Friday, March 17, 2023

"Learning To Walk In The Dark"

 “Learning to Walk in the Dark” is the latest book by Barbara Brown Taylor to come my way. I had read “An Altar in the World” earlier and found it wonderfully refreshing. Just the image of an altar in the woods or meadows, even on the beach or a mountain top, seemed so appropriate in a time when some seem to believe Christianity is best known behind closed doors; often closed to specific kinds of people; and in the meantime we cut down the forests, pollute the oceans, and continue to trash God’s good Creation.
We were talking about Taylor’s book “Holy Envy” at the Brookings Interfaith Council meeting the other evening. What is it we like about other faith traditions? It was a helpful conversation that allowed me to look closely at the gifts other traditions have given me, especially the practice of meditation I’ve adopted (or more likely, adapted) from Zen Buddhism. For me, it has been a practice of “listening” prayer, where one keeps the mouth shut and ears open.

As I was leaving the meeting I was handed another Taylor book that I just finished. This one is titled “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” Darkness has bad press! People are afraid of the dark; it’s when bad things happen. Darkness is the home of sin. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the darkness makes us soul-less.

Taylor deliberately explores the dark, including going caving, (not without considerable fright and trepidation), where she experiences total darkness. She spends an evening watching the darkness approach as the sun begins to set; observing the sunlight as it leaves and the darkness descends. She is more attentive to the seasons of the moon and the kind of light it gives to the earth. She ponders how we are so attached to artificial light, whether night lights along the floor, a lit clock or watch face, a light switch within a few steps all over the home. Oh, and don’t forget security lights that automatically come on with the slightest movement outside.

Reading this book reminded me of my camping experiences, especially in New Hampshire. For a few years I spent my summers working for the American Youth Foundation at one of their camps in the White Mountains. The campers lived in what looked like covered wagons, spread throughout the woods. Since most of the campers came from more developed environments, it was important they became comfortable with the darkness of their environment, especially as the woods closed out even the shimmer of the moon. I don’t think it was on my job description, but I became the person who took campers on night hikes. 

The first rule was, “no flashlights!” We would start our walk in the meadow where we could see, and gradually follow the trail into the darkest part of the woods, all the way in the darkness for what seemed like half a mile, to the openness of the beach on Dan Hole Pond. Along the way we would stop and listen for sounds. The frog hopping in the leaves sounded like a raccoon, or even a bear to some. One camper would travel some distance away from the group and light a match, so we would see how one small light illuminated a whole area of the forest. The feel of the feet on the path became more important than the eyes for telling the trail. By the time we returned to the meadow campers had a better developed sense of comfort in the darkness. Besides, they could always use a flashlight in an emergency to help them find their way to the outhouse in the middle of the night.

The camp was also the place where I chose to retreat for a few days one winter. I stayed in the director’s cabin; no heat except the fireplace; no running water, so I got it with a bucket from the lake; no electricity for lighting; no clock or watch. I rose with the dawn and retired with the dark.

One evening I read until late and the fire died. When I awoke, thoroughly rested, it was still dark outside. I made a fire, put the coffee pot in, and started reading. After one chapter, two, three; it didn’t appear that it had gotten any lighter outside. I went out to look. I could still see stars out over the lake and there was no light in the East. Curious, I went back inside to read some more. It was still dark as I read the last chapter. It was then that I wrote a poem titled, “What if the Sun Didn’t Rise?”

The sun; it’s our source of light and life, isn’t it? Even the moon reflects it. Hanging in our dining room window, we have a glass star given to us by our daughter. There are several facets that make up the points of the star. As it hangs in the window in the early morning sun, as it swings around from the energy of the heat radiating up from below, it casts these wonderful moving bubbles of light all over the dining room walls and everything in it. Some of that light goes into the darkest corners of the room. It’s mesmerizing!   

I know people like that! They can throw light in the darkest corners of our world. They can take us on night hikes through the forests of our lives and help us feel the path and learn to love the dark as much as the light. I think maybe they can do this because they have gone caving. They learned to enter total darkness and experienced a new kind of light that comes from the inside out, not the other way around.

As Taylor says, “It takes practice to keep stepping into la noche oscura, to keep seizing the night as well as the day. My hope is that when the last big step comes, both my legs and my heart will know the way.”

Carl Kline

Friday, March 10, 2023


This past Saturday had warmed up enough, that it seemed a good day to do some roof-raking. The snow was deep enough on the west roof, with more sliding down from the upper story, that I was afraid of ice dams and leaking into the ceiling.

Our roof rake comes in three pieces. When they are all connected, it’s about twenty feet long. Of course, the rake end is heavier than the other end, so one has to learn to hold and balance it in the appropriate place when walking to the work site. You also have to be careful you don’t accidentally hit the car in the driveway (or anything else), with the end that trails.

As soon as I left the shoveled path to the alley, I discovered the snow was higher than my boots, but there was another foot or so crusted over that would bear my weight. Unfortunately, that only lasted for a few steps, when I broke through the crust. It was a minor struggle to get to the west roof with my twenty foot rake and snow to my knees.

All went well till I moved to the west front porch roof. Sliding snow from above and a ferocious wind had packed snow, and now ice, high in the corner. My office window was completely covered. I began raking. But the packed snow was high and solid and I had to literally throw the rake into the drifts to bring it down. On one of those throws, I lost my balance and found myself laying sideways in a snowbank.

It was embarrassing, trying to get up with nothing solid to support my efforts, except the snow rake; and the rake was hanging on the edge of the roof with the other end stuck in the snow some distance away. When I finally managed to right myself, I quickly checked the neighborhood to see if anyone had seen me fall.


