Author: Vicky

LivingNonviolence 2017-10-13 11:39:00

Closing our Eyes to See More Clearly

        What do we see when we really look deeply, perhaps when we squint and try to see beyond the present place and time in which we stand? Reflecting on the way we close our eyes as a natural human response to pain, Rebbe Nachman offers a beautiful insight on what it means to see the world from within: 
So it is when we want to look at the ultimate goal of Creation, which is all good, all unity. One has to close one’s eyes and focus on one’s vision — i.e. the inner vision of the soul — on the goal. For the light of this ultimate goal is very far away. The only way to see it is by closing one’s eyes. One has to close them completely and keep them firmly shut. One may even have to press on them with one’s finger to keep them shut tight. Then one can gaze on this ultimate goal… (Likkutei Moharan 65:3).
During the past week and weeks, as in hard times always, it can be very tempting to close our eyes, as though to block out the images and the hate. There are times, indeed, when we need to do that, when we know we can’t take in any more. It is the nature of Shabbos, to step back and renew, to look beyond. On this Shabbos, whether one is praying on the streets or in the synagogue, may we all take note of a different sense of time and being, pausing in some way in order to renew. If on the streets, pause if even for a moment along the way and offer a prayer, saying to another, singing out, Shabbat shalom, not simply a greeting, but a prayer for peace expressed in the essence of a day. And if in synagogue, hold the same kavannah in saying these two simple words, and be aware in the same way of the depth of our prayerful words and song, closing eyes and imaging walking feet, legs that are praying as well as words, all moved by an inner vision of wholeness, joined together as one. When we have had enough, though, and we close our eyes in pain, may it not be to block out, but to bring in, to see ever more deeply, to envision from within.
        What do we see when we look into ourselves and into the eyes of others? Do we see the love as well as the fear, the strength and nobility as well as the weakness and vulnerability? Do we see the fear even in the eyes of the haters, wondering how the love that surrounds and joins us in resistance might surround them as well, until there is no place for their hate to go but to dissipate? It is the way of nonviolence to allow for that possibility, not to allow their hate to infect us, but in fierce opposition that in its core is nevertheless gentle, yet to love. It is the lesson and the way of making Shabbos each week, to create the change we wish to see all along the way, to live the future now.
It was the way in Charlottesville, so much fear and so much terror, the flags and chants that sickened, love and hate in fateful dance. In the coming together of so many people across so many lines, joined in love and horror, seeking good and goodness, daring to hope. Speaking truth to power, people unimagined, governors and mayors, we are challenged to imagine new coalitions and partners, young and old leading the march together, weeping and praying in synagogues, and churches and mosques, a great call and cry throughout the land. The fear is real, even as we try to look beyond. I felt panic, nausea, in seeing the images of Nazi flags, and the Confederate too, realizing the same sickness felt by African Americans, trying to see what they see, to imagine the psychic memories called forth for them. The hate makes us all as one, and so too shall love.
       I pause and pick up a small piece of glass   sitting on my desk, turning it in my fingers, feeling tears rise. I picked it up out of the grass alongside the New England Holocaust Memorial, a small fragment of shattered glass, glass that remembered shattered lives, glass etched with the numbers that were etched in the skin of so many dead. It was the second time the Memorial had been desecrated this summer, a glass panel smashed with a rock. People gathered in beautiful diversity across all lines, there to support, to stand with the Jewish community. I cried when Izzy Arbeiter spoke, telling of the horrors, a ninety-two year old survivor, instrumental in bringing the Memorial to be. I felt fear, imagining Jews in Germany, in that time and place. I closed my eyes and then opened them. I looked out across the crowd and saw the difference from then to now. We were not alone.
There among the gathered people, I saw Ralf Horlemann, the German Consul General who led our group of twelve Boston area rabbis to Germany last summer on a Journey of Remembrance and Hope. His face reflected pain, pain that he shared later after the ceremony, the pain of his own psychic memories. How can it be to see that flag? I remembered something he said to me when we visited a refugee center near Berlin. I asked him of the meaning of a postcard with the words, “Wir sind viele. Berlin gegen Nazis/We are many. Berlin against Nazis.” I wanted to know if it meant “neo-Nazis.” He looked at me and quietly asked, “does it matter?” I have since preferred not to speak of neo-Nazis, but simply of Nazis.
I had closed my eyes tightly to see beyond. Opening them again, I saw the crowd that had come to embrace our Jewish pain, Christians and Muslims and so many others, a rainbow gathering of diversity, all there together. We are challenged to see, to really see, to see ourselves in all our differences gathered as one. It is the quiet challenge of the weekly Torah portion called Re’eh (Deut. 11:26-16:17); Re’eh/See! anochi noten lifnei’chem ha’yom b’racha u’kla’lah/I am setting before you today blessing and curse. If hate is the curse, then love is the blessing. It is so easy in these days to be sucked down by the hate, to feel the pain and cry. The blessing is not only the love that flows from so many hearts. The blessing is the seeing itself. It is to close our eyes in pain and see the vision within of what might be, to open then and project the vision outward and onto the world.
There has been so much pain and sorrow so much cause for anger and lament. If we really try to see, to close our eyes and open them again, there is an equal measure of good, of hope and love in the way of our response. With eyes both open and closed, may we see the reality of both, as we make our way toward Shabbos, as it comes now and as it shall be in the future when the world is filled with Shabbat shalom. In whatever way you make Shabbos this week, may all be safe and well, joined together with each other and so many others, love surrounding, enveloped by Sabbath peace.

