Q1. Is CRES ecumenical?
A1. Although we are inter-religious in membership and orientation, the word "ecumenical" probably does not apply to us for three reasons.
First, "ecumenical" usually suggests activity based on views held in common among participating groups. For example, varied religious organizations might agree to a policy statement on South Africa. In some cases the "ecumenical movement" means bringing separate denominations into institutional union, such as resulted in the United Methodist Church. CRES, on the other hand, encourages respectful interchange even in areas where views and practices differ because we believe that we can learn from our differences as well as from those things we may have in common. We feel an over-eager search for common ground can make it difficult for us to appreciate the special character of each participant, just as a presumption that religions have nothing in common makes communication difficult. Our work is on the middle path.
Second, "ecumenical" usually applies to religious establishments, while CRES is also interested in non-institutionalized religious movements, non-religious groups, and in people who are not affiliated with any religious organization.
Third, while our area of work is religion, we are an educational effort to help people experience and study religion. While no doubt ecumenism includes an educational aspect, with CRES the educational purpose is equally as important as our religious function.
Q2. What, then, is the mission of CRES?
A2. Our mission arises from a fundamental question: "What is so important that my life depends upon it, and what may I do to honor and share it?" In theological language, the question is simply, "What is sacred?" Of course in daily life, the question takes may forms, and usually we deal with subsidiary questions, and sometimes we forget that those smaller but important questions can be answered best when we keep the big question in mind.
Q3. But the mission of churches arises from similar questions.
A3. Yes, and we contribute a special, perhaps crucial, enhancement, to their work. Rather than offering one primary tradition to answer the question, we seek to make available the resources of all the world's traditions. We encourage representatives of various views to engage each other. The spheres of science, art, business, government, medicine, sports, and other expressions of human life must also be represented in such an engagement. Thus our motto, "To honor the sacred wherever it appears, to support its appearance everywhere."
Q4. In what ways can world religions contribute to answering the question, "What is sacred?"
A4. My remarks at Midwest Research Institute's Mag Center 1983 May 4 outline a response to this rich and fascinating question. Here let me say, in briefest terms, that the religions of the world can be seen as falling into three families, the Primal, the Asian, and the Monotheistic. In general, primal traditions find what their lives depend on in the world of Nature, the Asian religions find it in the world of the Infinite Self, and the Monotheistic faiths find it in the sphere of human history and social relationships.
Q5. So that's the origin of another CRES mottos: "Primal Faiths, restored with nature; Asian Faiths, the self made whole; Monotheistic Faiths, relationships reclaimed, Liberation movements, finding the sacred afresh."
A5. Yes. While it can be argued that every major religion has elements of the others, the differing emphases given by different faiths can awaken us to dimensions of our own traditions to which we might otherwise be blind. In our time, meaningful survival of the race may depend on a comprehensive response to the question, "What do our lives depend on, and how may we honor and share it?" The world's religions, from varied times and places, may be a major pathway to such a comprehensive response.
Q6. But religions often seem to be the cause of trouble, rather than the cure.
A6. You may be thinking of religion involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, or the Irish problem, or of historical antagonisms between faiths, mainly in the West. While war-makers often put their economic and political disputes in religious terms, it is true that trouble sometimes arises from religious views, or from misunderstandings about religious views. And some might argue that certain teachings aggravate world problems; for example, the Roman Catholic prohibition of birth control is often cited as contributing to the world's population explosion.
We feel that understanding the world's religions will do more than help us cope with values very different than our own. We feel that religious people respectfully meeting one another will become aware of ways in which they can practice their own faiths with greater integrity, with the light of other religions shed on them.
For example, it was Gandhi's reading of Christians like Tolstoy and Thoreau that led to a vital life for him as a Hindu. And it was Martin Luther King, Jr's study of Gandhi that deepened King's Christianity.
And the religious rebirth in Japan of Buddhist and Hindu groups arises from contact with Christianity. Some say Christianity is about to be renewed by encounter with non-Western religions.
