Friday, July 21, 2023

What Makes Us Great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Kline

Friday, July 7, 2023

For a Happier 4th...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Arthur Waskow offers this:

Declaring Interdependence:Renewing the 4th of July

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

Vicky Hanjian