Laying sideways in the snowbank made me think of younger days. We used to play fox and goose. We would make a large circle in the snow, stomping down a trail. The circle would be cut with other paths and a safe spot in the center. Only one goose could be in the safe spot at a time, as the geese were chased around the trails by the fox. If you were caught, you became the fox. The best games happened when the snow was deep. Turning a corner at top speed people would slip and fall in the snow, off the trail. Sometimes, we might have to make a new trail as more and more geese found themselves lying sideways in the snow.

If I were a student at SDSU, I would organize a fox and goose hunt on the campus green. What a wonderful expanse for an enormous and intricate trail, big enough to hold fifty to a hundred; with several foxes identified by a red scarf or SDSU cap.

Or how about a football game? Our family used to play touch football in the snow. Once we played another family in the street in front of the house, while roads were closed. On another occasion, we played them in the parking lot across the street. There was also a football game on the snow covered ice at Oakwood Lake.

Have the Bobcats been having a friendly game of football in the snow?

I’m afraid in a culture so driven by productivity and busyness, snow is seen simply as an annoyance; a problem to be countered and cleared as quickly as possible. Thanks to my fall in roof raking, I was forced to remember other ways of connecting with snow; like snow angels; snow forts and snowball fights; snowmen and women.

Once a friend and I decided to climb in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in early spring. We weren’t aware how much snow there would be at higher elevations, and we weren’t prepared when we broke through snow crust up to our hips on the trail. It was difficult and frightening enough that we considered turning back. But we gradually learned how to get one leg out without plunging the other in as well, and before long, the deep snow subsided. We reached the summit to the most awesome sight we had ever seen. We were above the clouds. Only mountain peaks were visible in the distance. It was like standing on the roof of heaven; a spectacular gift after a snowy challenge.

On another trip in the White Mountains, I spent several hours sitting in a tree looking out at a snowy meadow, with the woods beyond. Birds came and went near my nest. I watched the sun reflected off the snow as it moved across the heavens. I watched the rabbits and deer making tracks in the snow. I watched in silence, a snowy field on a sunny afternoon; a most memorable experience.

There will likely be more snow before we see the spring. May we play as well as plough!

Carl Kline

Friday, March 3, 2023

And The Grief Goes On...


Some weeks are more challenging than others.  A brief phone call from the local funeral director brought the request for a funeral service in the coming week to attend to the sudden death of a 55 year old woman who left behind two 20-something daughters, an aging mom, two sisters and a beloved grandson.

A visit with the family and a few questions about the suddenness of the death of this all too young woman revealed a death by suicide precipitated by a long treatment for cancer complicated by bi-polarity.   I felt as though I had been delivered a blow to my solar plexus.  The ensuing conversation was subdued.  The family did not wish to share the hard truth and would allow people to believe that the cancer had done its work.

I thought I had managed the visit well but came home to so many questions about how to effectively care for this family.  The weight of it all settled in my body.  After a restless night, waking around 3:30 AM with no further hope of sleep, I indulged in my version of prayer which often consists of simply asking the question “What’s going on here?” and waiting silently for some  inner sensing of a response.   

Bingo!  My own sister died in an automobile accident at 55, leaving behind 3 daughters - all in their 20s - a bereft husband - traumatized sisters and brothers and an aging father who said “Why her and not me?”  The parallels were uncanny and helped me see immediately that 23 year old pockets of unresolved grief still hide out in my body.  It doesn’t take much to see the triggering link. The body doesn’t lie.

A guest preacher, Rev. Bill Turpie, was in the pulpit on Sunday.  He introduced us to the  Greek word splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid-zom-ahee).  It derives from a related word, splanxna, “from the inward parts, especially the nobler entrails - the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.”

Splagchnizomai is gut felt compassion.  It moves the human being into action in expressions of lovingkindness.

There are a lot of benefits to being a “hybrid” spiritually.  Having the truths and metaphors of  Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism readily available sometimes makes it easier to work through issues that challenge my spirit.  Models and metaphors of compassion run throughout all three traditions.


When Moses encountered the Divine Directive in the Burning Bush, he heard “I have marked well the suffering of my people in Egypt…I have heeded their outcry…I am mindful of their sufferings” … the markings of splagchnizomai.

Jesus appeared, post resurrection, to his disciples and witnessed their fear and confusion - - offered them peace and the promise: “Lo, I am with you always.”  Splagchnizomai - - compassionate witnessing - - compassionate Presence.


Avalokiteshvara  or Kuan Yin, the boddhisatva of compassion is conceived as having a thousand hands, a thousand eyes, and with her/his head facing in 4 directions simultaneously, witnessing and hearing and responding to the cries of the world.

The world is drowning in a sea of profound grief.  In no way have we recovered or healed from the loss of millions of human lives to Covid 19.  In no way have we processed the loss of so many thousands of lives in the Turkey/Syria earthquake.  In no way are we keeping abreast of the loss of so many lives to gun violence.  In no way have we even begun to process the grief inherent in the loss of the integrity of this planet to climate change.  And the list goes on and on.  Humankind is engulfed in grief and it only takes one personal experience of loss to plunge any individual into the deep waters.

Splagchnizomai - - compassionate witnessing - - compassionate Presence - - compassonate action; the word sits there like a challenge. The call to compassion reverberates through the great spiritual traditions.  It is a daunting call.  Just for today, I take comfort and courage and direction from the words of Rabbi Rami Shapiro:

We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us 
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us 
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
 even when we are too embittered to hear.
 We are loved by an unending love.
We are supported by hands that uplift us
 even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us 
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,

Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;

Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love. 