Victor Reinstein

LivingNonviolence 2017-09-29 16:44:00

“By three things is the world sustained…”
          This morning while anticipating commitments in the month of October, I turned the page of my beautiful Jewish art calendar to peruse the coming month and fill in the necessary appointments.  On the art page facing October, beautifully and mystically wrapped by a 12 pointed star (created by superimposing 3 Stars of David) are these words: By three things is the world sustained: by justice, by truth and by peace.
The words come from the Pirkei Avot, a work that is  often translated  as “Ethics of Our Fathers”.
         I don’t have a lot of familiarity with Pirkei Avot, but I have heard these familiar lines from the same body of wisdom:
“If I am only for myself, who am I?”

“Say little and do much”

“You are not obligated to complete the work, 
but neither are you free to desist from it.”
           
           The daily headlines in The Boston Globe are disheartening and frightening, filled with immature name calling, treacherous threats, post  hurricane anguish, NFL protests, more name calling and on and on.
            As I it sit with the ancient words in front of me – meditating on them, if you will, I find them by turns, challenging, condemning, and filled with hope.
            If indeed, the world is sustained by justice, by truth and by peace, then we are on very shaky ground in this, what used to be considered a shining, democracy.   In too many spheres, justice seems owned by the white and the wealthy.   Truth suddenly has many “alternatives.”  Peace seems more fragile than a spider web in a storm.
            From a highly placed UN podium, the word is declared: every nation for itself!  And  I feel  a profound loss – a shrinking of the expansive boundaries of generosity, of international commitment to one another’s  wellbeing, of dependable friendships that help to keep this planet viable for human existence.   If I am only for myself, who am I ?” 
            So many words – – too many words – –  swords rattling and rampant rumors of war as destructive wordiness fills the headlines.   Ineffective wordiness in the houses of Congress; hyperbolic wordiness and juvenile insults on Twitter and in public rallies – but no positive and creative action on health care or tax reform; no humane development of a sane immigration policy; no life embracing action toward preserving the life of the earth.  I wonder what “the Fathers” encountered as they concluded it was wise to ”Say little and do much.”  
            Still, I am encouraged by the faithful energy of this small island community.  Together we  meet for interfaith study about how to instill in our young people an ethic of concern for “the other” as we read “ACTS OF FAITH” by Eboo Patel.  The book plainly lets us know that even as young people can be taught to hate and fear, they can also be taught to embrace and care for the stranger – – faith communities and  and schools need to be more proactive.  I am encouraged by the annual “Living Local” festival at the Agricultural Hall, with booths and displays drawn from every corner of island life in an attempt to educate us all about our role in sustaining the holy life of this planet.  
            A premier island grocer is figuring out how to sustain his profits while providing steep discounts for islanders to be sure that our elders and our immigrant population can afford to shop in his markets.  These modest efforts are thousands of miles from the centers of power. We are in a place where we might be tempted to throw up our hands in helpless despair at things over which we have little control.  But the ancient wisdom dictates otherwise. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
            If, indeed, the world is sustained by justice, by truth, and by peace, then even a small island in the Atlantic is both judged and challenged…and blessed by the “Ethics of Our Fathers.”   We dare not lose sight of the power of simple actions that keep faith with the care and concern for others and for the earth in focus.  And even though we may have cause to wonder if the grass roots actions we take have any effect on the whole in the end, we are never free to simply slack off and hope that someone else will do the job. 
Vicky Hanjian