Q7. With the importance CRES gives world religions, why be concerned with science, art, sport, and such?
A7. It is our view that insofar as these activities are not placed in a cosmic context, such as provided by most of the world's religions, we are a fragmented culture, "secular" in the worst sense. We have, for example, movies modeling and thus creating violence because business profits from Hollywood investments are more important than a sense of responsibility to society. The word "religion," from the Latin "re-ligare," means "to bind together," and our society needs educational and religious opportunities to see how we are bound together, and what to do about that. This is why our newsletter gives attention not only to "religious" news but also to the religious dimensions of sports, music, business, and science.
Q8. Why does CRES focus its work in Kansas City?
A8. While we have global contacts, our work is local. We think it's great for the Pope and the Dalai Lama to have a meeting, but we feel that the real work, to cite one more slogan, of "promoting understanding among peoples of all faiths," must occur among ordinary persons in the every-day, "grass-roots" setting. We hope that our experiment will be successful enough to encourage similar organizations in other communities.
Q9. But why Kansas City?
A9. Kansas City is hospitable to religious ideas but not so gullible as some areas of the country. We feel the best place to work is where people are open without being credulous. And Kansas City has a surprising number of world religions represented here. We feel Kansas City is well-grounded, balanced, less faddish, while offering rich resources.
Q10. Explain the remaining CRES motto: "Earth Water Fire Air/ Sensation Intuition Passion Intellect."
A10. This is shorthand for saying several important things.
(1) The list of "four elements" echoes many cultures as they explained how the world is composed. We think it is important to keep asking what makes up the whole.
(2) Of course the "four elements" are not literal truth, so we celebrate the power of mythical modeling.
(3) A folk music group some years ago sang, "Earth, water, fire and air/ Met together in a Garden fair/ Put in a basket bound with skin . . . ." The four elements compose not only the material world, but also the human body and spiritual (psychological) world. (Water is obvious, but fire may not be: the red blood cells constantly undergo a sort of oxidization, a slow form of burning which we measure as temperature.) Carl Jung and William Blake are two Westerners who used such models to describe people. Some of us get most of our information about the universe through the "earth-element," that is through "hands-on," sensory experience. Some of us favor intuition; some of us emotion, some of us reason. As a matter of fact, in medieval times, a corresponding medical theory of the "four humors" was developed, and we still use the terms from that theory (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic) to describe moods or personalities. Today we use terms made accessible through instruments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (thinking, feeling, sensing, intuiting).
(4) As the four elements are needed to comprise the cosmos, so we need one another, with our varying modes of apprehension, to understand what is important, to approach the Sacred. Instead of being threatened by those who find the world a different place than we do, we can be enlarged and enriched by them.
Q11. Does CRES do anything with these ideas other than summarize them as a motto?
A12. We have developed liturgical materials and retreat programs which give people an opportunity to practice living the meaning of the motto. We began our "tour" of Kansas City churches and other religious organizations with an exercise to recognize that different faith-traditions may emphasize one or another of the elements.
Q13. When are CRES regular programs?
A13. CRES has no regular programs. We offer one-time or series programs for other organizations or individuals, but unlike other religious organizations which we want to support, we plan no ongoing, regular services like Sunday Morning Worship.
Q14. How do you find out about what CRES is doing?
A14. THE RELEASE, our monthly newsletter, announces CRES activities and also reports on other community programs we feel may be of interest to our friends. Our website -- http://www.cres.org -- also provides such information and is updated frequently.
Q15. Where is CRES located?
A15. The practical answer is: Wherever we are providing services, in a church, a business, a home, a classroom. By working on site in client facilities, we emphasize that we are supporting existing organizations. The philosophical answer is: we exist in the spaces between other organizations and individuals as we seek to draw connections between and among them.
We also have addresses in Overland Park and Westport.
Q16. Is CRES unique?
