more truly “international” than PBI, but still mostly ignored by governments and media. But like PBI, the NP began doing exceptional peace-making work behind the scenes. Eventually, not satisfied with being ignored, the NP has pursued a relationship with the United Nations and now has a representative there.

Each and every day, volunteers in these organizations are saving the lives of many threatened by violence all over the globe. They are training those threatened in “civilian protection,” accompanying the threatened, demonstrating an alternative to violence, and challenging governments and decision makers by their very presence to seek nonviolent paths to peace.

PBI and the Nonviolent Peaceforce are making a difference, showing the world an alternative. If only we gave them a token of the support we give the war makers! We must continue to implement their peace making processes on a larger and larger scale. There is no rational or ethical justification to continue wasting human and earthly treasure on the altar of war when we ignore nonviolent alternatives!

Carl Kline

Friday, July 21, 2023

What Makes Us Great!

Perhaps you have seen some of the yard signs around Brookings that say: “Diversity Is What Makes Brookings Great.” A joint project of the Brookings Interfaith Council and the Brookings Human Rights Commission, the signs promote a point of view too often lost in the culture wars of our time.

We often forget in the heat of our arguments, that diversity is at the heart of our democracy. Without different parties with different opinions, convictions and proposals; in competition and ultimately negotiation, you have autocracy, not democracy. Today we teeter on the edge of a governing chasm, as some seem to prefer civil war to what they perceive as illegitimate governance. Autocracy seems alright with them, as long as it is their autocrat.

More fundamentally, we need to remember that diversity is the trademark of our existence. Diversity of life forms is crucial for life on this planet. Exit bats, enter more mosquitos. Exit trees, enter more carbon. Environmental balance is essential, and if we humans continue to tip the scales from one side to the other, the likelihood grows we will throw ourselves into an unpredictable future. 

It is high time we celebrated diversity as a country! According to a Pew Research Center study in 2014, the U.S. ranked 68th out of 232 countries and territories in religious diversity. Some religious scholars, who are more closely watching inter-religious development in this country, believe we are quickly moving up the ladder, with rungs missing here and there, as former President Trump tried to de-Muslim the country and limited immigration of anyone but white Europeans. We can and do learn so much from each other; from different religions, races, ethnicities and cultures! 

 Residents in South Dakota have a population right next door that can help us all expand our knowledge and worldview. It seems we are gradually hearing and learning more from our Lakota/Dakota/Nakota peoples. Yet there is so much more we could share and integrate. An example is in the realm of religion and the spiritual life. The decision to Sun Dance is normally a four year process; one year dancing for each direction. This is a physically, mentally, spiritually, life challenging commitment. I’m not sure I can think of anything quite like it in Christianity. What could Christians learn from this ritual of self sacrifice, so reminiscent in more modest ways of the sacrifice of their Savior. 

Since its origins, The Interfaith Council in Brookings has brought together people of many faiths and none: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’i, Buddhists, Native American Spirituality, Atheists, and Agnostics. All are welcome and participate in a process of exploring similarities and differences, recognizing the beauty and fullness in diversity.

Personally, as one who has taught World Religions, it is a treat to be able to call on friends who have been practicing a tradition all of their lives to share it with my class, rather than sharing my limited book knowledge. Diversity helps make a class great! Just ask my students!

More critical perhaps in our time, as the former President speaks about “civil war” at campaign talks in the southern U.S., and as the “white replacement theory” seems a mantra of conservative news and social media; more essential than ever is the importance and celebration of our racial diversity. 
I will be forever grateful for my African American mentor, Rev. Robert Polk, who helped a young South Dakota kid adapt to New York City and its racial and cultural diversity. I will always be indebted to my friends in India and the U.S., who have guided me through a bewildering and often overwhelming country and culture on numerous occasions. Then there are Mexican friends who have made that country feel like a second home to me, so much so I want this to be a second home for them.

Canada makes the top twenty when it comes to racially diverse countries in the world. We do a little bit better in the U.S. than Russia. Our racial make-up has changed some few percentage points in the last fifteen years. Let it be known that in the midst of a resurgence of intolerance in this country, I wish my voice to be loud and unequivocal.  Diversity is what makes Brookings, and the U.S., great!