LivingNonviolence 2017-09-22 18:07:00

The Prayer of a Small Folding Challah Knife
September 22, 2017
One of my treasured ritual items is a small folding challah knife that came to me a few years ago when my wife and I were in Israel. It feels that indeed it did come to me. I had searched for one through many decades since first seeing such a knife for cutting the Sabbath bread when I was a young student in Jerusalem just starting out on my journey. At some point I found a contemporary one, made with a plastic handle and a blade of stainless steel. It did not have a story and never moved me, eventually disappearing during one move or another. During that more recent visit to Israel I made it a point to go into every little store where I might find antique Judaica. I asked many store keepers if they had one, if they had ever seen one. Here and there, one would nod, “no,” they did not have one but had seen one once. Sometimes a friendly storekeeper would direct me to another store, and perhaps from there I would be directed to another. Whether offered a friendly and sympathetic smile or a brusque and dismissive wave of the hand, as though such a thing did not exist, the end result was the same, no folding challahknife.
On our last Friday in Jerusalem during that visit, as we made our way home late in the day to get ready for Shabbos, we went into one more store. It was the week of the Torah portion called Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1). The store was next to the car rental office from which we would leave for the north on Sunday. As I asked my question, the storekeeper pointed to a display case in which there were two folding challah knives. One had a pearl handle and the word “Marienbad” engraved on a section of metal between two sections of pearl. This begins to explain one of the reasons for a folding challah knife. Jewish tourists would take one with them when traveling, easier to carry than a larger challah knife. Marienbad was a tourist destination that was popular with Jews. The other knife is the one that eventually became mine. We held our breath as we asked the cost, releasing our breath with sorrow, knowing it was too expensive. When we came to pick up the rental car on Sunday morning, my wife said she was going to go back into the antique store. Time passed as I waited in the car. When I saw her in the rear view mirror, I realized that she had a small paper bag in her hand. It was the knife, an agreement having been made. I wanted to believe that the meaning I attached to the knife had touched the storekeeper, as I hoped it would now touch others through my sharing.
         The handle of my small folding challah knife is of old ivory, somewhat yellowed with age. Not quite six inches in length when folded, the knife was probably made in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. There is no place name engraved in the center of the handle. Rather, on both sides of the center plate, there is a word. Beautifully etched in black ink, as though by a fine scribal hand, are the words, Shabbos Kodesh/the Holy Sabbath. The blade, which opens in the way of a jackknife, is dark and stained. I imagine the many hands that have opened it over the years of its life, imagining what it would say if it could speak and tell its story. The fact that it does not have a place name engraved on it, suggests the other reason for such a challah knife, the reason that inspired my search over so many years.
There is a custom that I follow with care, to remove knives from the table before singing Birkat Ha’Mazon, the series of blessings that are said following a meal in which bread has been eaten. A folding knife does not need to be removed, the blade remaining hidden throughout the meal, opened only as needed for cutting bread. The removal of knives is based on the commandment in the Torah portion called Yitro, Exodus 20:22, concerning the building of an altar. There we are told that an altar must be built only of un-hewn stones, so that no steel tool shall come upon them. Later in the Torah (Deut. 27:6), such uncut stones are called avanim sh’laymot/whole stones or, quite literally, peaceful stones. The word for steel tool is charb’cha/your sword; ki charb’cha haynafta aleyha va’t’cha’l’leha/for if you have wielded your sword over one (of the stones), you will have desecrated it. In a beautiful midrash, the rabbis teach that the altar is made to prolong the years of a person and iron is made to shorten the years of a person. It is not right for that which shortens life to be lifted up against that which prolongs life…. How much the more then should one who establishes peace between one person and another, between spouse and spouse, between city and city, between nation and nation, between family and family, between government and government, be protected so that no harm should come upon them.” The human being is the ultimate altar, every person a potential peacemaker against whom the sword should not be raised.
Crying for peace in the midst of war, far more than swords unsheathed now, I found the small folding challahknife in the week of Torah portionPinchas, the week in which the Gaza war of 2014 had begun. As we drove north, we passed many columns of armored vehicles making their way south. My small knife, carefully carried now in my pack, became a prayerful symbol for me. As it came to me in a context of violence, so its connection to Pinchas, a portion whose name tells of a violent zealot who took the law into his own hands in the face of Israel’s seduction into Midianite idolatry. From out of that context, as is often the case, the rabbis weave a teaching of nonviolence, drawing from within the text itself a challenge to the violence on the surface. At the end of the previous Torah reading, called Balak, we are told that Pinchas rose up/va’yakamand took/va’yikach a spear, the spear with which he then killed two people, Zimri, an Israelite prince, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess.
Beyond the context of the killing and the moral challenges with which the rabbis wrestle and which torment us, the rabbis offer a remarkable teaching that becomes codified into Jewish law. It is assumed that as part of a meeting of elders Pinchas was in the Beit Midrash/House of Study. Because he had to get up and go to get his spear it is deduced that he did not have it with him. From that, a commandment evolves that one is forbidden to bring a weapon into a synagogue or house of study. In a beautifully sensitive commentary that draws on the ancient teaching concerning steel upon the altar, the Mishna B’rurah, an early twentieth century legal work by the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, teaches, the synagogue, which is uniquely intended for prayer, increases the days of a person, while a knife shortens the days of a person/l’fi she’beyt ha’k’nesset she’hu m’yuchad la’t’fillah ma’arechet yamav shel adam v’ha’sakin m’katzer y’mei adam. In an earthy legal discussion of practical import, the question is asked about students who spend all of their time in the Beit Midrash, what should they do if they need a knife to cut their food? The answer is that they may use a knife so that they do not have to leave their studies for too long, but they should cover the blade when it is not in use and when they say the blessings after the meal.
In approaching Shabbos each week, I think of this teaching and of how a small folding challah knife represents the ultimate removal of the sword. On this Shabbos of Parashat Pinchas, named for a man of violence whose blade cut down human altars, I draw hope from the rabbis’ way of teaching nonviolence in the midst of violence. It is a way of transformation that calls for us to do the same, challenging and transforming violence in text and in life. As the altar of un-hewn stones was meant to bring people together for the sharing of a sacred meal, so for us the Shabbos table, the sword not to be raised upon it, even blades for cutting bread to be covered in order to remind. Toward the day that is all Shabbos, of lessons learned in simple ways, swords turned to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, that is my prayer and the prayer of a small folding challah knife.
 Victor Reinstein