A16. We know of no other such organization.
Q17. How is CRES supported?
A17. CRES is supported through memberships and fees for services. CRES was incorporated as a Kansas, Not for Profit organization in 1982 and is registered to do business in Missouri as well. The Articles of Incorporation provide that CRES is "exclusively for religious and educational purposes." CRES is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization with an IRS identification number 48-0953375.
Q18. In what sense is CRES religious?
A18. Our secular society tends to place religion as one category of experience, apart from others. Yet we understand the world's religions to be ways of looking and relating to the world -- of nature, of self, of history and human community, more than a special subject matter.
While this approach toward religion is found in most of the world's cultures, this expansive and integrative view is sometimes not understood in our own society which sometimes tends to compartmentalize. It is ironic that some religious groups in our culture themselves adopt a secular view of themselves; that is, they distinguish their activities from the rest of the culture in order to advocate a [supernatural or other-worldly] position said to originate from beyond cultural encounter. "Religious" for them means apart from the culture. This often leads to specific doctrines or denominational traditions. Such a view is secular because it separates religion from the rest of the world. The fact that our society displays a multitude of denominations is powerful evidence of the sway of the secular view of religion.
A view more common thruout the world is that "religion" is the basic constellation of values that shapes and is shaped by the culture. Instead of being apart from culture, it is the very center of it.
CRES is not religious in the secular sense, ie, of being an denominational organization seeking to promote a specific doctrine. Instead, CRES explores what lies at the heart of culture, our culture, and others thruout the world and along the path of history.
CRES is inter-faith in its work and provides services for educational, business, and religious organizations. It is not possible or desirable for CRES to suggest affiliation with any particular religious group. Acquaintance with many faiths is an excellent way to deepen commitment to one's own tradition while enabling one to consider questions of the the value centers of the cultures. Some might add that thru such acquaintance, one can approach the unity of spirit that underlies all human encounter with the sacred. [Hence, we do not advocate any specific or exclusive religious tradition.]
We are "religious and educational" in these senses:
1) we seek to promote understanding thru educational encounters among the world religions;
2) we provide professional religious services for those desiring an interfaith setting, just as the US Armed Forces and many hospitals provide chaplaincy programs; and if requested, we refer inquirers to appropriate religious and educational organizations from the full spectrum of world religions;
3) we offer services in areas such as curriculum consultation in the field of world religions for other religious and educational institutions; and
4) we regard the study of world religions as a concern with values, and therefore one of the humanities, along with art, history, music, literature, and as such, worthy of public attention and support. We do not advise anyone to affiliate with any particular church or temple, or adopt any particular beliefs, just as we would not suggest a person buy records of only one composer or conductor, or hang paintings in one's home by only one artist. We do not offer personal religious affiliation; but our work is more like a museum or library which makes available a range of value discussions for the enhancement of understanding.
Q19. Where can I see more information about the mission, guiding question, response to the three great crises of our time with the collection of symbols from the Three Families of Faith and Liberation Movements, history, and financial gifts to CRES?
A19. Click on the CRES Info page, http://www.cres.org/approach/visionandmission.htm
Q20. How do you become a member of CRES?
CRES has no requirements for membership other than payment of a membership fee. A schedule of levels of membership participation is printed on the address panel of our monthly newsletter, THE RELEASE. Members, participants and correspondents in CRES are from many faiths in Kansas City and around the world. CRES is no substitute for one's own faith, but it helps bring faiths in meaningful encounter with each other and with the secular world.
Q21. What does C-R-E-S stand for?
The name "CRES" derives from the original name of the organization, the [World Faiths] Center for Religious Experience and Study.
Few could remember what the initials stood for, so the Board decided to go the way of UMB, which is no longer United Missouri Bank, IBM which used to be International Business Machines, etc, so now we just use "CRES" with the tag descriptions "promoting understanding among peoples of all faiths" and "Kansas City's Interfaith Network."