Carl Kline

Friday, July 7, 2023

For a Happier 4th...

Last Sunday there were four of us - brand new deacons in charge of greeting and welcoming folks as they entered the sanctuary,  receiving the offering at the appropriate time, and serving communion as the liturgy of worship unfolded, overseeing the fellowship hour following worship.  Newbies!  While we had all repeatedly been on the receiving end of all of these services, none of us had performed any of these functions before.  It was one of the predictable oddities of a holiday weekend -a lot of the “regulars” with congregational “memory” were away.

We realized very quickly how we needed to function as a team as everyone arrived an hour before worship to get organized.  We had all received the same orientation and each of us remembered at least a significant part of it.

We scrambled to locate all that was needed for serving communion -the bread, the chalice and paten, the myriad individual chalices, the linens, the grape juice and the all important “gizmo” for filling each of the tiny communion cups.   Outdoor tables needed to be set up for the traditional “Lemonade on the Lawn”  outdoor fellowship time post service.  Lemonade needed to be mixed - - all in the service of extending an extravagant and welcoming hospitality to a diverse group of incoming worshippers.

Grape juice was spilled - - and graciously cleaned up.  Bread was cubed to precisely 3/4 inch portions.  Communion cups were filled.  Linens were arranged on the communion table.  Chalice and paten were made ready for presentation with the morning offering.

None of us knew everything.  Together we managed to know enough and everything went so smoothly that no one in the congregation knew they were in the hands of novices.   It was an interesting and thought provoking source of reflection on a weekend dedicated to celebrating our Independence.

I found these (edited) thoughts on the CoIntelligence Institute home page:

While independence is a very difficult and important developmental stage -- a dramatic step up from dependence, as anyone who has teens and two-year-olds will tell you -- it is not the ultimate goal of maturity.

As we mature, life encourages us to bring the healthy individuality (which we developed through our independence) into relationships and networks which involve a lot of healthy interdependence. People use words like mutuality, community and synergy to describe this good kind of interdependence.
 Nature is a great  model for  interdependence. While rabbits are staving off foxly hunger, the foxes are keeping the rabbits from overgrazing their bioregion so that their species can continue to thrive. It all fits, one way or another, in dense webs of interdependence.

Interdependence is social too. As technology, cheap oil, and population growth bring us all to each other's doorsteps, and as the globalization of economic, political and ecological factors (and occasional disasters) have woven our destinies ever-more-tightly together, more people are waking up to the fact that we are interdependent whether we like it or not.

When Chernobyl melted down on April 16, 1986, and New York's Twin Towers crashed a thunderous hole in our security on September 11, 2001, we got glimpses of the dark side of our interdependence. And every day, from our front-row mass media seats, we watch global warming, terrorism, COVID and the deaths of oceans and war-torn children unfold.
It seems that the world is trying to tell us something. Perhaps it hopes that demonstrating our INTRINSIC interdependence will stimulate us to CONSCIOUSLY CO-CREATE POSITIVE FORMS OF INTERDEPENDENCE -- mutuality, community, synergy and co-intelligence.


As I have been reading and reflecting, I have also become more acutely aware of how much a healthy interdependence involves a dynamic diversity - whether in nature or in society.
Last Sunday morning our little cohort of “newbies” needed each other.  Each of us carried necessary information for the completion of a multifaceted task that none of us could have accomplished on our own - - mutuality, community, synergy, co-intelligence.  We needed each other in order to create a harmonious beauty.

 Also from CoIntelligence Institute:  Interdependence can look like dialogues where we all learn from each other, weaving our lives, stories and hearts together and discovering new understandings and possibilities we could never have found alone. 

We can experience a near-magical interdependence through good dialogue in our relationships, in our groups and organizations, in our neighborhoods and communities, and in our conversations over great distances and times -- through telecommunications, scholarship, art and imagination -- into the heart of the past, into the heart of the future, into the heart of the Other....
Interdependence can look like democratic feedback systems -- fair and open elections, citizen deliberative councils, public dialogue, governmental checks and balances, freedom of information, association, and speech -- through which public officials and citizens empower, monitor and depend on each other for creating a democracy that works for all.

