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

Friday, June 2, 2023

Watching a Ballet

 There is a notorious intersection on the island.  All one has to do is mention the traffic at the corner of State Road and the Edgartown Road and islanders knowingly shake their heads.  State Road is the main thoroughfare connecting the "down island" towns with "up island."  The Edgartown Road carries heavy traffic between the main port town and Edgartown at the other end.  There is a stop sign at the end of the Edgartown Road where it "Ts" into State Road. There is no traffic light (due to longtime resistance to any such thing on the island). Traffic congestion is a topic of daily conversation.  The onset of the influx of literally thousands of off-island  summer drivers exacerbates the situation.

The intersection occasionally lends itself to theological reflection.

A few weeks ago, in synagogue services, someone presented a reflection on "Obligation and Autonomy."  The thought was that human beings may operate out of a sense of "obligation" - a sense of accountability and responsibility to and for others and for the well being of the collective or they may operate out of a sense of "autonomy" (perhaps informed by individualism), that prioritizes the well being and satisfaction of the individual.  This is an oversimplification of a very nuanced and layered discussion, but the very basic sense of it has stayed with me and I watched it play out this morning as I waited in traffic at aformentioned notorious intersection.

It is probably a  given that there will not ever be a traffic light at the intersection - - at least not in my lifetime.  This leaves us with the reality that we have to learn how to best navigate the intersection safely and gracefully.  Obligation and Autonomy meet there.

The synagogue speaker reminded us that Judaism ( and I would add Christianity, Islam and Zen Buddhism) offers a theology of "Obligation."  Throughout the sacred texts the notion of welcoming the stranger, attending to the needs of the most vulnerable, seeking justice for those on the margins cultivates a sense of obligation.  Human beings are accountable before God to and for one another.  When this "theology" is internalized, it fosters compassion, lovingkindness, generosity, justice seeking, and a certain willingness to set one's own needs aside in the service of another.

The internalized "Theology of Autonomy" on the other hand puts the needs and desires of the individual in the center.  I'm thinking this arises out of the sacred texts of Nationalism and Individualism.  What is good for me and mine is the determinant.  

 The theologies play out at the intersection of State and Edgartown Roads.  "Autonomy" appears as drivers keep barreling through on State Road without regard for the traffic that is backed up behind the stop sign on the Edgartown Road.    "Obligation" appears  when a driver stops on State Road to permit the traffic from Edgartown Road to flow.  The appearance of "Obligation" in one driver signals the same to another driver and the intersection becomes the scene of a ballet of sorts as drivers pause and weave in a way that keeps it all moving.  "Autonomy" is brought into balance.

On a larger scale  these last couple of weeks we have witnessed the dynamics between "Obligation" and "Autonomy" as we have anxiously waited for Congress to act to keep the country functioning financially.  Thousands of people have wondered "will I receive my Social Security benefits?"  Vulnerable families wonder how they will feed their families if SNAP benefits are reduced or eliminated.

The news this morning is that an agreement has been reached and will go to the president's desk for his signature.  It is really hard to tell whether either "Obligation" or "Autonomy"  swayed the outcome.

Without a traffic light, perhaps the best we can hope for is the tenuous drama of a ballet.  

Vicky Hanjian