LivingNonviolence 2017-09-15 17:18:00

A Fragile Democracy Democracy is a fragile arrangement. Basing a system of governing on one person one vote can be challenging, especially in a country as large as the U.S. and with all of our diversity.Some are always tempted to define “one person” ac…

LivingNonviolence 2017-09-08 13:21:00

In the Fullness of Nonviolence
Transcending the Language of Violence on the Path to Peace and Justice
I tend to eschew martial language, even to a fault, and often, I admit, it is to a fault. In almost every context of striving, whether personal or social, or for the sake of analogy and metaphor, I prefer to find alternatives to what might be construed as military terminology. I prefer to work for peace and justice, to strive and to struggle, rather than to fight for it. I find dissonance in the very thought of fighting for peace, easier then to lose sight of the critical tension between means and ends. The language we use influences behavior, and subtly gives shape to consciousness and form to conscience. When called “to pray with our legs,” as in the holy words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I prefer to walk, to journey, to trek, rather than to march for whatever good cause summons us to the streets.
From long before I could give it a name, I have been drawn to the way of pacifism. I generally tend not to call myself a pacifist, but to see and describe myself as one who seeks to follow its path, to rise to its challenge. Failing too often to meet its challenge, I continue to seek and to wrestle, striving to come ever closer to the way of the pacifist. Often misunderstood, pacifism is not passive. To be true to its own calling, it is meant always to be active, whether in the larger spheres of life or in the most intimate, whether in word or deed, witnessed by others or not. It is a way of love and respect for the human creature and condition that becomes the seedbed and catalyst for active and creative nonviolence.
A seemingly simple word that has no single, positive way of expression in English, nonviolence, which I prefer not to write with a hyphen in order to better convey its own reality, is often as misunderstood as pacifism. Even though a more common term and referent to action, nonviolence is rarely recognized for its uncommon depth and breadth. When nonviolence is expressed or adopted only as a tactic, however preferable to its opposite, we fail to access its spiritual depth and larger strategic possibility. One can refrain from picking up a weapon or a stone, but still do nothing to bridge the chasm that stands not only between people in opposition to each other, but between the present and a better future.
In the way of Ghandi and King, the spiritual depth and power of nonviolence lies in its recognition of a common spark of humanity in every person, the image of God in each one. The challenge is to draw on that common spark, that common humanity, in seeking ways to bridge the divide that separates people from each other, helping each side in a struggle to see at least glimmers of common human ground and of a common stake in the struggle. We shall overcome does not mean overcoming or defeating the other, but overcoming the injustice and suffering which the other may in fact represent, ultimately overcoming that which divides us and bringing our opponent along with us to a better place for all.
It is so hard to do or even to imagine such bridging in times of struggle, and yet this is when we are especially called to the challenge, the process itself illuminating new paths. Even if unable to move an opponent in the present moment, nonviolence as active witness models for others a living alternative to violence, hate, and injustice. In the wrestling, we come to new insight and possibilities. Reflecting a way of striving, shalom as peace emerging form wholeness/sh’laymut can only grow when the tree of peace is not separated from its root meaning, shalem/whole, complete.
 More than terminology, the challenge is to find a way of striving that will ultimately bring wholeness. It is the way of the Sh’ma (Deut. 6:4), “Hear, O, Israel, God, our God, God is One.” If God is one, than so too, created in God’s image of oneness, all people are one.
As does any sensitive reader of Torah, I struggle with so many of the Torah portions as we make our way through the latter part of the fourth book, Bamidbar, and into the fifth book, D’varim, in which we encounter the violence of the Canaanite wars. These portions are among those that contain what Heschel so helpfully refers to as the harsh passages. In reading and learning Torah, we are meant to learn how to navigate the harsh passages of both Torah and life, always remembering that the Torah is not about them and then, but about us and now. So too, engaging with sacred text, encountering and conversing with commentators and teachers of other times and places, we realize that our struggles were also their struggles, all part of a great human struggle toward shalom u’sh’laymut/peace and wholeness.
As for many of our ancestors, I struggle with the language of these portions, as well as with what that language represents in various ways of understanding and in the particular bias of a translator. This week’s portion, Parashat Ki Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19), begins with words that appear several times in the surrounding portions, Ki Tetze la’mil’chamah/if you go forth to war. It need not be an absolute, an assumption of inevitable human struggle as reflected in the frequent way of translation, “when you go forth to war.” If, neither inevitable nor eternal, the vision is held before us of a world without war, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4).
Particularly in Chassidic tradition, the surface meaning, the p’shat, is transformed almost immediately to reflect a different reality. In this way of reading, the Torah is not speaking about warring peoples, of external battles, but of internal struggle to change and bring out the best that resides deep within our selves and others. It is the essence of nonviolence and is not dissimilar to the Islamic concept of itjihad, jihad or struggle with oneself. For the Chassidic teachers, the battle that we are called to engage with is the battle with our own yetzer ho’rah/the evil inclination. It is that very inclination that the rabbis see as a positive force when channeled into the building of homes and the loving creation of families. The possibility of transformation is set in the deepest of human urges.
Turning the metaphor into reality, the Karliner Rebbe, among others, looks to the singular formation in the Hebrew, ki tetze la’mil’chamah al oy’vecha/when you go forth to battle against your enemies and says very simply, zeh yetzer ho’rah/this is the evil inclination. With the suffix for your in the singular, it is addressed to each one of us. Of your enemy in the singular, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches that this refers to ha’oyev ha’m’yuchad shelcha/your specific enemy. We each have our own personal struggles, our own demons. As the Slonimer teaches, we also each have a unique task and purpose in the world that is only for us to complete. In order to accomplish that unique purpose for which we are in the world, we must first overcome our own personal demons, our own unique “enemies.”
The Chassidic way of reading Torah through a lens of metaphor finds resonance in a statement from deep within Jewish tradition that is brought into conversation with the beginning of Parashat Ki Tetze. Once having gone forth to battle, warning is given that if a soldier desires a captive woman, he is to take her home and make her his wife (Deut. 21:11-14). For all that is problematic, acknowledged, wrestled, and cried with as we make our way through a harsh passage, in seeking to control the evil inclination of the soldier, the commandment helps to control the possibility of rape in war, which is no small matter in itself. From the Talmud (Kiddushin 21b), Rashi draws on a fascinating statement: lo debra Torah elah k’neged yetzer ho’rah/the Torah does not speak, except to challenge the evil inclination.