Interdependence -- if we wake up and live it -- looks like all life working together to enhance all life.

The vision of Interdependence on this Independence Day Weekend seems so much more fitting for the human endeavor.  It seems so realistic that I wonder why current political discourse is so intent on trying to homogenize our lives; to eradicate the richness of deep and varied cultural histories; to turn our collective backs on beauty of gender difference; to remove hard won reproductive rights; to render forgotten the complexity of our history going back to that early Declaration of Independence.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow offers this:

Declaring Interdependence:Renewing the 4th of July

We hold these truths to be self evident: That all human beings are born with equal dignity and worth, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: - to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to the sharing of community; to the rhythm of work and shared rest that frees time for family, neighborhood, citizenly service, and spiritual reflection; to a life sustaining share of  earth's abundance; to peace among all peoples; and to a responsible relationship amidst the whole web of life upon this planet.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, June 30, 2023

An Open Letter to Senators Thune and Rounds:

Dear Senators,

Shame on you! Shame on you and most of your colleagues! When will you and the other old men in Congress and state legislatures across the country, wake up to the cries of the young for a healthy environment; a climate fit for their generation and those that follow?

A trial was concluded last week in Montana. It was brought against the state and its agencies by a group of 16 young people, arguing that Montanas’ enthusiastic support of fossil fuels violates their inalienable right, enshrined in Article II of the state constitution, to a “clean and healthful environment.”

You know it’s not just Montana. It’s a national problem. The challenge is always before us in South Dakota, as pipelines are want to criss cross our state and we have to be diligent to protect our sacred lands from the continuing threat of mining and pollution.

The case in Montana was brought way back in March of 2020. In the more than three years it took to come to trial, the climate in Montana and elsewhere has only gotten worse. At the same time, the Montana legislature busied itself passing legislation to protect their fossil fuel economy and undercut the trial; essentially removing any meaningful environmental restrictions on their coal, oil and gas industries. It took five days for the youth to present their case; only one day for the state, although they paid big bucks for their “expert” witnesses. The major argument of the state seemed to be, it wasn’t “their” problem, but a global one. (Pass the buck!) In the meantime, Montana has the largest recoverable coal reserves in the country and the Bakken Foundation has billions of dollars of untapped oil and gas.

Senators, climate change is a problem you and other government officials increasingly place on the backs of the young. A recent study found that 59 percent of those surveyed younger than 25 understand climate change as a constant worry. 39 percent say it impacts their daily lives. One of the Montana 16 suffers from asthma, made worse by Montana’s increasing wildfires, and more recently, several days of smoke from wildfires in Canada. Others speak of the loss of wilderness, the drying up of rivers, the loss of an indigenous way of life. It’s the young people who have become increasingly frustrated, angry and despondent, as they witness the ravages of climate change, and as decision makers like the two of you continue to support the fossil fuel economy with legislation, subsidies and environmental ignore-ance. You ignore it!!

The Montana 16 were greeted each day on their way to court by other young people, who formed a path for them to walk through as they entered the courthouse. Why are there so few adults cheering them on? Why are the major activists and critics of fossil fuels the young? And when will you decision makers begin to listen?

For instance, Senators: the World Bank has concluded that if governments like the United Sates, redirected the dollars spent propping up fossil fuels, industrial agriculture and commercial fisheries, to green and climate friendly projects, we would be in a significant position to address the climate crisis. “People say that there isn't money for climate but there is—it's just in the wrong places," said Axel van Trotsenburg, senior managing director of the World Bank. "If we could repurpose the trillions of dollars being spent on wasteful subsidies and put these to better, greener uses, we could together address many of the planet's most pressing challenges."

Are you listening Senators? We will certainly continue to need larger and larger sums to recover from fires, flood, hurricanes and tornados; not to mention derechos. We may even put the private insurance business out of business. It’s not available in some parts of the country. Even here, in a relatively stable environment, our  property insurance jumped $800 this year, double the jump of the previous year, which was double the jump of the year before that.