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, February 24, 2023



We don’t go to the movies much anymore. The last one we saw was, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” That movie was well worth the time and cost, even without popcorn. But increasingly, the only ones I seem to be attracted to are so called “children’s’ films; you know, the animated kind.  Nevertheless, we decided to go see “A Man Called Otto,” playing now at a local theatre. We had read the book it was based on, “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, a long time ago, and were curious what the filmmakers would do to the novel.

Tom Hanks plays the main character and he presents us with probably the grumpiest old man you will find on film or in real life. He put me to shame, and I can be grumpy. The story line eventually lets us know why he’s the way he is and the healing dimensions of relationships with caring people. I came away believing you never know who we might help heal with a kind word or a loving deed, or who might heal us. Although the movie can cause a lot of teary eyes, you can’t miss the best medicine for grumpiness and grief.

My body can make me grumpy! I mentioned to a 96 year old friend that she gets out of a chair better than I, her several years junior. She shrugged my compliment off, saying how often she works out every week. That’s enough to make a person even grumpier. The body is not working right, so you have to work and sweat to make it function better; a double whammy!

I have in front of me a book from 1977 with mobility exercises for the “older” person. (We decided a few weeks ago with friends, that for us, from now on an “older” person was anyone over 100). The book is called “Be Alive as Long as You Live.”  There are pictures of lots of exercises; even those you could do in bed; and those to prepare you to be ambulatory after lengthy bedrest. If I can begin to discipline myself to do some of them, it may help my disposition and screeching joints.

But an aging body is not what makes Otto grumpy. I would probably name his problem unresolved grief. That’s all I’m going to say about Otto or the movie, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. But I do want to say a bit more about unresolved grief.

There are a good many things in Lakota culture that are worth investigating and even integrating into mainstream society, should there be Lakota permission and oversight. One is their treatment of, and reverence for, the deceased. I once had a Lakota woman say to me with frustration, “I wish you white folks would take better care of your dead,” after a sleepless night where her family struggled with an unsettled spirit of a white man.  And then there is the Lakota “Wiping of the Tears” ceremony. I was able to observe one once on the Rosebud Reservation in the context of a Wacipi.


The idea is that when a loved one dies, you have the permission of the tribe to withdraw from normal social life for a year to remember and grieve the loved one. When that period of time is concluded, you are welcomed back into the larger society with ceremony. In the one I witnessed, the leader of the ceremony symbolically wiped the eyes of the one who grieved, which was followed by a long line of community members who shook hands with the person, welcoming them back into normal social life. There is no sense of “get over it and get back to business.” Grief work can take time; and it can be “work.”
Just ask a friend of mine who does grief work counseling. How long does it take a person to “get over” an automobile accident that takes the life of a thirteen year old daughter? What is the process for coping with and accepting the suicide of a parent or spouse? Where do you go and what do you do when the four year old shoots his six year old brother with your gun? How many tears should be shed when losing a loved one to fentanyl? How should you best remember your mother who died of cancer, after long months in your care? How do you rectify a broken relationship when the other person is dead?

Grief can be just as painful, or more, than the aging joints of the body, and there is no healthy over-the-counter medication; though people will try to use the drug and liquor stores to blanket their grief. Grief needs both attention and intention. Just as I won’t reduce joint pain by ignoring it, neither will we reduce the pain of grief without attending to it. And with attention can come a new intention to change; to live life more fully; to incorporate the love for the lost into our love for life.  

See the movie, even without popcorn!

Carl Kline

Friday, February 17, 2023

Crossing the Boundary of Otherness

 I never really got to know my father-in-law.  He was killed 60 years ago this January 25th just passed.  We had only been married for a little over a year and a half so I remember only a few things about him - - the way he fanned the charcoal in the grill to get it to just the right heat for grilling shish-kabob;  his soft way of speaking; the way he bounced our 6 month old son on his lap on the morning he died;  the homely wisdom he gave  my husband when we told him we intended to marry: “If you want to see what the calf is like, look at the cow.” 

After reading the story of Yitro/Jethro and Moses (Exodus 18:1-27) I found myself wishing I had had more time with him as a father-in-law.  Partly because I realized so long after the fact, that my father-in-law was a bit of a boundary crosser. My father in law welcomed me without hesitation into the Armenian embrace of the family.  I guess his ability to live with a permeable boundary rubbed off on my husband as well because I was the first non-Armenian in the family - - our marriage was witnessed by a long list of wedding guests with  unpronounceable names. We managed to cross the boundary of “otherness.”

Moses, a powerful figure in the hierarchy of Egypt, flees for his life when he realizes that his killing of an Egyptian slave driver in defense of an Israelite slave has been witnessed.  He runs to the land of Midian, and encounters the clan of Yitro.  Yitro is a priest of Midian, a non-Israelite.  He is the father of Zipporah, a Midianite woman who subsequently marries Moses. The story does not admit of any bias or prejudice against Moses, a foreigner in the Midianite camp. 

Following the narrative of the Israelite/Amalekite war,  Yitro fulfills a role as father-in-law, by bringing his daughter and son-in-law and their children safely back together as a family.  His role as father-in-law of Moses is mentioned 12 times in this part of the text!  That tells me that there was something very significant about his role in relationship with Moses.

In the earlier parts of the narrrative, there is also almost no acknowledgement of Moses’ father except in Exodus 2:1:  “A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman…” At least in this part of the text Moses’ father is nameless and not referred to again.  While he is the father-in-law, Yitro fulfills the role of a wise father for Moses.