In the overall expression of this teaching and of Torah itself, the Torah seeks to replace evil with good, offering ways to navigate its own harsh passages and those of life; guiding us toward creation in the human sphere of a world of wholeness and peace that does justice to the physical beauty of creation, the world as it was envisioned at the very beginning. In speaking in relation to the yetzer ho’rah/evil inclination, there are times when the Torah offers opening and invitation to metaphor, when that is to be our way of reading, and other times when the way is clear, when we are meant to heed the commandments and respond to beauty of word and deed, learning to affirm life and creation in all that we do. So does the Torah speak not but in relation to the yetzer ho’rah/evil inclination.

As we make our way through the Hebrew month of Elul toward the new year that begins with Rosh Hashannah, looking within ourselves and seeking to effect wholeness and make amends with others, the Slonimer suggests that we need new “weapons” in the “fight” with our yetzer. Language that I eschew, he writes, the old weapons from years past are not sufficient/lo maspik ha’neshek ha’yashan…; one needs, therefore, to search for ways and wisdom with which to find the renewed weapon/aych lim’tzo et ha’neshek ha’m’chudash.
Grateful for the way of transformation in text and life that our teachers have given us, at times I struggle with their language, even as I often do with the language of our activism today. In the holy work of seeking peace and justice, inspired by a way of reading Torah that transcends war, so it is for us to transcend the language of war and then war itself. Seeking the way of nonviolence in all of its fullness, in speech as well as in deed, praying with our legs, means and ends as one, may we journey together to the day that is all Shabbat shalom, a world of peace and wholeness, shalom u’sh’laymut.
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Victor Reinstein