The scientific evidence has been pouring in for years. We need to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere. Greta Thunberg is no longer a teenager., the major youth led organization acting on climate change, was formed in 2007. The Montana 16 are aging. And scientists are warning that 2023 could well be the hottest year ever recorded. We have had record ocean temperatures in May and record air temperatures in June. Governments are not fulfilling their climate treaty obligations.
Of course, some will suffer more than others, as is always the case. Senators sit in air conditioned offices and walk cooled hallways and vote in comfort in legislative halls. They don’t sit in sweltering or smoke filled D.C. parks to greet their constituents or read up on new legislation.

How long, O Lord, how long; must the young pay for their elders sins?

Rev. Carl Kline

Friday, June 23, 2023

Growing Hope

 Folks who know me  know I drive horse drawn sleighs at a guest ranch.  A ride generally starts after an introduction to the horses and then photos of the people on the ride with the horses. This is done by either “Jen, the owner” or the office help. Then the ride is handed over to the driver.  The people are loaded on the sleigh. The big sleighs can hold up to 20 people. We have 2 kinds of rides on the big sleighs, a “coco ride” is any number of mixed groups of people.  We also have a private ride on the big sleighs. This ride is for families or groups that know each other. 

My story begins on this one particular private ride. The guests are an Asian family, 3 generations. I usually start the ride with telling them my name and some dry humor like “the emergency exits are to the left and right. If I happen to lose any of ya, I’ll pick you up on the way back!” ... So this wasn’t going to work. I did ask them where they were from and in very broken English they said “Texas.” 

Now I don’t hear very well and at the same time I’m starting the ride, three 8 dog sleigh rides come in within  100 ft of my ride. That’s 24 Huskies all barking at once. I’m having trouble hearing these folks.  They are excited and talking in their own language. So I start the ride. At this point I have to pay attention to the the traffic. There can be dog sleigh tours and snowmobile tours all taking off at the same time. It’s what we call a “Colorado traffic jam” - dogs, snowmobiles and horses all at the same time. 


Once we get away from all that I’ll get into some local history, talk about the horses, dogs and such. This is not going to work with this crowd as there is constant chatter on the sleigh.  I have to stop to let about 40 snowmobiles go by me and, of course, these folks are taking a million pictures.  
    I’m thinking I have to do something to interact with these people so I ask them what their country of origin is. They tell me “Vietnam.” For some reason this hits a nerve with me.


I continue the ride. At this point I have another 35 minutes with them. None of my usual talk is gonna work for one thing and I’m talking to myself trying to sort out my feelings, all negative, remembering all the ugly news when I was growing up. Walter Cronkite, body counts, protests, Kent State, the MyLai massacre; a neighbor’s brother, Jay Neil, committing suicide; one of our Boy Scout leaders committing suicide after being in Vietnam; neighbor Eddy Miller being a POW; men I worked with, hearing their horror stories; being in a Memorial Day Parade and witnessing as a young adult the clashes between WW2 Vets and Veterans of this ugly war in real life. 

All this confusion in my mind in seconds. Meanwhile these folks behind me on the sleigh are having a great family moment, constant chatter, smiling children and grand parents, attractive young mothers playing with their kids. We always stop at the turn around site and let the folks off to play in the snow and take pictures of the country side and horses. 

At this point I’m feeling great resentment, anger.  I did not stop. I just turned the horses around and headed back. I’m fighting in my head. I’m doing what I love to do. It’s a beautiful crisp blue sky morning. I’m surrounded by young people who love and admire me and yet… my anger is ruining all this.

Now... as the ride goes on and the youngsters are playing and giggling behind me, guilt comes charging into my mind. I say to myself “You fool.”  
What can I do to change all this immediate negativity.  I can’t end this ride in anger.
A quote comes into my mind, “resentment is like taking poison and expecting your enemy to die from it!” 