Central to this part of the narrative is Yitro’s observation of how Moses is handling his responsibilities as leader of the Israelites.  Moses sits as judge and prophet and teacher, arbitrating the issues the people bring to him.  He works alone.

Yitro asks:“What is this thing you are doing to the people?  Why do you alone sit while all the people stand about you from morning until evening.”  Subsequently, Yitro suggests another way of structuring Moses’ responsibilities so that the burden of judgement is shared: “Now listen to me,  “I will give you counsel: and God be with you! In a wonderfully wise father-in-law way he tells Moses that what he is doing is not sustainable.  Moses cannot indefinitely fulfill  this triad of roles without burning out - and maybe burning out the people as well.  

Yitro says to Moses “What you are doing is not right .  In his wisdom, he doesn’t tell Moses he is wrong - - - just that he is not right.  He could be much more effective.   Yitro proceeds to offer Moses a possible structure of leading that will spread out the burden, and suggests a kind of model for judicial organizational structure that Moses then implements.   

I wondered if Yitro was a bit prescient.  The Utterances on Sinai are not given until the next part of the narrative- but those words would eventuate in all kinds of questions and judgements about how to fulfill them.   Practically speaking, no one person could begin to be the interpreter and arbiter of all the questions and issues that would eventually ensue.  Yitro’s appearance on the scene is so timely.   

Yitro and Moses were  boundary crossers.  Each was willing to encounter the “other” in his own way.

Moses was “the other” when he ran to Midian as a fugitive.  He literally crossed a cultural boundary. Yitro, a Midianite priest, welcomed him - - to the point of  welcoming him into the clan as his son-in-law.  In the process, some kind of transformation happened to Yitro - - when he hears the history that Moses told him about all the HaShem had done - Yitro says “Baruch HaShem!”  and acknowledges Israel’s God as greater than all the gods.  Yitro makes a burnt sacrifice and shares in the ritual with Aaron and the elders.  Yitro is a non-Israelite, recognizing the religious customs of another culture, blessing the name of the Israelite God, honoring Israelite religious practice.

Yitro’s willingness to be open to “the other,”  the Israelites, perhaps opened the way for Moses to be open to the “otherness” of  Yitro - - so that a certain kind of wisdom could be shared and received.   In being open to the “otherness” of Yitro, Moses also experiences a transformation, becoming a more effective leader, as he receives the wisdom of Yitro and goes about setting up the organizational model that Yitro has advised.

Yitro tells Moses, “Make it easier for  yourself by letting some others share the burden with you.  If you do this, and so God commands you” you and the people won’t be so tired. And the text says “Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he said.”

As Rabbi Sarah Basin writes: “A pagan priest saved our community from implosion and gave us a blueprint for how to function.  In that moment, Moses could have rejected Yitro’s advice.  After all, what does an outsider know about our community that gives him the right to weigh in?  But Moses teaches us that an encounter with “the Other” can be an asset for our evolution, not an obstacle to our survival.  His encounter with the Other made Moses a better leader.”

Rabbi Adam Spilker adds a couple more insights: While Moses learned something from Yitro about management, Yitro on the other hand “rejoiced over all the kindness the eternal  had shown Israel when delivering them from the Egyptians.”  Moses shared his story of HaShem’s goodness and Yitro’s heart opened to HaShem’s teachings.  The learning went both ways.

From Emmanuel Levinas, the Jewish French philosopher: “The Other faces me and puts me in question and obliges me. The face is what forbids us to kill.”

So the story seems to me to be a challenge to allow for crossing boundaries - whether religious, cultural, or political - - to meet the Other - - to Face the Other - - and see if some learning can go both ways.  I wonder what it would be like - - sitting for conversation over a cup of tea with an “other” like Marjorie Taylor Green...?

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, February 10, 2023

To tell the truth...

 I’m not sure if clergy still use them. Mine weighs a ton. I inherited it from my father and his name is still imprinted on the cover. It has been a handy resource over the course of my ministry, especially before the days of google; back when you had to look things up in books.

This resource I’m describing is called a Concordance. Mine is published by Nelsons and is “complete.” In other words, if you turn alphabetically to the word “truth,” you will find a list of all the places the word truth is found in the Revised Standard Version of the English speaking Bible. The total listings in my Concordance comes to 146, beginning with Genesis 42:16 and concluding with 3 John 1:12. Of course there are also listings for Truthful, Truthfully, Truthfulness, and Truths. (Google says there are 167 passages where the word truth is found.)

If “the truth will set you free,” as is often quoted, a good place to begin understanding what the truth really is, might be those 146 (or 167) passages in Scripture. And if you really want to understand Truth with a capitol T, it might be well to check out its opposite. There are even more references to “lie” and “lies” in the Scriptures. Reading them will make the distinction between truth and lies even clearer, as we humans seem to have a tendency to minimize the difference.

Unfortunately, Scripture has been used and abused by charlatans, who interpret it to justify their own purposes, have sullied its inherent wisdom, and turned off potential seekers. But just as the internet has replaced books for many, people may look elsewhere for their understanding of truth and lies, if not to Scripture. 

One understanding that has been helpful to me has been Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha. It has been translated into English as the “force of truth,” our concept of nonviolence. But the word Satya has deeper implications than this simple rendering. The origins are in the ancient Sanskrit language, probably the second oldest language on the globe. “Sat” is the word for “Being” with a capitol B, and “Satya” becomes “Truth,” with a capitol T. One comes away from this understanding thinking perhaps there is such a thing as “God’s Truth.” And that force is more powerful than all the weapons of the nations, if only we grasp it and use it.