LivingNonviolence 2017-08-25 14:16:00

 Lesson from Charlottesville

         The havoc in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, the deaths of two police officers, and the injury of 19 other people has brought us yet again to a time of national soul searching. Some members of Congress have introduced a bill to censure the president who one day strongly denounced the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, and the very next day just as clearly endorsed the ideology of these same groups. Mayors in a number of cities have taken bolder action as they have removed statues honoring leaders of the Confederate States of America. Meanwhile, white supremacist groups are planning for more demonstrations and reportedly are recruiting new members and successfully raising funds. The question Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked in 1967 is as timely as ever, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” (Beacon Press, 1968).
There is growing awareness, if not consensus, that the United States is a race-based nation, and that racism is a white problem. Therefore, the attitudes and actions of white people will, to a large extent, determine how we answer the above question posed by Dr. King. But, as President Barack Obama noted in an acclaimed speech on race which he delivered in 2008, we are “stuck in a racial stalemate.” Obama’s speech was necessitated by a fiery sermon on race delivered by his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, which had so enflamed white people that it threatened to derail Obama’s run for the presidency.
Now, nearly a decade later, we  remain stuck in a racial stalemate. Evangelical leaders like Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas have strongly defended the president’s support of white supremacist groups and denounced as “fake news” reports that depict him as a racist. At the same time, Civil Rights champions like the Reverend William Barber II and the Reverend Liz Theoharis are giving leadership to a new “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” which will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. King in 1968. Denouncing racist statements from the White House and from evangelical pastors, Barber has declared that the purpose of the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign is 
“to build a moral army of love.”The fierce debate on race that is taking place within the Christian community and more broadly across the nation is, I believe, a positive sign for it means that we are moving past our racial stalemate. We have to take sides. But I suggest in the following that the present crisis is about more than taking sides. Speaking as a white Protestant pastor, I contend that it is time for the church to rediscover its authentic witness to the gospel, and “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4: 18, NRSV). The summons is to come together in “deep solidarity,” to use a phrase coined by religious scholar Joerg Rieger of Vanderbilt University. Deep solidarity depends on finding common ground on which diverse communities may stand without erasing or ignoring differences that have the potential to divide us.
I suggest that the Golden Rule is our moral common ground, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7: 12, NRSV). Religious scholar Karen Armstrong reminds us that the Golden Rule, stated both positively and negatively, is central to all religious life and it is the source of all morality.
Reviving the spirit of the Golden Rule is essential both for the survival of the human project and for our integrity as people of faith. Without such a revival we cannot be true to ourselves or our witness to the Christian gospel. Our faith will become inauthentic. James Baldwin examines the lack of authenticity among people of faith in his classic book, The Fire Next Time (Dell, 1964). Here he writes that white Americans find it difficult “to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of something of intrinsic value that black people need and want.” He continues, “A vast amount of energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem is produced by the white man’s profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white . . . . It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided” (127,128). Baldwin alleges that white people do not wish to know the truth about themselves, or take responsibility for their own lives and what goes on in our country. The combination of white power and white denial leaves white people trapped in “burning house” (127) of “moral contradiction” and “spiritual aridity” (130). People of color do not want to be assimilated into this burning house, and white people refuse to leave it. Thus our stalemate. Baldwin calls upon white people to examine and re-examine everything we believe about ourselves and about this country.
Viewed from another perspective, the social model of racism is that of a zero-sum society. More for “them,” (people of color) means less for “us,” (white people). This rigid model devalues cooperation resulting in an uncompromising structure that is violence prone when besieged by real or imaginary threats. White supremacists, in the binary, zero-sum, society, are worried about survival, while multiculturalist live in the illusion that people of color want to be and can be assimilated into a society that has systemically rejected them for 500 years. Both groups operate out of an inauthentic narrative. The former deny white privilege; the latter acknowledge white privilege and affirm the need to treat all people with equal dignity and respect, but often find themselves feeling alienated from white-dominated institutions and networks of power. Both groups feel trapped in a world that is either beyond their control or out of control and, therefore, become ensnared in webs of inauthenticity when what they truly want is to live authentic lives.
The Golden Rule is rooted in a social model that is truer to our actual lived experience than the zero-sum model, and it’s more conducive to a society in which the ethic of deep solidarity can be put into practice. The practical cost of refusing to incorporate this ethic into our daily lives is twofold. First, we will see replications of events in Charlottesville in other communities and an escalation of violence. Second, we will experience a hollowing out of the Christian faith as the fundamental norm of the Golden Rule and the actual social practices of the church grow further and further apart.
The alternative to this vortex of violence is to engage in the difficult and sometimes dangerous but always rewarding work of creating genuine relationships for the sake of building communities in which everyone can flourish and in which Christian communities can give an authentic witness to the faith they profess. What is at stake for the church is whether Christianity becomes an increasingly narrow and privatized personal faith, or a constructive presence that is able to deal with the life and death issues of our time?
Lastly, we, as Christians, must come to a clearer understanding of power in our political economy. Is power best placed in the hands of the elite, or does it need to be built from the bottom up? Answering this question entails examination of existing power structures and networks, identifying winners and losers in today’s political economy, and forging what I call “Golden Rule alliances” of deep solidarity.
The lesson from Charlottesville is that we cannot remain stuck in a racial stalemate.  As Dr. King wrote in the conclusion of Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s [sic] last chance to choose between chaos and community” (191).
Rev. David P. Hansen  PhD

