Friday, September 29, 2023

The first to be banned...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Kline

Friday, September 8, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, September 1, 2023

And the Dream Goes On


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

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

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

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

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

So much unfinished business!

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

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

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

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

Carl Kline