Revealed in Scriptures, understood in different cultures as something to aspire to, complete Truth may be humanly impossible to realize; my truth or your truth will never be God’s Truth; but we’re meant to strive for it, rather than succumb to lies.

Usually when we think of lying, it’s a rather stark denial of reality. It’s the child telling his mother he didn’t take a cookie, while the chocolate smears are on his face and hands. It’s a George Santos event! It’s the “Big Steal” lie told again and again by an ex-President.

But we can be more subtle about truth and lies as well. There is such a thing as a half truth. The one that comes to mind from my childhood is offered by my sister. My parents were away, leaving childcare in the hands of my grandmother. My sister was older, more daring and stronger than I. She got upset with me, knocked me onto the coffee table and broke the glass top. When my parents came home and wanted to know what happened, she told them I did it. Well, yes! It was my body that broke the glass, but how did I get there? 

Then there is the tendency to neglect the whole truth, to forget things. It’s hilarious how we are finding classified government documents all over creation. First it was Trump, then it was Biden, and now it is Pence. Who is checking on Obama, Bush and Carter? What about Cheney? Shouldn’t we be checking on cabinet officials? And think of all those folks called before the House Committee investigating January 6, who couldn’t remember things, or took the fifth! At least they resisted lying outright!

The other difficulty we face in our culture, besides political lies and half truths, is a constant barrage of advertising. I like 7Up! But I will never forget the ad they used years ago that said, “7Up Is Love.” It didn’t say 7Up Is “like” Love. It claimed the drink for the real thing! Or I think of the fossil fuel companies, knowing for years their activities were warming and threatening the climate, but denying it publicly in their advertising.

Leviticus 19:11 reads “You shall not lie to one another.” John 8:32 reads, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And from Gandhi, “Only Truth quenches untruth, Love quenches anger, self-suffering quenches violence. This eternal rule is a rule not for saints only, but for all.”

Carl Kline

Friday, February 3, 2023

"Thought, Speech, Action!"

 A friend from a 2017 Institute on alternatives to violence we both attended, contacted me awhile  ago and said she would like to talk sometime. We decided on a day and hour that would work for both of us. Our conversation became intense within the first few minutes as she described enormous suffering in her family over the last three years, along with a dogged determination to carry on and move forward. She mentioned how some of her friends called her "bulldog."
She was also feeling pain because her commitment to nonviolence was being betrayed by some friends in the streets of Chicago, demonstrating for social change and excusing some of destruction and violence. Although she attributed some of the violence to instigators, she understood the anger some probably felt who were trashing businesses and setting fires. Still, for her, it was inexcusable and counterproductive behavior. She believed that if her friends were thinking any kind of violence was OK, and told her so, it simply opened them up to being a participant in violence.
 The conversation made me recall the concept of "ahimsa." This is a sanskrit word important to Mahatma Gandhi and his followers. Ahimsa means respect and reverence for all living beings and avoiding violence to any. An especially meaningful corollary is that you avoid violence in thought, word and deed. There is a very thin thread that connects the three. If you are thinking violence, if you verbalize it, there is only one small step to doing violence.

When I was in campus ministry at SDSU, I received an invitation to teach a psychology class on the subject of suicide. I don't remember much about my presentation but remember vividly the survey I took. There must have been close to a hundred students in the class. I asked how many of them would approach a parent or extended family member if they were thinking about committing suicide. One or two raised their hands. Then there was the same question for teachers, for clergy and for respected elders. Once again, one or two hands. Would they talk with a friend? The whole room exploded with hands in the air.

This experience made me lament the disconnect these students felt with their families and their elders. But it also emphasized the importance for them, and me, of understanding ahimsa. If a person is thinking of suicide, it is only a small step to verbalizing it. If they verbalize to you, you need to act, because committing suicide is only one small thread of life away.

This understanding in ahimsa is one of the things that troubles me deeply about our gun crazy society. So you have a gun for "protection." You let others know that if you have to, you will use your gun to protect your property, your family, your male privilege. (Research shows a gun in the home makes it hundreds of times more dangerous for a woman in a domestic violence situation.) So maybe in the dark of the night, you shoot and kill a lost drunkard trying to get in your back door. Or you shoot your wife who has made you angry for the last time. Or maybe you are a police officer and you put seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake.
Or, maybe you are a Kyle Rittenhouse; bullied in school; a police cadet in training; practicing your marksmanship in the back yard; and then, finding a fitting use for your practice, killing two protestors at the age of seventeen as you "aid the police" in Kenosha. If you have a history where you need to get back at someone for the damage you suffered at the hands of others, the thoughts may be repressed and the spoken word unformed, but the action can still spill out. Thought, speech, action!!

It's hard to imagine anyone purchasing a gun though who hasn't "thought" they would use it. Sometimes they will "say" they intend to use it, perhaps on a deer or a pheasant or maybe on a person. A former President has verbalized how he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."

If that isn't disturbing enough about that President, look at what transpired when he accepted the nomination of his party for "four more years." He encouraged the crowd to chant "twelve more years" instead, saying that would drive people crazy; and the crowd chanted, "twelve more years"!

Maybe his supporters were thinking how good twelve more years would be. We know the President was! He had mentioned before how he should remain in office indefinitely, Now others were saying it. We should be forewarned by ahimsa there is a thin thread between thinking, saying and doing.

