Author: Vicky

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

LivingNonviolence 2017-07-08 00:20:00

“They Flew Away, that’s what Birds Do”
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
I worried about them during the night when I awoke to the sound of a hard rain falling. So too, my first thought upon waking in the morning was also about them. I hurried downstairs to check on them after the rains. In the damp morning air, surrounded by the scent of the rhododendrons, I felt panic when I realized they weren’t there. I looked in the bush among the pink flowers and green leaves. I looked on the branches of the trees that ring the yard. They were not there, not upon the garage roof either. I thought perhaps they had taken shelter in the yellow birdhouse hanging from the eaves of the garage, but no, it was empty. I felt sad and lonely, missing our visitors who had been with us such a short time, hoping that nothing untoward had happened, not wanting to think about it. I thought of the neighbor’s cat that visits the yard, thinking I should have done something more to protect them. I called to Mieke, asking her to come out, to stand with me where we had stood through the week and beheld with awe the simple miracle of love and creation, of perseverance and purpose. “They’re gone,” I said. With warm reassurance, Mieke answered, “they flew away, that’s what birds do.”
They were a family of robins that had built such a beautiful nest in the rhododendron bush next to the garage. It looked like a perfectly formed bowl, a basket so skillfully woven. We had watched through the week as the mother bird flew out into the yard to forage, returning quickly with food for the young one whose head we could see peeking up from just below the rim of the nest. It is hard to imagine that the little one could mature so quickly to have already been able to fly away. I thought about all the work that had gone into making the nest. There seemed to be lessons to be learned in the willingness of these little creatures to leave it all behind. I thought about the give and take of nest making and of the depth of attachment that most of us have to the things of this world. I wondered if they just assumed that they would make another in whatever place they came to next. Perhaps leaving a nest once built is part of the give and take of being a bird. I wondered if other birds make use of a nest left behind, if a new feathered-family would dwell where others had dwelled before, raising their young where others had nurtured little ones before. I felt grateful for the generosity of our robins, a gift simply to behold the intricate beauty of the nest left behind.
I thought of the Mishkan, the desert sanctuary made to be portable that our ancestors carried with them on the desert journey. Taking in the Torah/Teachingof the birds, I reflected on the difference, one holy dwelling to be left behind when life’s journeys resumed, and another to be taken along until arriving at the next stopping place. The Mishkan is a as a nest as well, a place in which the Sh’chinah as God’s mothering presence might alight, a spirit-nest woven of love, a place in which our souls can rest and be nourished, then to travel on. That’s what people do, they journey on to the next stage in life, taking what we can with us, what we have learned, and, hopefully, leaving behind a trace of beauty simply woven that tells of our having been.
In the Torah portion, Parashat B’ha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), we are told of the day on which the Dwelling Place was raised up, all of its parts woven together, a vessel in which spirit might dwell. The raising up of the Mishkan is expressed in the passive, and without a subject, without a name. We are not told that Moses raised up the Dwelling Place, but simply, uv’yom hakim et ha’mishkan/on a day that the Mishkan was raised up. There is no definite article, simply on a day, any day, a day unbound by time. Whenever we create a dwelling place of love and caring, we raise up a Mishkan, a sacred nest, whether it be in a moment of not so random connection, strangers exchanging a smile, a helping hand offered, a song for justice and good offered into the wind and among the people, guests invited to the Sabbath table. Sometimes we take the dwelling with us, and sometimes we leave it behind, the sweet song of little birds to remind, it is okay, whichever way is right in that time and place, and then to another. Transience and uncertainty are part of life, the way of our journeys. Just after the timeless call to raise up the Mishkan, we are told that according to the word of God did the children of Israel journey, and according to the word of God did they camp(Numbers 9:18). It is the uncertainty of life, never knowing, even though we think we do, when change will come, when we journey and when we camp. Nor do we know in the grand weave of life when our very soul will take wing and make its way home, because that’s what souls do.
Would that we could know as the little birds know, “they flew away, that’s what birds do.” As I stood there in the mist of the morning, looking at the empty nest, touched by Mieke’s reassuring wisdom, I thought of an old folk-song that Pete Seeger, of blessed memory, sang, a song called “Little Birdie:”
 Little birdie, little birdie, what makes you fly so high?
 It’s because I am a true little birdie,
And I do not fear to die….
Little birdie, little birdie,
Come sing to me a song.
I’ve a short while to be here,
And a long time to be gone.
In the time we have, in all the places we go, may we weave a nest of love and let it be our raising up of the Mishkan, a sanctuary for God and people, and until they fly away to take their teaching elsewhere, for all the little birds as well.

LivingNonviolence 2017-06-30 18:00:00

What kind of people are we?

