Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanks to the Mentors...

 One of the more meaningful habits developed in the last year or two is remembering to be grateful. Usually my expression of gratitude occurs during the evening walk. Since it is dark with almost no one on the street, I can even speak the gratefulness out loud, into the night. Even if someone should hear me, I’m sure they would just write it off as one of those old men wandering the streets, muttering and talking to himself. If the day has brought problems or worries, I find that it helps to recall the positive things in life as the day comes to a close.

Life and health are always first on the gratitude list. My habit of reading the obituaries and saying final good byes to friends; trying to stay in touch with those struggling with serious health issues; both help one stay focused on good fortune, even when new aches and pains and physical problems arise.

Family gratitude comes next; naming each in turn; often reaching into extended family as bloodlines are crossed and significant relationships are affirmed. Then there is gratitude for friends and often “mentors.” 

A helpful TED talk on mentors suggested there were different kinds. It made me think about the gifts different folks have given me. 

The first kind of mentor mentioned was “the master of craft.” One high school teacher was a “craft” mentor. He gave me a passion for the right word. If one was going to give a speech or write an oration, he taught me one needed to choose words carefully and skillfully. He wasn’t an English teacher; he was in Theatre and Speech. He assisted me in writing and speaking an award winning oration that assured me I could write and speak something, other than the vulgarities of a rebellious adolescent.

But there was also a college teacher who gave me voice lessons. He helped me understand music as a “craft.” He helped me realize there was a deeper dimension to singing than I had fully experienced before in the church choir; or even in the collegiate choir. Just singing the scales in his studio became a rich, almost holy, experience. 

In a world fraying at the edges, a taste of harmony, of voices together in song, can be an enriching and necessary experience. This was truly a mentored gift.

Another kind of mentor is the co-pilot. There have been two significant co-pilots for me. Both were colleagues in an adventure in India to learn about Gandhi and his understanding of nonviolence. Both were willing to spend time back home committed to ventures in nonviolence; one helping develop two National Nonviolence Conferences in western South Dakota; the other working to develop Children’s Creative Response to Conflict (CCRC) trainings shared with educators and students around the region. 

There have been several “anchors” in my life, a third kind of mentor. Taking a group to India for the first time, it was a blessing to have a colleague from the Gandhi Peace Foundation who traveled with us. He knew the country. He knew the culture. He understood our anxieties and frustrations, our expectations of privilege. He helped us moderate our needs, quiet our apprehensions, and see the beauty beyond the immediate.

Another anchor helped my wife and I adjust to New York City when we went there for Seminary. Our pastoral mentor helped ground us in the midst of everything that was new. It was a new marriage, a new educational setting, a new residential community, a new urban environment, a new work responsibility. In the midst of all the newness there was a rock to ground us, an anchor to keep us from drifting away.

There is also a “reverse” mentor. One of my mentees will often surprise me and make me think and consider some of my own assumptions and attitudes. We have a solid enough relationship where she is not afraid to speak her mind. If she disagrees, she says so, and will often explain why.

Of course, after so many years of marriage, one has to recognize their spouse as a mentor. It may be as simple as how to better make the bed or when to change the sheets. Or, how much soap goes in the washing machine or where are the shorter nails? 

I’m grateful for my mentors! I hope to remember them in all my expressions of gratitude, for all their contributions to a richer and more meaningful life.

Carl Kline

Friday, November 17, 2023

Shadowy Basement

I’ve been spending time in our basement, sorting through piles of stuff that “might come in handy someday.”   Most of it never will: two canvas tents with external aluminum frames, left over from the early days of our marriage when the only vacations we could afford involved living under canvas; two cardboard boxes filled with the tops and bottoms of flattened gift boxes; an electric snow shovel that has turned out to be virtually useless for our winter conditions; half empty paint cans, a printer that no longer works, bags of clothing that really need to go to the thrift store.

Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that dreaming about a basement has to do with something going on in the unconscious.  Intriguing.   If my basement symbolizes my unconscious, it might appear that I have some sorting and cleaning out to do.

