Friday, May 26, 2023



The instructions said it would take about an hour to set it up. It took me considerably longer. I’m kind of a perfectionist about such things. I wanted all the corners to be absolutely square and all the screws straight with their tops beneath the surface of the wood.
Now my raised bed garden is standing solid in the back yard, filled with soil and veggies. Anxious for the first year of productivity, I have planted two kinds of lettuce, spinach, pepper and peas. I’m hoping it stands high enough to discourage the squirrels. Since they climb the clothes pole to steal bird food, maybe they will climb my bed leg to steal some peas.

The logo on the side says, “Expert Gardener.” We will see! Maybe this bed will get more “tending” as I don’t have to get on my hands and knees, or bend over very much.

My gardening experience started young. I’m not sure how old I was. I couldn’t have been more than three or four as I remember riding my tricycle fast to show off for my older sister’s friends; and crashing and crying, more embarrassed than hurt. We lived on the Main street of a small New York town. It may have been distorted by the eyes of a child but it seemed like our neighborhood had huge back yards. Our immediate neighbor to the west owned our ball field. Every night in good weather, I hurried out after dinner to join the other kids. Our back yard was our garden. I remember helping, especially weeding and picking. As the harvest came in, there were days where my mother was canning.

I was in high school and college when we had our next family garden in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was also a back yard affair, between the house and the railroad tracks. I don’t recall spending much time in it. I was too busy with school and work (earning my way through college) and social life.

The first garden in married life came in MA where we had our first home on a hillside. The garage was built into the hill and provided a nice flat space for a garden on the roof. That was where I planted vegetables. Lower level spots of the side yard had been planted by previous owners in flowers and we continued that tradition. I don’t recall the vegetable garden being very prolific, but do remember it providing the burial ground for deceased gerbils; to enrich the soil, I guess.
This was also where I met my master garden host, who invited me to plant at his country home. His pole beans were so tall you needed a ladder to pick them. Mine barely inched above the ground. At the end of the growing season he looked at my plot and said, “Carl, your garden is an example of why so many of our forebears starved to death.”

When we moved to MD where I worked for Hood College, our house was on the campus. Two blocks down the street was an old farm the college owned. They converted the barn into a student residence and the land next to the old farmhouse into a community garden. We had a plot. It was not the most productive. I blamed it on all the others who were using pesticides and some secret ingredients to discourage the rabbits and raccoons; who all seemed to gravitate to our garden; digging and pawing and chewing whatever grew. Not to mention our feast for bugs and insects.

Moving to Brookings, for several years we tended a plot in the community gardens. These were probably our most successful years growing vegetables. It was also a “community” garden. One had a chance to meet others; perhaps get a tip or two about what would help the squash or what tomato is producing the best yields. There were still animal encounters. Weekly deer tracks occurred one year, not stepping lightly or avoiding promising growth.

Lately, it all takes place again in the back yard. Flowers bloom from spring into the fall. Vegetables occupy a gradually growing space near the compost pile. There is enough room for some cucumbers growing on a trellis and a dozen tomato plants. There’s nothing more refreshing in the summer than a vine-ripe tomato sandwich, picked from a plant in the back yard.

Sometimes the human world is too much with us. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but there seem to be many more dog walkers in our neighborhood. Several of our neighbors are also busy with backyard gardens. Getting close to the animal and plant kingdoms can alleviate stress and restore a sense of equilibrium when the news of the day depresses, rather than encourages. Having your hands in dirt that gives promise of new life; sharing water that sustains life; and watching green growing things prosper and provide nourishment for human life; can enable us to better weather the ups and downs of our daily life. We don’t have to be an “Expert Gardener” to reap the benefits of gardening.   

Carl Kline

Saturday, May 20, 2023

"We have met the enemy..."

 I’ve been reflecting a lot on a few verses from one of the final chapters of Leviticus, the Biblical book known as D’varim in Hebrew, specifically Chapter 26.  The chapter begins this way:

Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.
Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord.

The words echo the familiar injunctions from Mt. Sinai:

“You shall have no other Gods before me; You shall not make sculptured images of anything; you shall not bow down and worship them; you shall not serve them; you shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

The next section of verses seem to be a list of the rewards for life lived in close observance of all the laws that have been set down.  The prayer, “Ahavat Olam,” sung on Shabbat, affirms that those laws were given and received in love: Ahavat olam, beyt Israel ameha ahavta.  Torah umitzvot, chukim umishpatim otanu limadeta. (With everlasting love,  you love the house of Israel. Torah and mitzvot, laws and justice you have taught us…)

Rabbi Shefa Gold reminds us that the Hebrew name for this portion of Leviticus is B’chukotai.  In her book, Torah Journeys, she suggests that it might be translated as “by my rules.” So no matter how strange the words of Leviticus are in our ears, often seemingly irrelevant for modern life,  the faith tradition affirms that they were given in love and in the promise that if Israel lived “by the rules”  life would be abundantly blessed and good: 

"If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country."