 
        I was struck by a story that I saw on the MSNBC program The Last Word. on June 23, 2017.  In this program the host, Ari Melber, interviewed Karen Clay and her son, Mike Phillips. Michael suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He lives at home, in Florida, with his mother. Over the last 30 years Michael’s disease has progressed and his care and treatment has become more complicated. Medicaid has made it possible for him stay at home and for Karen to remain his primary care giver. This situation will change dramatically and drastically if the Republican plan becomes law.
      The focus of the interview was what will happen to Michael if the Republican health care bill is enacted. Karen explained that there is no facility in Florida that can care for Michael. He would have to be moved out of state and institutionalized. His level of care would deteriorate and the cost for his care would increase–a lot. The family would be uprooted. 
     As I listened to the interview I could not help but think of a passage in the Gospel according to Matthew. In the twenty-fifth chapter Jesus is reported to say to the disciples, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (25: 40, NIV).
     We tend to interpret the words from Matthew 25 in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). Remember that parable begins with a legal scholar asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, meaning not just a life after death, but life in the here and now. It is an existential question. What do I need to do in the here and now to have a life with God? Jesus answers this question with the story of a man beaten and robbed and left to die in a ditch at the side of the Jericho road. One religious person sees him lying in the ditch and passes by on the other side of the road, and then a second person comes along and he too goes to the opposite side of the road. But when the Samaritan comes he sees the man in the ditch and goes to him, binds his wounds and takes him to the inn and tells the inn keeper to take care of him, promising to compensate the inn keeper for any expenses that he incurs as a result of his care for this person. Jesus then asks the question, “Who was the neighbor to this man?” The answer, of course, is the Samaritan.  The parable concludes with Jesus instructing the person who asked the question, and by extension us, “Go and do likewise” (10: 37, NIV).
     With the parable of the Good Samaritan in mind, when we read the words in Matthew 25, it is natural that we should think that we are called to feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, visit those who are in prison and so on. Dr. King famously said that day will come when we have to build a new road so that travelers will not be left in the ditches. Understandably we want to be the people who build that new road, but until then we will follow the pattern set by the Good Samaritan.
     We want to do our best to be faithful to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want to live by the Golden Rule and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Wendell Berry says: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” It’s common sense. But it is more than common sense. We are bleeding hearts. Karl Marx who once said that religion is the opiate of the masses also said: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless world.” Many religious scholars and preachers have told us that compassion and empathy are the core of our faith and the keys to understanding the gospel. And we believe that.  This is why Michael and Karen’s story is so powerful.
     But then, when I remembered the passage in Matthew 25: 40, I had to ask myself: What about the guy in the ditch? What about the people who live on the margins of society and in the economic shadows? What about the people who are victims of injustice. What about people who live in daily fear of police violence? What about “those people” who are, the words of Jesus, “the least of these?” What about them? 
      Reverend Deenabandhu Manchala,  now with the World Council of Churches, helps us interpret these words of Jesus when he talks about “Mission at and from the margins.” As he explains, those of us in the West tend to think that our mission flows from a position of power, privilege, and possession. Our mission is to help
those who are less fortunate than we are. Thus, when I was a child my church had a program called SOS, which stood for “Share our Surplus.” Then we had another offering called “Neighbors in Need,” that was to help the less fortunate. These were ministries enabled by power, privilege, and possession.
     Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers. His brothers sold him into slavery. Over a period of time and after many trials Joseph worked his way to a position of responsibility in the government of Egypt. He became the Secretary of Agriculture. When famine came upon the people of Israel, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to beg for food that they could take home to a desperate people. This may be the very first story about an international relief mission in biblical history. Joseph famously does not reveal his true identity to his brothers until the very end of the story. Then, after he has given them food to take home, he reveals his true identity in a dramatic moment and he says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me. But God intended it for good” (Gen. 5: 20, NIV). 
      From the surplus of Egypt, Joseph was able to help his brothers and save his family. A well-known business consultant has famously said that we must do well before we can do good. Joseph was only able to help his brothers because he had done well. We have learned over the years to think of mission in this way. We have to do well before we can do good. But what does that say about the “least of these.” Are they among us simply to be the object of our mission? Are we the instruments of God’s mercy, and the least of these the object of God’s mercy? Is that the message of the Bible?
     During the MSNBC interview, Michael Phillips was intubated and lying flat on a table. But Michael was very aware of his situation and his surroundings. He participated in the interview. He was very articulate, eloquent in fact. If you had not see him lying in front of you flat on the table and unable to move you would not have known his condition. But there he was. After listening to Michael’s story and to the words of his mother, Aril Melber, the host, was close to tears as he asked, “What kind of nation are we?” What kind of people are we? What have we become that we are debating the need for access to adequate, affordable health care?
      What did Jesus mean when he said, “As you do unto the least of these brothers, you do unto me.” We tend to focus on the first part of the sentence–doing unto the least of these. But the second part of the sentence is equally important, “you do unto me.” Jesus is identifying himself with the least of these—the people who are marginalized, the people who are sinned against, people who are the most vulnerable, people who are the victims of injustice.
     The mission of the church is not limited to charity, sharing our surplus or whatever else we want to call it. The mission of the church is to expose injustice. The mission of the church is to expose the hardness of heart that would make Michael’s health care a subject of national debate in a nation that prides itself on being the richest country in the history of the world.
 What kind of people are we? What kind of nation have we become?
      Following the way of Jesus is about making life changing choices. There are lots of Michael’s in this world and there will be many more to come. We can say that his situation is unfortunate and we are truly sorry for that, but we can’t help everyone who is in need. That’s one option. A second option is to say we will do our best to do what we can for “the least of these,” recognizing our own limited resources and the myriad responsibilities that we each have. Random acts of kindness are much better than random and not so random acts of cruelty. Something is lot better than nothing. A half a loaf is more than no loaf. But there is a third option. As you do to the least of these you do to me. God stands in solidarity with the hungry, the poor, the prisoner, the stranger, the unwelcome and the unwanted, the outcasts and yes, “the least of these” because it is here that community is formed. Here on the margins character is tested and shaped and formed. Here is where we answer the question: What kind of people are we?
      From a faith perspective government is not the “art of compromise.” The purpose of government is the pursuit of the common good.  And, the measure of the economy is the well-being of the people.
What kind of people are we? We are about to find out.
David Phillips Hansen

LivingNonviolence 2017-06-23 17:33:00

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: The fight goes on The courage displayed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their fight to protect their sacred land and water and the treaty rights of Native Peoples has given heart to people throughout the U….