Enter thoughts about the “shadow” and the Jewish notion of the yetzer ha-tov ( the inclination or impulse toward good) and the yetzer ha-ra (the inclination or impulse toward evil).  The yetzer ha’ra tends to be a basement dweller.

Our little Torah group gathered for dinner last night and for a learning/ discussion of the story of Jacob and Esau in the parsha called Tol’dot.  There is a long tradition of associating bad choices and negative intent/evil to Esau, while his younger twin brother is venerated as a patriarch of Israel.

Rabbi Dr. Kari Tuling ( Congregation Kol Haverim, Glastonbury CT) in her d’var titled “Accepting the Shadow” (Reform suggests that “if we were to take the twins as archetypes, we might want to think of them as two facets of the same personality rather than two types of people.  Each of us has a shadow side to our personality, a side that includes the aspects we do not wish to acknowledge…so often, what we hate in others is what we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves. We might fantasize about vanquishing our foes, but the reality is this: there is no total victory. [The] shadow remains, that part of [the]self that has not yet been acknowledged.  The greater the fight against it, the stronger it becomes.”

As I read Rabbi Tuling’s words I was reminded of some words I heard years ago in a lecture by Marian Woodman, a Jungian psychologist.  She understood that if the “shadow” of the human psyche remains unacknowledged and repressed, it will make itself known in inconvenient and often destructive ways.  It will always want a way to express itself.  It likes to break out of the dark, cobwebby corners of our “basement” and wreak havoc.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be able to sit in a comfortable easy chair on a distant planet and be able to have to the broadest, most comprehensive view of human behavior over the history of time.  What would it be like to be able to see, with wit and wisdom, the fullness of humanity’s impulses to both good and to evil.

Perhaps from that distant perspective it might be possible to see the manifestation of  our collective human yetzer ha’tov and yetzer ha’ra.  Perhaps we could see more clearly the  collective human impulse toward goodness and kindness and compassion and generosity,  toward the forgiveness and reconciliation and healing attributes we love to embrace about our humanity.  But from a more distant and, perhaps, more objective perspective, it might also be possible to see our collective human impulse toward violence, enmity, jealousy, blame-fixing, toward war making and annihilation of the “other.”

Marian Woodman suggested that the only way to dispel a shadow is to throw light on it.  On the individual level, this will inevitably mean acknowledging that even with all my conscious choices for good, I still have within me the capacity for violence, revenge, sadism, greed and on and on.  According to Woodman, the only way to manage the “shadow” is to own it, embrace it, and love it into the light. - - allow it space to dance in consciousness - - to be seen for what it is.  It’s power for evil is diminished when it is acknowledged as part of my humanity.

So I wonder what this might look like in a global humanity.  What might a collective human consciousness  be able to accomplish if, together, we were able to shed a loving and compassionate light on our collective shadow?  What might happen if we, as a species, were capable of saying to ourselves  that we celebrate our innate goodness and generosity on the one hand and we acknowledge our shadowy urge to hate, injure and destroy one another on the other hand?   What if we were able to make conscious decisions, acknowledging in the moment “Oh yeah - that’s our fearful shadow taking away voting rights or denying an election or limiting abortion rights or bombing a city.  Let’s attend to the fear and see if we can heal it.”

Rabbi Tuling encourages us to ask “How can we heal a broken world where the shadow side will not be repressed?  How do we allow ourselves to be made whole?  The first step is to recognize and accept the fullness of human experience.  We all have within us the yetzer ha’tov and the yetzer ha’ra (the inclination to good and bad).  The second step is to learn to love our entire selves, including the parts that are jagged or difficult…”

The biblical twins, after years of suspicion and enmity, finally reconcile and are able to come together to bury their father Isaac.  If we continue to "see" them as two facets of one personality, we catch a glimpse what the embrace of the shadow might look like.