At this moment one of the women asks if I can stop the sleigh and take family pictures of them. I look at her and she is beautiful. It goes right to my heart and I do stop. They all get ready as I leave the sleigh to get them all, along with the horses, in the pictures. They’re all very gracious and happy. Even the grand mom is awake and smiling. As I move on with the ride I ask if the kids could sing me a song.  With help from their parents they stumble through “Jingle Bells.”  I remind them they are on a  two horse open sleigh.  I had to explain that I wanted to hear a song in Vietnamese.

This ride lasted about thirty minutes, less time than it took for me to grow hope through writing this. WHAT A RIDE!!!!

Gregory R. Clark, guest blogger

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Problem Is The Suffix

 I love my children; but that doesn’t mean I always approved of what they did when they were younger. On the contrary, parental love includes a concern for right behavior and learned morality. In the same way, I love my country; but that doesn’t mean I have to salute at every flag it flies. Rather, I have an obligation as a grateful citizen to question, even object, should the country betray our values.

Webster defines “nationalism” as: “identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” Why, in love of country, is it necessary to “exclude” or be “detrimental” to other countries?

The problem is the suffix “ism.” Just as in socialism or capitalism, when you add the “ism” to the word nation, you divide yourself from the rest of the countries in the world, and “take sides” with your own nation. The same can be said for “individualism.” It doesn’t include! It excludes! It doesn’t invite! It builds a wall! Or look at “racism.” Add “ism” to the word race, and you have schools excluding certain subjects and history. Or how about excluding immigrants based on their race; or promoting a certain “replacement” theory to frighten white folks!

When I read about children placing flags at more than 400,000 headstones, scattered over 624 acres in Arlington National Cemetery this Memorial Day, it makes me sorrowful. Those deaths are the work of nationalism, in our country and elsewhere. We suffered for our nationalism (and racism; remember the “gooks”), with more than 50,000 of our military killed in Vietnam (not to mention the more than 3,000,000 Vietnamese, civilians and soldiers who died). Hitlers nationalism was also allied with racism, and our country laid more than 400,000 military personnel in the ground from that conflict.  

We don’t seem to learn! Nationalism looms large in the war in Ukraine these days. Increasingly, the innocent civilians seem to suffer the most and any unseen or unanticipated event could be the fuse for a nuclear holocaust.

We can love our country and work on its behalf, without being exclusive, taking sides; being a nationalist. We can cooperate with others, for the betterment of all. That would seem to be the Christian way, given the admonition to “love the neighbor.”

It’s why I have an increasing argument with those who are claiming Christian Nationalism. For me, it’s a misnomer. There is no such thing. A Christian cannot be a nationalist! Perhaps an internationalist, although there could be problems of allegiance there as well.

At one time, Christians looked to Jesus as their authority. What he said and did was of utmost importance in determining their own behavior. It was evident that Jesus didn’t allow questions of national or racial identity to cloud his response to anyone. He functioned outside a social and economic system that stratified people on the basis of wealth and power. He renounced the claims of empire and emperors. He couldn’t be recruited into hate clubs or foreign legions. He started a school of self-giving love.

Then, maybe as early as Constantine and the third century, Christianity became the religion of empire. Christians began to look to the national church, now allied with the nation state, as their authority; a body that tied them to wealth and power. Instead of looking to Jesus, being free from the nation and able to call it to its best values, the church chose wealth and power for itself. In the U.S., that problem of national allegiance continues among many to the present day, including most Evangelical Christians, who support Christian Nationalism. They would deliberately install their tradition as the national religion of the United States. In the meantime, they forget about Jesus, his life, sacrifice and teachings!

It seems ironic! Most Christian Nationalists in this country would be critical of Iran, with an authoritarian, Islamic government. They would decry the support of Putins Russia by the Orthodox Bishop of Moscow. They might object to a Hindu Nationalist tendency in India or a Jewish Nationalist government in Israel. For them, to make the U.S. an officially Christian nation would put us in a better position to compete. They don’t see the contradiction! After all, their faith, is the one true faith.


I’m afraid Christian Nationalists have no comprehension of how three of our traditions have a common forefather in Abraham, that makes us extended family, not adversaries. And I’d ask them as residents in a competitive culture and country, to ponder the life of Jesus; who was a security risk in the Empire where he lived; because he refused to bow down to false Gods, like a nation state.