The promise of God’s covenant with the people is renewed here. The Divine Presence would dwell among the people in what seems to be a very intimate way:

“I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you… I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be with you."

And then there is a big “BUT…

 “‘BUT if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands,  and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant,  then I will do this to you...  
And the next few verses are a long list of the devastating consequences of failure to live carefully within the  “Torah umitzvot, chukim, umishpatim,” the wisdom and obligations and laws of justice that were given in love:

I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.   If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit…

The promise of dire consequences for not paying attention to the stewardship of the land continue on for another  20 or so verses until we come to another very big BUT…

BUT if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me,  which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 

I was thinking about these verses across last weekend as a Climate Action Event was held out at the Ag Hall.  Hundreds of people flocked to the site where dozens of local climate activist groups were represented, each one providing information and challenge to the island population relative to our care for the planet, our responsible stewardship of this fragile earth that is suffering so mightily as a result of humanity’s terrible abuse and neglect of this beautiful world.

  As climate awareness events like this proliferate in the attempt to make earth’s population more aware of what our responsibilities are to the planet, I wondered if this may be a dim shadow of the tshuva, the beginnings of the acts of repentance and reconciliation that earth’s people need to be doing with the planet.  I do not personally believe in a "reward and punishment" God who punishes bad behavior.  But I do believe that the laws guiding Israel toward good stewardship of the land make sense and there are dire consequences for not paying attention to wise and loving principles set down so long ago. 

 War, regressive politics, population movements, natural disasters and on and on all have in common the human failing to ignore the basic elements of stewardship of the planet, the failure to keep the earliest command to not create idols, to observe the broad implications of a well kept Sabbath, to venerate this earth as a sanctuary for the holy.  The consequences are devastating.

BUT - there is still the promise of the covenant - a divine principle if you will - that continues to stand:
“Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.

It seems that Earth’s people are indeed “in the land of their enemies” - - but in the 21st century, as Pogo once famously said, "we have met the enemy and it is us."  So - it seems that no matter what -  and no matter how we, in our finitude, understand it, there is hope. The covenant stands - - but it does require two partners.  

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, May 12, 2023

Saving Paradise


Once on a trip to India, we toured a recycling warehouse. When you are a country with a great many poor, you naturally recycle. Anything and everything can be useful. That’s why when styrofoam invaded India and took over the task of holding your morning chai at the train station, you would see children along the tracks, recovering the styrofoam cups, trying to resell them to the tea stalls.
The worst part of the styrofoam invasion was the way it killed a way of life for many potters. The potters made the small clay pots to hold your train station chai. When you finished drinking, you simply threw them out the window, where they broke into pieces and the elements recycled them naturally. The potters kept them coming, a sustainable lifestyle.

In the recycling warehouse were all manner of recyclables. You name it (if you could), they had it! If it was made of metal or wood or concrete or fabric or wire or paper or cardboard or plastic or leather, you could find it there. The warehouse space was enormous and the inventory extraordinary. We visitors were thoroughly impressed. As we shared our questions with the owner in his office, I was struck by a poster on his wall. It was a picture of a laughing Jesus.

As we were about to leave I remarked about how much I Iiked that poster. I mentioned how we seldom thought of Jesus as a person with a sense of humor, spreading endorphins as well as love. Without any hesitation, the owner took down the poster from its place on the wall and put it in my hands. “A gift,” he said, “for visiting us.”

That poster hung on my office wall for several years. It reminded me daily not to take life too seriously. I imagined Jesus, with a much more serious mission than ours, chuckling at our all too human foibles and failings.

Eventually my laughing Jesus poster came down. I had a visitor from another country who remarked how much she liked it. She said she seldom thought of Jesus with a sense of humor. That sealed it! I knew what I had to do. I took the poster down and handed it to her. “A gift,” I said, “for visiting us.”

 There are a number of books by different authors on the humor of Jesus. The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood is probably the best known. We often miss the subtlety of the humor of Jesus because we lack knowledge of the original New Testament language and context. Biblical scholars like Trueblood can help us discover it.