 Anticipating the 60th  anniversary of the March on Washington in a couple of months, I appreciate the "bulldog" in my friend and so many others. They think, speak and act nonviolent social change. They articulate a way of ahimsa even in the midst of a culture that seems to have a love affair with violence. My friend has her eyes on the prize. With bulldog determination for our constitutional democracy and the promise of liberty and justice for all, that can make all the difference.
Carl Kline

Friday, January 27, 2023

Of Priests and Prophets


 It has been a quiet week on the island.  No unanticipated, bewildered migrant guests, no repeat of the bizarre bank robbery of a few weeks ago.  No terrible storms in spite of dire forecasts.  Just the mostly gray, soft, damp, chilly weather typical of January as we hunker down for the "dead of winter."  I've been enjoying the off season luxury of running errands without encountering summer irritability and traffic jams (although somehow the lines at the Post Office never seem to move any faster).  

All of this is to say that for a moment, time seems to have slowed down a bit and there are hours here and there for uninterrupted contemplation.  Also an off season luxury.     

I've been reflecting on Fr. Richard Rohr's (Center for Action and Contemplation) daily offerings, this year focused on the roles of priest and prophet in religious tradition.  He makes a pointed comment about the nature of evil:

The only way evil can succeed is to disguise itself as good. And one of the best disguises for evil is religion. Just pretend to love God, go to church every Sunday, recite the creed, and say all the right things. Someone can be racist, be against the poor, hate immigrants, and be totally concerned about making money and being a materialist, but still go to church each Sunday and be “justified” in the eyes of religion.

I recall, as a young teenager, being invited by a friend to attend a banquet event at which the keynote speaker was a popular evangelist at the time.  He was a powerful preacher and the culmination of the evening was an altar call - a highly emotionally charged invitation to come forward and confess "Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."   I recall feeling pretty intimidated by all the emotional drama and decided to "sit this one out."  As my table mates, mostly middle aged, well be-jeweled, fur wearing  women returned from the altar  "saved,"  I overheard several critiques about what other women were wearing, about whether other people were sincere or not and so on.

The memory has stayed with me along with the lingering impression that the centrality of personal salvation was not a lasting thing.  I guess my skepticism about personal religion and salvation was seeded at that time as I watched and listened to a powerful preacher with whom everyone agreed and whom no one questioned. The money poured in to the velvet lined baskets that were passed among the banqueters following an impassioned urging to support the ministry of the evangelist.

Looking back, any reference to ministry with the poor was noticeably lacking. There was not a single person of color in the banquet room. Social justice was not on the menu.  Still, the preacher was a nationally popular figure. His impassioned sermons about the need to "come to Jesus," to confess whatever moral degradation people carried  and to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior drew large numbers to the altar at his events which, of course, resulted in well filled velvet lined offering baskets.

Fr. Rohr: Jesus is not too interested in moral purity because he knows that any preoccupation with repressing the shadow does not lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience, but invariably into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. Isn’t that rather evident? Immature religion creates a high degree of cognitively rigid people or very hateful and attacking people—and often both. It is almost the public image of Christianity today, yet God’s goal is exactly the opposite.

I wish I had had the benefit of Fr. Rohr's thought and wisdom as a teenager.  It might have saved a lot of the spiritual wandering and puzzling I went through as a young adult, trying to discover for myself an authentic, life sustaining religious awareness.  But his wisdom is available now.  And it helps in the process of trying to bring some sense of order to the chaos that runs through our politics these days.  There is a disturbing disconnect between a kind of "christian" preoccupation with control of women's bodies, with seeing that migrants seeking asylum are punished rather than welcomed, with insistence on the safety provided by gun ownership, with the negation of the precious lives of so many human beings because they do not conform to a male or female notion of gender identity - -  a disturbing disconnect from the ancient teachings that call for welcoming the stranger, offering compassion instead of judgement - a tradition that over and over again invites humankind to "Fear not..."

So - - a question from those early and impressionable tenage years surfaces again: If it is true that  "Jesus saves" - - How does he do it???

I was struck by a recent reading of Matthew 4:12-23 - the scenario where Jesus calls his first disciples.  He didn't ask about whether they were worthy or not or if they had been "saved." He just needed help as he set out on his brief ministry - and the first thing he did was lead them into the lives of others with compassion, healing bodies and spirits, attending to the needs of the poor - - holding out a prophetic vision of a better way of doing human life. In the process, as those who followed him entered into his way of doing things, they were, indeed, transformed - - "saved" if  you will.  

As "priest" Jesus promised that he was not there to abolish the religious tradition that shaped him, but rather that he had come to fulfill the ancient law.  This required him to also fulfill the role of "prophet."

Fr. Rohr reminds us that prophets aren’t nearly as popular as priests. Priests keep repeating the party line, so there’s no reason to fight them. But prophets do both: they put together the best of the conservative with the best of the liberal, to use contemporary language. They honor the tradition, and they also say what’s phony about the tradition. That’s what fully spiritually mature people can do.

Still at the beginning of a relatively new year, I find myself attuning my ears to the voice of the prophet abroad, wondering where the voice will surface.  It is out there - sometimes in tiny rural churches, often in local synagogues and large metropolitan churches, whispering clearly in the silence of a sangha at meditation.  At its best, the prophetic voice finds its amplification in our own voices as we find grounding and order in our religious traditions while at the same time critiquing their shadowy sides - exposing them to the light - moving closer to that vision that unites a diverse humankind in the prophetic vision where we will not hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain.