LivingNonviolence 2017-08-18 16:29:00

These are the Words…
Small Expressions of Hate that are Really Not So Small
        They were two separate incidents, each causing hurt and confusion, each happening recently, within about a block of each other. On one occasion, about two months ago, I was standing in front of a local church where I had gone for an interfaith clergy meeting, people coming together to share and support, joined through differences. As I was about to enter the church, I had a phone call that a friend had a just died. Knowing that I would officiate, I walked quickly back to the car to make phone calls and respond to immediate needs. As I got to the car, parked just back from the street, a jogger approached and suddenly stopped, somewhat breathless. Turning toward me, he raised his fist high in the air and yelled, “BDS Israel!” I was stunned and taken aback, feeling threatened by a raised fist and a raised voice. With so much swirling in my head at that moment, I couldn’t quite process what had happened, all so quickly. At first, I wondered what does he know of my politics or of me? Does he know I am Jewish, or that I am a rabbi?  Then, I realized the obvious, it was my yarmulkah, of course, and that he was responding to me as a Jew. It was not about politics, therefore, but about something deeper, about whom I am as a person and as part of a people. I would have been willing to have a political discussion and to explore the web of associations from which his verbal assault came.  More importantly, I would have welcomed a person-to-person sharing, to have arranged to meet, to plan to have coffee at another time when there was not so much on my mind. But then he was gone, continuing to run rather than to engage, even as I turned toward him in my confusion and called out to wait a moment.
     The other occasion was just a week or so ago, right in front of JP Licks. As I approached the store, just before the door, a rather disheveled man was sitting at an outside table with a dog. I had noticed him as I approached, feeling concern for him, wondering of his needs and situation. I thought I might say something, but before I could, just as I came near to him, I heard him snarl loudly under his breath, “Jew!”   Again, my head spun, wondering if I had really heard him, realizing that, of course, I had. 
            Again, it took me a moment to realize that it was my kippah. Covering my head as an expression of relationship to God, an acknowledgement of the holiness to be found in every place and moment, I am both completely unaware of the presence of a small piece of material on my head and completely aware, a merging of realities, knowing and not knowing become as one. I kept going, entering the store, feelings churning, wary of the dog, trying to hold the jagged disconnect between my feelings of concern for the man and the hateful tone of the word he had uttered, a word that describes me. The word “Jew,” beautiful and noble in its essence, in its description of who we are, or terrifying in its utterance, in its association with a yellow star used to identify a hated minority.
           On my way out of the store just a few minutes later, I approached the man, pausing in front of him to make eye contact. I wished him a good day, and then I waited to give him an opportunity to respond. He looked up, as the dog did from its place by the man’s feet, “yeah, have a good day.” I thanked him and continued on my way. Later, I realized I would have liked to say so much more, to sit down, to ask him if he wanted some coffee, to ask if he could understand the pain caused by what he said, perhaps asking where it had come from. Though understanding why I had not said more, I was sorry that I had not had the presence of mind or heart to engage more fully in the moment. However much experience we have had with such expressions of animosity, it is confusing and disorienting when we feel a generic hate directed toward us simply for who we are, not as an individual, but as part of a people or group, or of a particular way in the world, whether bearing on religion, or gender, or sexual identity, or ethnicity or anything else that puts us outside the perspective or experience of the hater.
There are times when we need to go into ourselves and to feel the pain, to share it with each other, whether with words or simply with understanding presence. And yet, we cannot allow the pain to narrow the span of our arms or of our vision. We still need to hold all there is to be held of pain in the world, and even if through tears to see all the work that needs doing, so many others crying too.So it was in the effort to hold that jagged disconnect between my concern for the man and the hateful tone of his utterance.
     Thoughts of these two incidents weighed on me as we approached the Sabbath called Shabbat Chazon/the Sabbath of Vision that precedes the mid-summer day of mourning called Tisha B’Av. The name Shabbat Chazon is drawn from the first word of the prophetic reading for the day, Chazon Yisheyahu/the Vision of Isaiah, his plea to turn from ways that hurt our selves and others, to bring healing and repair through justice and righteousness. That is the way of response if we would heal the world. Jews have shed torrents of tears through these weeks of summer heat that call up hatreds and tragedies of the past and remind us not to be drawn into the vortex, but to rise above it and build anew the Temple of hope and redemption, not a building of stone and wood, of silver and gold, but of love and compassion for ourselves and all within the human family. That is the gift of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, a day of fasting and mourning for all the hate and destruction that has been. Marking the destruction of both Temples, so the destruction of the world is contemplated, God protect us, the holy houses that stood in Jerusalem each in its time having represented the entire world. Seeds of hope are planted in the midst of destruction. Tradition teaches that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av. So too, this month is referred to as Menachem Av/Av the Comforter. It is not a month as a period of time that itself brings comfort. We are each to be the comforter, drawing from the pain experienced in holding the memories brought before us, and extending our arms to embrace each other and hold all there is to hold.
        On the Sabbath before Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Chazon, we read the Torah portion D’varim (Deut. 1:1-3:22), beginning the last book of the Torah, Sefer D’varim, as Deuteronomy is known in Hebrew. As the portion and the book open, eleh ha’d’varim/these are the words, so that becomes our challenge and our comfort, to use words to connect rather than to divide. As Sefer D’varim, the fifth book of the Torah means literally, the Book of Words
               
         From out of confusion, acknowledging our pain in the face of hate, we are called to speak words to heal and not hurt, words to join us one to another. Responding to the small expressions of hate, that are really not so small, as encountered on sidewalks and street corners, whether addressed to us as Jews or to any other person for who they are, may words of love rise above and build soon a temple of peace that is the world itself.
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

LivingNonviolence 2017-08-04 14:39:00

Our Agenda is Justice  David Phillips Hansen       Our agenda is justice. When the political, economic, and spiritual life of the nation moves toward justice there is joy in the land and the whole body politic…