I have a friend, a long time peace activist, who was on an internet call recently with several of us. We were discussing a book he had written on his lifetime of peace work. He has a habit of chuckling right after he speaks about bad news. It’s as if the chuckle has become a substitute (perhaps a redeeming one) for sorrow and tears. I found it helpful. It expressed a kind of resistance to the ongoing reality of a world bent on violence. It was as if the knowledge of an alternative reality was simply waiting to emerge in all its fruitfulness. It was as if he were saying, ‘just you wait and see.” It reminded me of my laughing Jesus.

I believe Jesus would be looking at us these days and laughing, like my friend’s chuckle, not just to keep from crying, but in wonder at what we are doing. He’s shaking his head and saying to himself, “how did this happen? What will they do next? Don’t they understand yet?”

There is a wonderful book called Saving Paradise. It suggests that Jesus came to open the gates of paradise once more; that this was the original understanding of his gift. The early art work in the ancient churches all represent him in Eden like scenes; no crosses. It suggests that paradise is there before us, still. The gates are open. Jesus has gifted us! All we have to do is choose, like clay pots instead of styrofoam. 


 Only with the capture of Christianity by empire in the third century did the crucifixion take center stage and Christ dying for our sins become the center of Christian theology. And even today, as we are captured by our empires, paradise beckons.

One can only hope the angel with the flaming sword won’t burn Eden down before we enter again!

Carl Kline

Friday, May 5, 2023

Just a Little Affirmation...

Maybe they should try reversing the national news cycle every evening. There is always that “feel good” clip at the very end. It allows the news anchor to leave you with a smile on her face after twenty minutes of bad news and eight minutes of commercials. Even the local news is beginning to follow the same pattern. Last night my wife and I just looked at each other when the first commercial happened. We couldn’t believe how we had heard one bad news story after another. Who wants to watch? How does it make us feel?

It made me think of how we’re taught to deliver bad news to others; only after the good news.You let the child know you will go to the park with them tomorrow, but you can’t go today. When you grade papers, you highlight the exceptional things in it before you mention the problems resulting in the poor grade. You agree with the angry customer about the faulty purchase, before you confirm you can’t reimburse, only replace. We believe that perhaps the bad news will sit better if it can rest in an affirming place.

The Children’s Creative Response to Conflict program has been around since 1972. It has transformed from a program specifically for children to one that also includes adults, (who can still be playful and learn from experiential, conflict resolution activities). The program focuses on activities that develop four themes: affirmation; communication; cooperation; and problem solving. The belief is that if we can build our skills in those four areas, we will be able to more successfully resolve any conflicts that come our way.

Affirmation, in my mind, belongs in first place. We should be able to affirm ourselves, and also affirm others. And that order is important. It’s often hard to be affirming of others if we are a shadow or a ghost of our self. Only a whole and healthy self is likely to give others a sense of wholeness and health.

We just returned from several days with extended family. They treated us to a wonderful view of the ocean from a beach-front cottage in Maine. Waking at 4:30 one morning, we sat for a bit watching the waves flow in and out and listening to the water-on-sand sound. One of the days we were surprised by a party, to celebrate our upcoming wedding anniversary. The whole experience was an affirmation of our marriage and the positive nature of family life (even when I lost at ping-pong, chess, poker and Exploding Kittens). 

I was heartened to see some positivity and affirmation expressed in an interview I caught on Fox News. It was with Republican Senator Rounds and Democratic Senator Gillibrand. They are both members of the Senate Bible Study group. Although their political convictions are often at odds with each other, they are able to communicate and work together because they affirm something together; their faith; which gives them a foundation on which to function without hostility and aggression.

That’s considerably different from what happened in a recent Congressional hearing where Marjorie Taylor Green stormed out of the hearing room, after calling Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas a liar, and then being silenced for her unruly behavior. One needs to see the video. There is no opening for any affirmation in her attack; haranguing him and making Mayorkas responsible for all of the fentanyl deaths in the country.

That kind of aggressive, blaming behavior is becoming all too common, in Congress and across our country. It’s ultimate expression is shooting a young boy at your door before he has a chance to discover he’s at the wrong house; or killing a young woman mistakenly in your driveway; or killing a neighbor for a loud leaf blower; or shooting up a school or place of work that has shamed or hurt you.

Even little affirmations help. As my wife went through the TSA check at the Sioux Falls airport on our recent trip east, the agent kept looking at her driver’s license, then at her, then the computer. Finally she asked her what her birth date was. When my wife responded, the agent said, “I can’t believe that.” The rest of the story is, when we got off the plane in Minneapolis, an agent was ready in the gateway with a chair to help any old person leaving the plane. He invited me to join him. 

Carl Kline