 Vicky Hanjian


Friday, January 20, 2023

Dreams Without Borders

Confession is good for the soul.  I stole the title for this reflection from the Dreamers. DACA, Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, is a federal program protecting certain people from the threat of deportation. Later Congress passed the Citizenship Act, which allowed DACA Dreams to apply for citizenship. But in its  peculiare wisdom, Congress labeled the Dreamers “aliens.” Many of us wondered what happened to the nation that once proudly held aloft a light to tell the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your hunger, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” What happened to that dream? Today’s Dreamers are dreaming of a place to belong, to be accepted, a place beyond borders. So I have been thinking about the Dreamers.

Howard Thurman was a mystic, a leader in the civil rights movement, author, preacher, and an apostle of nonviolence.  He was pastor of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, in San Francisco. A congregation that is “a church dedicated to personal empowerment and social transformation through an ever deepening relationship with the Spirit of God in All Life.” Isn’t that a wonderful statement? It was the first intentionally interfaith and interracial congregation in the United States. Imagine that.

Dr. Thurman wrote a number of books, the best known being Jesus and the Disinherited. He also wrote a book called Deep is the Hunger, a collection of meditations on spirituals.  A third is a book of sermons called The Growing Edge. A line from the title sermon is “Look well to the growing edge.” As I recall now, in this sermon he challenges us to think about the edges, the borders, our experiences of finitude, not simply as limitations, but rather to consider these experiences and conditions as the growing edges. Look well to the growing edges. We often find ourselves in the sand traps of life, thinking “if only . . . “ Thurman says: instead of cursing the darkness, instead of thinking about what you don’t have or wish you did have, look to the growing edge.

Thinking about Howard Thurman’s idea of the growing edge, I'm also thinking about the recent elections, and Representative Raphael Warnock’s quote that was seen so often on the internet. He said, “A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in.” His quote continues, “Our prayers are stronger when we pray together. Make a plan to vote today.” And many of us did vote our prayers. We voted dreaming about the world not simply as it is, but dreaming about the world as it might be, as it could be and can be. Dreaming that another world is possible. The voting is done, but the praying has to go on.

I think that Jesus' teaching in Matthew 25 invite us to Dream about the kind of world we want. We often think of the familiar words as encouragement for pastoral ministry: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and those who are in prison. These are individual acts of kindness and mercy. But they are also a prayer. These words embody a vision of a world in which everyone’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and safety are met and no one is left out, left behind, forgotten, or deemed unworthy because we are, each of us, made worthy by the love of God. God’s love creates worth. This is the good news.


Today there are eight billion of us passengers on this spaceship earth, trying to figure out how to live together. Matthew 25 is life’s little instruction book on how to live together. A description of an antithetical way of being is found in the Gospel of Luke, 12:13-21. Here Jesus tells the story of the man who needed to build bigger barns. Mr. Bigger Barns was preoccupied with the accumulation of what the comedian George Carlin affectionately called “stuff.” He never had enough “stuff.” Jesus says, what good does it do to gain the whole world and lose your soul? (Mark 8:36-37).

The good news is, we don’t have to live like fools. There is another way. The truth is that societies and individuals become what we value. What Matthew 25 teaches is that the true measure of any society is the well-being of the community. The text itself gives us markers: eliminate hunger, homelessness, poverty. Dr. King said: the great evils of our time are the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” He warned that these giants are incapable of being conquered without a revolution in values. With a revolution in values, he believed, we can remove the conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice. “Now, “ he said, “now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter–but beautiful–struggle for a new world.” This is our calling.

Rev. David Hansen

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Running With The Horses

 The chaos in the House of Representatives has both alarmed and amused me (in a weird way) over the last few weeks.  Perhaps the old cliche “the inmates are in charge of the asylum” fits rather well.  “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” comes to mind. Perhaps it is the strange and unsettling unreality of it all - - childish adult human beings playing with fire when it comes to the stable functioning of government - - all in the service of the desire for power. Once again I entertain the question “Where are the adults in the room?”   

Watching the machinations of the candidate for Speaker of the House has been nothing short of painful.  Fr. Richard Rohr drew my attention to Jeremiah 12:5 this morning.  While the new Speaker is no prophet and could not stand in the same room with Jeremiah, the words sound like a challenge to anyone who would become the leader of such an unruly and chaotic body as the House appears to be.

Rohr notes that Jeremiah was in a difficult situation “worn down by the opposition and absorbed in self-pity, he was about to capitulate to … a premature death…ready to abandon his unique calling in God and settle for being a Jerusalem statistic.” 

Then the Voice of the Holy challenged him: “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)   Jeremiah listened and heard and responded.  

Regrettably, the new Speaker does not hear or listen to the challenge to live courageously in the face of  the manipulative chaos that surrounds him.

Fr. Rohr introduces me to Biochemist Erwin Chargaff [1905–2022] who updates the questions: “What do you want to achieve? Greater riches? Cheaper chicken? A happier life, a longer life? Is it power over your neighbors that you are after? Are you only running away from your death? Or are you seeking greater wisdom, deeper piety?” [1]

My hunch is that our politicians probably don’t keep company with Jeremiah or if they brush up against him they back away pretty quickly. The pursuit of power in politics is so often a running away from a certain kind of death. It does not appear to be a search for deeper wisdom and piety.

So it is left to us to listen and hear what happens in Jeremiah's relationship with The Holy.  

Rev. Eugene Peterson imagines the conversation between God and prophet: 

Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? .… Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny. Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah, do you want to shuffle along with this crowd, or run with the horses?