LivingNonviolence 2017-07-28 10:06:00

Entering the Garden
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
I received a simple gift as I prayed the morning prayers. Simple in the way of the old Shaker hymn, “Tis a Gift to be Simple,” needing simplicity within our selves, quiet amidst the clatter and clutter in order to perceive and receive the simple gifts that come to us on wings of serendipity. It is not always, perhaps even only rarely, that response to prayer happens in the very moment of our praying. Perhaps it is simply a matter of our eyes opening and in the prayerful calm of the moment perceiving what we might otherwise have missed. In truth, I didn’t realize at first the beauty of what I had witnessed, nor its meaning. At first, it seemed a distraction, a motion beyond the window of the little prayer room. A small blur of color caught my attention, causing me to look up from words on the page.
Drawing my talis/prayer shawl around me, I stared out the window, at first seeing a woman with a baby stroller. She was looking away from the stroller toward the front garden, as though waiting, ever so patiently, a smile on her face. Only then did I notice the very little girl at the edge of the garden. She could not have been more than two to three years old. A very little girl with short dark hair, a simple blue dress, a smock it seemed, standing there by herself at the edge of the garden, the woman, I assume her mother, standing respectfully back. It seemed to be a moment of decision for the little one, a little decision that must have seemed so big to her, whether to walk past the great big rock by which she stood and enter the garden and be among the flowers.
I watched the drama play out, a baby step forward, one foot extended and then brought back. And then a determined step, crossing the threshold of the garden, passing the great big rock and entering among the flowers. I moved a bit closer to the window, careful not to be seen or to distract. I could see the smile that formed on the mother’s face, and the smile that became the entire face of the little girl. I could feel the smile upon my own face, a smile-become-prayer, become amen to all the words both said and unsaid. Three smiles offered to God, the smile of a little girl, the smile of two adults unknown to each other, each one smiling as sunshine upon the most beautiful flower in the garden.
As mother and daughter continued on their way, I watched for a moment, then returning to my place, what more to say? Looking up, I said “thank you, so beautiful.” As prayer became conversation, as it is meant to be in deepest essence, so I suggested to the Holy One that we might both hold on to that image, that we both might find reason to smile in looking back on that moment amidst all that is not so simple or beautiful in this world. What I really wanted to say then, what tugged at me so deeply, was, “please protect her and all the little ones who are taking their first steps into the world, who are just starting out along the path of life, protect them, please, keep them safe that they might find their way to a flowering garden, a garden of peace that is for us to create.”
I thought of the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Sh’lach L’cha, “Send forth…” (Numbers 13:1-15:41). Moses is told to send forth scouts to scout out the land, one scout from each tribe. A tantalizing phrase, sh’lach l’chacan also mean, “send to yourself….” So the first of the Chassidic writers, disciple of the Holy Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, teaches that the words said to Moses are meant to be for each of us, search out yourself/latur et atzm’cha. It is not about the outer landscape, but about the inner terrain.
So it was the lesson of a mother and her daughter, the wisdom of patience, a sunshine smile to nurture growth. The garden was outer terrain, but only in finding the courage within could the little girl journey forth into the world, and so for us. As we stand and smile with delight at little ones taking first steps, they are waiting for us, wanting to know that the way ahead is safe and if we will make it so. For children all along the way of growing into who they are, they wait for us to create of this world a garden of peace, as it was at the beginning and is meant to be. Allowing distractions to become prayer, essence revealed, may we have the courage of a little girl to step beyond barriers and enter the garden.

LivingNonviolence 2017-07-21 14:34:00

Summer Excursion           
 It has become a kind of summer ritual – getting on the fast ferry with my grandkids and leaving “The Rock” for a few hours on a mid-July day to go shopping on the mainland.  We join the masses who are leaving behind their vacation respite on the island and we head for “America.”    The ritual has changed little over the last few years.  It usually manages to fall on the hottest, sunniest, most humid day in July.  We enjoy the cool breeze as the ferry speeds toward its destination.  And then, suddenly, we are disembarking into sizzling heat and humidity again.  
            First stop – Friendly’s!  and a cool Fribble!   Years ago, there were giggles about blowing bubbles in the milkshake with a straw.   Now the conversation turns to the number of calories in each menu offering, the size of the portions and whether or not it is possible to make a healthy choice here for a mid-morning snack. 
            Next stop – Staples! and a quick run through to see what is needed in anticipation of the beginning of the school year.  Here the seductive items used to be the biggest boxes of crayons or markers, the Pink Pony pencil boxes and blank note books.  Now the electronics section is the big draw – – and there are many comments about the high prices.
            On to Walmart!  The inexpensive DVDs used to be the big draw -and there was always a challenging bit of time in the toy section. Now the conversation runs toward  the shabby quality of much of the merchandise and how do people live on the wages they earn  making so much stuff that has so little value.
            No trip off island is complete without stops at TJMAXX and The Christmas Tree Shoppe.  By the end of our shopping tour, we’re all tired and feeling overwhelmed by all the lures of consumption.  The kids compare what life is like on the island – trying to live “normal” lives in the presence of so much excess and unthinking wealth.
            As I ponder the expedition on the return trip to the island, I realize that these annual excursions have, indeed, been an educational process for both me and my grandkids.  Whereas the political and economical commentary used to come from me as we made our way through the massive offerings on sale, now the grandkids are pondering the questions of why there is SO much.  They are reading labels and beginning to understand that there are exploited human beings hidden in the shadows of the low prices.  They are beginning to blanch at the price of a small Fribble that has virtually no nutritional value.  Little by little their adolescent dreaminess is awakening to questions about our values and about how we spend our money and about what happens when we are not consciously aware of how we participate in the injustice of poverty and inadequate wages and the ability to afford nutritious food that is not fried!
            Meanwhile, back in Washington, political minds seek ways to cut supplemental nutritional assistance programs for people who already cannot afford to put food on the table for their families.  Saving money by getting the poor off of medical assistance programs seems to be the way to go.  Cutting health care for poor pregnant women will make a huge difference in the money Washington has to give to the more deserving wealthy folks at the top.
            It is a good day for listening to the voice of the prophet Amos echoing down through the ages:  Thus says the Lord:  For three transgressions and for four, I will not revoke the  punishment: they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes – they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way…. (Amos 2:6-7).
            But all is not hopeless.  There are a few courageous voices of resistance.  Somewhere in Washington the prophet still speaks.  May we pray that the prophetic voice will get louder with each passing day.
Vicky Hanjian