Not too long ago, my son installed super bright LED lights in our basement.  They make it easier to see into the shadowy recesses and corners to see what is useful and what needs to be discarded.  When I can value the detritus of a life time of “maybe this will come in handy in the future,” and recognize that so much of it is no longer useful, perhaps I am on my way to, symbolically, shedding light on my own shadow and loving it into the light.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, November 10, 2023

Repairing Brokenness


There is an activity we often do in Conflict Resolution Workshops. I call it Fight/Flight. Two people stand facing each other. One person puts their hands in front of them with their palms down. The other places their hands under the hands of the other, palms up. The object of the activity is for the one with hands lower, to raise them out and up, and hit the hands of the other before they are able to get away. You can aim at one hand or both; both ways count. Once the hitter completely misses, you change roles, and the hitter becomes the one to be hit.
It’s a children’s game, with potential for new learnings, with one simple, additional instruction; breathing! After the Fight/Flight has been going on for a while, participants are invited to share their experience, especially focusing on what was going on with their body. Was there tension? Where? Are you better at fighting or fleeing? And, how was your breathing? Were you hyperventilating; holding your breath? Most people tend to hold their breath!

The next step is, everyone is invited to play again; this time taking deep breaths the whole time. Inevitably, some are unable to flee (like me). The tension in their arms is so feeble, they simply get hit again and again, till the hitter gets bored and quits. Some are unable to keep breathing deeply, allowing the tension to continue arising. Some few get better and quicker, like the basketball free throw shooter who always breathes deeply before taking the shot.

People then have an opportunity to share their reactions. How does deep breathing impact their body and their responses to conflict? For me, the exercise now becomes Fight/Flight/Flow, or Fight/Flight/Other. There is always an option to fighting or fleeing! Always! Breathe!

This past week, a friend was sharing something in her family life that was making her angry. As she told the story about this distressing situation, her voice rose and you could see the increasing tension in her body. Having an awareness of her own personal mind/body relationship, she waved her arms up and down as if to take flight or bring herself down to earth, all while taking deep breaths. She had obviously learned how to flow, when fight/flight threatened. She concluded her remarks about the situation in a quieter and calmer way, which suggested to me the conflict had a chance of being addressed and perhaps resolved in a creative way.

In the book of Genesis, one learns that God breathed into Adam the “breath of life”. Perhaps to be truly healthy and living, we need to make our breathing more conscious, more often. Perhaps we could all benefit from deep breathing processes like meditation, yoga, or prayer. Perhaps that would also make the breath of life more present to us, in times of conflict and rage.

Our society needs help breathing; desperately! On Saturday, July 8, we have now had 11 mass shootings since the first of the month. There have been 348 since the beginning of the year. You can be killed at a block party, a mall, in church, in school, at a parade, a nightclub, a movie theatre, in the hospital, etc. I can’t think of anyplace where you aren’t subject to death by gunfire and the numbers keep growing. Where is God’s good breath of life for these people; killers and killed alike? How are we helping our children and others learn to breathe in the grip of hate, anger or desperation?

There’s another activity we do in our workshops called Broken Squares. A woodworker friend has made some handsome wooden squares for us, cut into different size pieces. These are arranged in a special way in paper bags, one bag for each of the participants. They will try to put the squares back together, cooperatively, so each person has the same size square in front of them. The rules are: no talking, no grabbing or taking, no motioning, no non-verbal communication. All you can do is offer a piece to another or take or refuse what’s offered.

Often, one person will end up with their square early. But it is not the right combination to allow all the others to finish theirs. This activity is about cooperative decision making. It requires a willingness to share and sacrifice for the greater good.

Our human community is made up of people who have Broken Squares bags with different resources. Our country has been built constructively in the past as we have shared pieces from our bags to build up the common good. But we have begun to build squares that are grossly different from each other. In the first two years of the pandemic, $42 trillion in new wealth was created, with two-thirds of it going to the richest 1% of the world’s population. Small pockets of wealth determine what is good for the commons. We take what encouragement we can from smaller efforts, where people are intent on building neighborly relationships and more equitable community.