I confess to a deep and weary fatigue with the “crowd of apathetic mediocrities.”  The choice to live quietly, perhaps cautiously, is so seductive.  The call and the challenge to “pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence” is exhausting at times in the face of the relentlessness of the opposition.  But Jeremiah hovers in the wings.

Eugene Peterson continues: It is unlikely, I think, that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question. The ecstatic ideals for a new life had been splattered with the world’s cynicism. The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him. He weighed the options. He counted the cost. He tossed and turned in hesitation. The response when it came was not verbal but biographical. His life became his answer, “I’ll run with the horses.”[2]

So, on a gray and cold rainy day in early January, there’s the challenge - do I mentally and emotionally and intellectually crawl under a warm and wooly afghan with a good book - - or “tack up” and get on the horse?

Vicky Hanjian

 [1] Erwin Chargaff, Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life before Nature (New York: Rockefeller University Press, 1978), 122.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 16, 17–19.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Boldness In A Broken World

The theme of Psalm 84 is “”Boldness in a Broken World.” How do we experience the presence of God, the holy, the mystery, whatever word you want to use, the central question is: How do we experience the presence of God in this fractured, broken, world? And, how do we respond to this presence? 

I saw two stories in the news just this morning that brought this into sharp relief for me. One story was about a woman who is running for a national office. She wants to be a member of Congress. According to the story she is running as a “Christian nationalist.” That was the banner that I saw on the screen. This candidate said: “The government should not tell the church what to do; the church should tell the government what to do.” 

That is Christian nationalism. It is what I would call a top down image of God. God is the ruler, God has anointed or appointed certain people to rule in God’s name, and as a matter of faithful obedience to God, those chosen ones have a mandate to impose their beliefs and ethics on others. The church should run the government. That’s the platform that this candidate for the United States Congress is running on. Let’s call this form of government a theocracy–a political state run by the church. 

Contrast that with another image in the news this morning. It was the story of women in Iran who are today protesting in the streets against a theocracy. They are cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in defiance of the law and at the risk of their lives and arrest.

Think of these two stories in a theological context. What is the understanding of God? What is the meaning of faith? One is a “top down” theology and the other is a “bottom up” theology. Top down theology imposes itself on others by decree. Bottom up theology comes from the life of the people and the community. In our broken, fractured, world, where do we experience God, the holy? How is God manifested in the presence of struggle? 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a member of the Confessing Church–a Christian movement that resisted Nazi Germany and the German Evangelical Church. The German Evangelical Church, was a nationalist church formed in 1933 that supported the Nazi regime. The Confessing Church said that as a matter of faith it had to oppose the Nazi government and its policies.  The conflict between the Evangelical Church and the Confessing Church was a conflict between two types of faith–a top down theocracy and a bottom up theology.

Recently Public Television has been showing Ken Burn’s documentary on the Holocaust–the persecution of the Jews. On Gay Pride weekend we remember that the first groups targeted by the Nazi’s were the handicapped and the homosexuals. Jews had to wear the Star of David. Homosexuals had to wear the Pink Triangle as a badge of shame and identification.  Now, the Pink Triangle has become a symbol of resistance. 

There is a Pink Triangle Park in the Castro District in San Francisco, commemorating the thousands of  homosexuals, trangender and bisexual victims of Hitler’s regime. The organizers of the park said that it is “a physical reminder of how the persecution of any individual or single group of people damages all humanity.”  It is not the only memorial. There is the Matthew Shepard Human Rights triangle in West Hollywood.  The Pulse Memorial and Museum in Orlando, Florida, is scheduled to open this year.  There are several parks and memorials in New York, and a mural in Portland, Oregon called, “Never Look Away.” There are other memorials in other countries around the world.

I think of this tradition of "boldness in a fractured world" when I read these words from Leslie’s translation of Psalm 84: “Lord, look with loving mercy upon those who have yielded their destinies to you.” We take the actions we do not to impose our will or sense of morality on others, but to affirm the dignity of everyone. That’s the meaning of a “bottom up” theology.

I cannot separate the violence and lack of civility we see in our society and close at home. I am thinking of recent events in one of our high schools. I do not know the details so I am not commenting on the specifics but on the level of violence in our fractured world, I cannot separate this violence from the politics of our government and specifically the doctrine of perpetual war, which one recent administration called a “doctrine of preemptive war.”  We are in a difficult situation. I think the psalmist is asking us to begin with our understanding of the holy. Where do we place our trust? 


Common sense tells us that the first rule of ethics is not to harm, and the second rule is the right of self-defense. In a fractured world, in the fog of war, understandably self-defense moves to the center of the argument. The fog of war makes it  not only possible but necessary to adopt  life-affirming and life-negating values at the same time. Howard Thurman describes our predicament in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited. He says that our life-affirming ethic draws us toward one community, and becomes compensation for our life-negating attitude toward another community. In this way, hatred comes to serve a creative purpose. 

On the surface it is too difficult to love our enemy. It seems like a betrayal of our own moral code and of our community. Writing about racial segregation in the US, Thurman reminds us that White Christians convinced themselves that Black people preferred segregation, and so, for centures and even to this day,  removed themselves from the struggle for civil righs. The same pattern of thinking applies elsewhere. It is safer to assume that “they,” whoever “they” are, prefer the status quo, than it is to enter the arena of struggle. Thurman acknowledges that there is a moral social hazard in deciding to actually love our neighbor. It can be dangerous to believe that we actually share a common humanity with our enemy and act like we mean it. Once we acknowledge our common humanity, we can begin to address our common problems. 

Rev. David Hansen