Carl Kline

Friday, June 9, 2023

Welcoming The Final Assessment

 It was one of the most gratifying compliments I have ever received. It was graduation time at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, where I was the Chaplain.  Our graduation speaker was Elizabeth Kubler- Ross. She had just recently written her book, “On Death and Dying.” In our death denying culture, it had become an overnight sensation.  As we were leaving the commencement exercises, she took me aside to thank me for my words at the beginning and the closing of the ceremony. It was a reflection on what I said, not a casual “thank you.” It was obvious, she had actually listened to my remarks!

I’m in the midst of reading a later book of hers, “Death: The Final Stage of Growth.” This book is primarily a collection of other authors. Of special interest to me are several chapters where approaches to death and dying are explored by different religious traditions. For instance, the development of contemporary thought in Hinduism is explored from the time of the Vedas, through the Upanishads, to the Bhagavad Gita, and finally, in Hindu mythology. The author reveals a progressive understanding of death and dying, not a static one. It makes me wonder if this isn’t historically true of other traditions as well.

In another chapter, a Rabbi writes about a Jewish view of death. His contribution is basically a focus on several guidelines for dying. In his analysis, it becomes critically important for the person facing death to be able to put their house in order. They should have the opportunity to bless family members and share with them any messages of importance. Finally, they should have ample opportunity to make their peace with God. There are Jewish guidelines for mourning in this section as well, written by another author.

One can also read Buddhist thought on death, rebirth and liberation. Buddhism recognizes that we are being born and die anew in every moment. We are not the same today as we were yesterday. Some Buddhists believe as soon as you experience bodily death, you are born again in a different body. And it is possible to be liberated from that process of dying and rising, reaching an ultimate state of bliss, with work, knowledge and patience.

 Then there is a chapter on an understanding from an indigenous community in Alaska. This chapter is written by a Christian pastor appreciative of what he sees; people having an understanding of their own approaching death and growing into it. In his story, a matriarch recognizes her impending death, so she calls people together. The pastor helps gather family members, flying them in from different parts of the Arctic, but one was still missing. So the matriarch waited till the missing one could be present and expired shortly thereafter, that same day.           

We have much to learn from indigenous cultures about death as a part of life; how we should be recognizing death at our door and opening the door with love; rather than adding more locks and bolts and bringing out the shotgun. I recall a story of a Lakota woman recognizing her approaching death and singing her “death song;” only to find herself in the hospital hooked up to all manner of machines. She was eventually sent home, heavily medicated and often in severe pain.

One could wish Kubler-Ross had made a greater impact on U.S. culture; still largely death denying. Death is not a welcome subject of conversation; and the denial and fear of death manifests in unconscious ways. Two examples are most evident. We are still the most practiced of any country on the planet in the exploitation of the earth for our comfort and privilege; most of which ends up in enormous and expanding landfills. The way we generate, produce and market things, one would think there is no tomorrow. We are led to believe we can’t live without any of it. Consume while you can, for tomorrow you may die, is the capitalist mantra. 

The second example is our fascination with guns. Apparently, enormous numbers of our countrymen and women are so afraid of their neighbors and threats to their life, that they even harbor weapons of war to “protect” themselves. The overriding and ultimate fear is not the fear of the burglar or murderer, but the fear of death. Hence, the handgun in the desk, or the A-R 15 in the closet.

One of the ways Martin Luther King suggested Christians could overcome evil and the fear of death, was to look internally first, with a daily examination of their own conscience. Is there a personal defect that can be overcome with God’s grace? Are we going into debt morally or spiritually? What virtue might be cultivated to replace any recognized fault? In many ways, this daily opportunity to assess one’s life is also a particularly useful process to make preparation for one’s death. 

King says, don’t just count the money at the end of the day! Count the sins and their solutions; the personal demerits and personal credits; the forgivens and forgivings; the selfishness and the sharings; the life affirming and the death defying. Daily balancing and spiritual intention are excellent preparation, for banishing fear, and welcoming the final assessment!

Carl Kline