What are we to do? The Bible and our common history suggests: “Never forget to show kindness and to share what you have with others, for such are the sacrifices God approves.”

Let’s practice breathing and repairing brokenness.

Carl Kline

Friday, November 3, 2023

Anger and Sadness

 A friend sent me a copy of an October 14th. article by Dan Rather and Elliott Kirschner titled “Anger and Sadness.” The friend is a veteran of the Vietnam war, who saw his fair share of carnage, and who I expect experienced in a profound way, both anger and sadness as a result. 

Anger and sadness! Anger and sadness! What else can one feel as the loss of innocent life, destruction of towns, cities, farms and fields proceeds, with devastating and far reaching consequences; in Ukraine, and now, Israel and Gaza. The grief grows into an inconceivable wail, as the bodies pile up and the armies rage.


I’m drawn to the book of Lamentations about the destruction of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Scriptures. The word “lament” becomes more meaningful by the day. For me there is a deeper sense of sorrow in the word. It suggests to me the longevity of grief, a tragedy that plays out again and again, endlessly over the ages, seemingly without hope of resolution. The older I get, the more the tragedy of war and violence seems to unfold, as if the human race is fated to killing the “other.” 

Still, even in the book of Lamentations, there is a small voice of hope, in the midst of the destruction. But, even that voice ultimately asks for vengeance; “Pursue them in anger and exterminate them

from beneath thy heavens, O Lord.” In this closing passage the prophet Jeremiah sounds like Senator Lindsey Graham, as he spoke about Gaza after the Hamas raid on Israel; “level the place.” 

Excuse me Senator! Do you know there are 2.3 million people who live in Gaza, the third most densely populated area in the world? What will you do about the children, at least half the population, who are not yet fighters in Hamas? What will you do with the aged and infirm? How will you identify those who have struggled for peace with Israel? How will your attitude moderate the violence and help prevent a wider war?

There are those who see this as a religious war, a struggle between Islam and Judaism; with Christians standing on the sidelines, cheering one or the other of the cousins along, offering moral support and in some instances, weapons. 

There’s nothing “religious” about this violence! Both Israel and Hamas may well use religious reasons and arguments as their motivation for struggle, but at heart, the conflict is about “land.” Ever since the UN gave the Jewish people a land of their own after the trauma of the Holocaust, displacing Palestinians through no fault of their own, there has been violence. Palestinian lands have gradually disappeared, as Israeli territory has grown, until Gaza and the West Bank are virtual prisons. Check for yourself. Look at the map in 1946 and then again today.

Contrary to the claims of some, God does not “promise” land to anyone. Perhaps that’s the way the ancient Israelites understood their victory in taking land from those already settled there, but as inheritors of Manifest Destiny ourselves, we hopefully will recognize in the Palestinians our own imprisonment of the original peoples on this continent, imprisoned in what we call “reservations.”

There are always alternatives to violence. There is an organization called Nonviolence International in Washington, D.C., that promotes alternatives to violence, including in the Middle East. It was founded by Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian advocate for nonviolent resistance, who led nonviolent civil disobedience during the first intifada in Palestine and was arrested several times. He started the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in Jerusalem in 1983 and was eventually deported by Israel in 1988.  He is presently an adjunct Professor at American University in the school of International Service, where he teaches classes in the theories and methods of nonviolence. Unfortunately, he was never supported or given the resources to continue teaching and demonstrating nonviolence in Palestine. It might have saved some anger and sadness today.

There is still a small sense of hope. Perhaps the anger and sadness in the human community will reach a fever pitch where we can turn a corner, recognize there are nonviolent alternatives in each and every situation, and send the weapons makers who have captured our 21st. century economies into a well deserved retirement. Maybe we can try a new thing, instead of repeating trauma after trauma! It’s lamentable that anger and sadness always have to be our teachers, when we know love and joy enhance and demonstrate our better selves.

Carl Kline